Album Review: Chris Church – Radio Transient

From one perspective, the pop landscape is populated with artists taking different approaches to their work. On one end of this particular spectrum lies the “consistent” artist. He, she or they make music with a character that endures through all or at least most of their work. You know what you’re getting when they release a new album; to some extent, it’s more of the same, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach.

The other end of the spectrum is simultaneous problematic and fascinating. There lies artists like Todd Rundgren, (sometimes) Neil Young and the like. They can veer wildly from project to project; it’s up to you to keep up or not. Their approach can be confounding, and it can produce work that you love followed by something you find unlistenable. But it’s admirable, and in the end you love them for it.

Chris Church is not as well-known as either Young nor Rundgren. But taken as a whole (or a whole-in-progress) his body of work displays the same kind of peripatetic variety that characterizes their mindsets. Some times he’s metal man, other days he’s a pop person. And so on. And with Church, there really is an undercurrent of that consistency as well. While I’m not bowled over by every single one of his albums (same as with the work of Todd or Neil), I can’t think of a single misstep among them.

And Radio Transient doesn’t change any of that. The songs are very, very strong, and the production values are what we used to call radio-friendly. There’s a subtle ‘80s jangle on tunes like “I Don’t Wanna Dance With Me,” but there’s absolutely nothing retro about the song. Its character subtly hints at Oblivion-era Utopia, but like everything on the record, it’s Chris church through and through; no carbon-copy or identikit rock for this artist.

Church mixes up guitar and keyboard textures in service of his solid melodies. For him, it’s always about the songs, and on Radio Transient, it’s almost as through each track is better than the one that preceded it. “I Think I Like You” is full of chiming guitars, earnest lead vocal work, creamy and subtle backing harmonies and razor-sharp hooks. And no review of the album should overlook one of its secret weapons: the wonderful backing/harmony vocals of Lindsay Murray. She’s all over this album, and the record’s better for it. The whole thing adds up to what may well be the finest release in Church’s career to date.