Noctorum – Sparks lane

In the past I’ve listened quite a lot to the music of The Church, an Australian guitarpop group active since the early 80’s. They made great albums like “Of Skin and Heart”, “Heyday”, “Starfish” (with the immortal hit ‘Under the milky way’) and the underrrated “Gold Afternoon Fix”. After this album I kinda lost track of the group, I have to admit, though they kept on releasing new material for their dedicated followers.

Through the years members Steve Kilbey, Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper have also created various solo efforts. I was pleased to receive this album by Nocturum, which is a new project by Willson-Piper (guitarplayer and second vocalist of The Church) and his musical friend Dare Mason. Together they have created 10 magnificent tracks, aided by various other musicians.

It is clear that we are dealing with mature craftsmen here, but that does not result in a ‘safe’ album based on years of routine. No, “Sparks lane” offers a wide variety of styles and moods, with a great emotional intensity. The original lyrics of Marty Willson-Piper are moving, often introspective and melancholic. Many songs are about escaping. But from what? And where do you go to?

“Once I went to Amsterdam to see what I could find
But there wasn’t much to leave behind” – ‘Hey there’

“Accelerate your Citro├źn down the Roman streets
Crash as many times as you need
But putting all your yesterdays in front of you
Isn’t gonna give you the lead” – ‘Aujourd’hui’

Apparently the songs were written in only five days, but I would have believed it too if it were five years. They have a timeless feeling, like songs which have been in the collective memory for decades.

Good melodies, varied styles, Marty’s warm voice and skilled musicians make this a highly enjoyable album. I try to avoid the word ‘mature’, because this music sounds very fresh. The songs range from folk to pop, from psychedelic to rock, and variations on that.

‘Hey there’, which starts with the sound of playing children is an excellent song with a nostalgic mood. A 60’s-like tune with acoustic guitars. The soft sound of a flute makes it even more moving. ‘Aujourd’hui’ is really one of my favourites. An uptempo popsong, very suited for listening ‘on the road’. It has a captivating refrain with nice backing vocals. A restrained slow song is ‘my museum’, which makes you wander through corridors of dusty artefacts.

Nice and folky is ‘Hymn’, taking you to battlefields where a thousand soliders died, but with a positive message: “So if you can’t back down / But you love your friends / You might want to find / A way to bring the killing to an end”. Partly through the use of an accordion this song has a ‘Scottish’ sound. ‘High as a kite’ is one of the songs which reminds me most of The Church. Just a good moody popsong about loneliness.

‘Ask again’ is completely different again, with rhythmic spoken word against a looped background. ‘Things to do and he’ is a claustrophobic psychedelic rocksong, from which you’d like to escape, with lyrics consisting of an associative listing of words and names. ‘A Girl In Every Graveyard’ is the only song with vocals by Dare Mason, a tragic song about loss. “Qu’est-ce Que C’est” is a rather strange track, it’s dense, groovy, repetitive, raw and psychedelic. Jethro Tull meets Jesus & May Chain?

If you ask me, this is an album not to be missed. Not by Church fans, and not by all other people.

Distributed by Red Sun Records.

artist: Noctorum
label: Heyday Records
details: 10 tracks