Life Somewhere Else
by Isidore


Steve Kilbey of the Church and Jeffrey Cain of Remy Zero make good on the incredible amount of promise Isidore first offered eight years ago.

When Steve Kilbey of the Church joined forces with Jeffrey Cain of Remy Zero to form Isidore in 2004, the collaboration proved as fruitful and inspiring as it was unexpected. The eponymous album was an almost-perfect set of auditory paintings, ones that swirled together Kilbey's baritone poetry with Cain's studio wizardry in unforgettable pastels. After eight long years, along comes Life Somewhere Else to prove that the magic of Isidore was no accident.

Steve Kilbey's voice betrays his age (in some ways, it still sounds like the 1988 version of him) and very few musicians can string three notes together so effectively on the guitar like Jeffrey Cain (well, maybe Peter Koppes or Marty Willson-Piper). The more time one spends with this album, the deeper it goes — the tighter the net looks to you. It's a shame only Church and Remy Zero fans will be inclined to check this out because it is a masterpiece lying beyond the power of the descriptive word.

Steve Kilbey, vocalist and founding member of Australian first-wavers the church, may be the voice of Isidore, but it's clear that Jeffrey Cain is the force behind Isidore. Guitarist of recently reformed group Remy Zero, Cain crafted this musical persona when he paired with Kilbey for 2004 LP Isidore. The band's proper follow-up, Life Somewhere Else, allows the church frontman to stretch-out, properly utilizing his haunted vocals on tracks like gloomy, Dead Can Dance-like dirge "Life Somewhere Else" and the brooding "Song for the Moon," anchored by the sampled beat from late Remy Zero drummer (and former Isidore contributor) Gregory Slay. But it's the driving, rock-based tracks like "Recoil" and "Just Dust" that give Life Somewhere Else its energy, as Kilbey matches Cain's chugging-but-ringing guitars with a lust-for-life delivery. Kilbey has been on a bit of a roll lately, with the church's 2010 return-to-form, untitled #23, which to say is partly a compliment to Cain, who stays silently not so silent in the background on Life Somewhere Else.

"It (should be) a wide open road with maybe some cattle and cane"

There's something about some Australian voices (I'm thinking of David McComb and Grant McLennan) that suggest wide open vistas; of rabbit fences drawing lines across the country. Steve Kilbey (one creative half of this partnership with Jeffrey Cain from Remy Zero) is hewn from the same rock.

Here Cain provides the soundscapes on a double album that sprawls like an expanding town where most of the interest lies at the heart of the record and on the peripheries, travelling from one to another is less stimulating.

They approach the set as a gradual transition through ambient sound to electronic phrases until lyrics and recognizable musical phrases forms wrest control. It is very much like a journey: blocks of lyrics pass becoming more and more built up until all vestiges of the wilderness just leaving the song until it passes through to the other side towards ambient voices. The thick textures of the music often bears down too heavily on Kilbey's vocals so that it is somewhat swamped. 'The Disappearance' slathers on more layers than it needs--Kilbey is nearly drowned in the mix. it is more like life in a bunker than under open skies.

Individually the songs are thick novels to be unpicked and enjoyed, getting through fourteen volumes, all of them long and dense is a labour that does have its rewards. Each flick through the pages reveals previously hidden detail; the synthesised strings and New Order thrum of 'Belle in Mid Air' are lighter with every listen. Cain and Kilbey collaborated on the first Isidore record some seven years ago and Cain's fondness for machines still overwhelms the songs. 'The Headlight Child' could be a delight without the intrusive drums--it comes within a breath of being really good.

The closing 'You Will Remain' should stand as a salutary lesson to Cain. The simpler open spaces allow Kilbey's vocals their rightful place at the centre of the songs.

Reviewers Score: 5/10

Eight years is a long stretch of time, as much as we try to diminish it's importance or significance of such a stretch. But almost eight years after their first go-around, Jeffrey Cain (Remy Zero) and Steve Kilbey (the church) return with a new effort as Isidore for Cain's Communicating Vessels record label. Those seven plus years that took place in between were filled with new beginnings, endings, relocations, and a bevy of projects that found Cain as busy as he's ever been and Kilbey still contributing to the church, who released one of their finest albums in untitled #23 in 2009.

As with their first time out back in 2004, this album doesn't quite have the urgency that Remy Zero records possessed, nor does it have the charm that the church tends to exude on their many releases. But the intangibles that are brought to the table offer more than enough of a counterbalance to help create a listening experience like few others. Cain has crafted a collection of sonically challenging tunes that shimmer and sway in a very methodical, yet definite direction. Ghostly walls of sound earmarked by searing, siren-like guitar work and punctuated by Kilbey's calm, reserved vocals. And while Kilbey has a tendency to not quite hit every note he's supposed to, but at the same time it's hard to imagine these songs with anybody else assuming vocal duties.

If you're the type of person who judges records based on the first few tracks, I strongly suggest that you set those habits least for this one. Album opener "The Privateer" is cumbersome and gangly and the title track is sleepy and repetitious, so things don't really begin to crank until record's swirling and simmering third track "Song of the City." "Reappearance" swells with some nice West Indian Girl style atmospherics, but I'm always leery of songs where bands name check themselves. "Song for the Moon" is hypnotically steady as a heartbeat, which is wonderfully placid but also sluggish at the same time.

"Recoil" is as close as this record gets to a heavier, more traditional rock song, whereas "Belle in Mid Air" and "Some Reverse Magic" are the two that most closely resemble the type of material that the church might record. The latter of those, along with "The Headlight Child" are the two highest points that this record possesses. "The Headlight Child" sounds like it, once the synths hit during the chorus, could be an outtake from Arthur's album "Our Shadows Will Remain.

Life Somewhere Else won't immediately grab you and shake you by your shoulders, but that's not the type of album it's supposed to be. Rather, this is the kind of album that feels like it should be the soundtrack to a moonlit night or the hazy rays of the gloaming. It's a dreamily haunting and mesmerizing collection of songs that will, if you give it the time to sink it, latch on to a part of your soul and take it for a helluva ride.

Final Score: 82.1 / 100

The second collaborative album between Steve Kilbey and Jeffrey Cain follows in the vein of their first, with seven years' time feeling like the blink of an eye. In part this is due to Kilbey's vocals retaining their sense of calm, reflective regret as always; from his opening words on the appropriately sea shanty-esque sway of "The Privateer," it really couldn't be mistaken for anyone else. But there's also the sense of Cain's elaborate, often lovely arrangements, something that suits Kilbey well without exactly sounding like the Church or a knock-off of the same — referencing "The Privateer" again, hearing how he carefully lets the main arrangement build, hold, then drop away in a slow conclusion is a master class in elegance. From there, Life Somewhere Else makes its beautiful way across 67 minutes, an album content to take its own sweet time to reach its destination, happily exploring the nooks and crannies along the way. Compared to the slightly crisper loop-punch of the debut, Life feels easier around the edges at many points (the demi-Motorik kick of "Some Reverse Magic" and the tight rhythms and guitar snarls of "Just Dust" — where Kilbey has some fun playing around with the duo's name as a chorus — being notable exceptions), but generally keeps to the same sense of careful focus — if 21st century Church albums have explored more elaborate, demi-prog approaches, here Cain feels like he's creating striking miniatures that let their depths emerge bit by bit. It can be the increasing kick and burn of "Recoil," at once a slow simmer of anger and a release, the strings and quiet tones that emerge on "Song of the City," or the bigger swagger and extended break of "Oh My Sky." And as the lovely "The Headlight Child" shows, Kilbey's sense of lyrics still engages in the sweetly goofy as desired: "You used to roll around in the bush/Pretending it was the Hindu Kush."