LABEL: PHANTASY SOUND
ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: LONDON TECHNO WIZARD ADDS TO THE CURRENT CONVERSATION ABOUT CHURCH MUSIC.
Western, white, evangelical church music is in need of reformation, or defenestration. The contemporary soundtrack of worshipping life in the 21st century paddles in polluted shallows. Formulaic stadium rock anthems dominate to create a pipeline of songs for a culture of arena sized American conferences, packed with loyal Trump supporters who deserve to be parted from their money. Innovation, intimacy, vulnerability, humour and humility are all in short supply.
Which is probably to say two things. 1) Writing church music is difficult, controversial and difficult to monetize. 2) Like now, as always, most people who try, fail, and are washed away in the streams to the great digital sea. It has always been like that, as the essential BBC documentary series Sacred Music explores.
London based DJ, producer and electronic artist Daniel Avery earlier in the year was invited to do a couple of gigs at Hackney Church, which is a working church and international standard concert venue. Rather than just plan a sedate, seated covid-secure rave, Avery decided to write new music specific to the venue. Together In Static is the results of that writing. As Johannes Brahms or Gavin Bryars might explain to you, faith in divinity is not a pre-requisite to composing church music. For Avery, he has created a very human artefact that speaks to its moment.
Together In Static works towards the quieter, more ambient areas of Daniel Avery’s sound palette. It begins with ‘Crystal Eyes’, a collection of drones that acts as a kind of convocation, gathering and centring before the drums kick in on ‘Yesterday Faded’. The drums feel central to everything that is happening on Together In Static. Often, there are deep, heavy heartbeat kick matched against metallic percussion, heavy on reverb. Beats are allowed to rise like incense and bounce off the walls and the rafters. ‘Nowhere Sound’ sounds like Kraftwerk are the resident prayer ministry team, one robot hand on your shoulder, the other lifted to the skies.
In three words, the title track, ‘Together In Static’, captures the essence of this album. This is a Covid album, an album born of restriction and social distance. Perhaps it is only church music because the clubs have been shut. There is so much static. So much distortion, fear, grief and loneliness. But there is gentleness in Avery’s playing and a kindness in his intention.
There’s a Bible story about Elijah, wandering alone the wilderness and he gets taken to a mountain to be in the presence of God. There’s a wind, and an earthquake, and a fire, but the voice of God whispers. It whispers to Elijah how to start making things right, but also that Elijah is never alone. Together In Static whispers a similar message. It’s brave to have come this far and still hold fast to the ways it is true to say we are all in this together. Perhaps Avery is calling out the best in all of us, letting the beats call us to unity, as deep calls to deep.