It's sometimes difficult to keep up with the seemingly-endless cavalcade of new Dolby Atmos music titles–both contemporary and vintage–popping on the streaming services lately, but arguably one of the most exciting new releases of the last 18 months would have to be Australian alt-rock band The Church’s first studio album in nearly five years: The Hypnogogue (2023).

The Church formed in Sydney more than four decades ago, quickly earning a major record deal with EMI/Capitol for their debut album Of Skins and Heart (1981). Mixed at the famous Power Station studio in New York City by the now-legendary Bob Clearmountain, the album gave them their first radio hit in “The Unguarded Moment.”

Capitol Records unexpectedly cut ties with the band prior to the release of their second studio album, 1982’s The Blurred Crusade, but 1988’s Starfish–containing the hit singles “Under The Milky Way” and “Reptile” (both currently streaming in Dolby Atmos!)–propelled them back onto the path of success. Starfish would ultimately go to become their best-selling release, earning a gold certification from the RIAA.

Church Hypnogogoue IAA Atmos Download

Released through Communicating Vessels Records in February 2023, The Hypnogogue pays homage to classic art rock concept albums like Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974) and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979). The album boasts a dystopia-tinged narrative about Eros Zeta, aging rock star hailing from the dilapidated near-future world of 2054. He seeks out Sun Kim Jong, an occult Korean scientist with a machine that could supposedly revive his stalled career by “pulling music straight out of dreams.”

The Hypnogogue is also the band’s first album to receive an immersive mix. Mixed by Darrell Thorp and mastered by John Davis at Metropolis Studios in London, the Dolby Atmos experience perfectly enhances the moody psychedelic nature of this music.

The Atmos mix is interesting in that it makes fairly-sporadic use of the center and side surround speakers, but the rear surrounds consistently feature ancillary elements like percussion and backing vocals. The four height speakers, on the other hand, are employed quite aggressively for key instrumentation like acoustic guitars, keyboards, and vocal effects.

Though the Dolby Atmos mix of The Hypnogogue has been available to stream on Apple Music and Tidal since February 2023, we at IAA are thrilled to now offer the album as an exclusive immersive digital download through our online shop!

Church Hypnogogoue IAA Atmos Download

Some of the more subtle elements panned to the height speakers, such as the shakers and ghostly background vocals throughout “No Other You,” seem to expose limitations within the 768 kbps Dolby Digital Plus/JOC codec used for immersive streaming. As shown in the short samples below (front height channels only), the detail and clarity is much better preserved for home listeners with lossless Dolby TrueHD.

Dolby TrueHD (IAA Digital Download)

Dolby Digital+/JOC (Streaming)

“Ascendence” kicks things off with the synthesizer swirling around the room and tom-tom rolls in the rear speakers, while the core rhythmic elements and lead vocal stay upfront. The top speakers are kept busy with a barrage of ambient guitar sound and vocal delays.

Percussion from the front stage brings us into “C’est La Vie,” quickly joined by a pair of electric guitars positioned largely overhead and background vocals in the rears. Acoustic guitars then burst from the rear height speakers for “I Think I Knew,” with additional percussion and reverb hitting off the back wall.

Steve Kilbey’s lead vocals tend to be treated with heavy amounts of reverb and delay, which are often positioned behind or above the listener in the Atmos mix to great effect. This is particularly noticeable at around a minute in “Flickering Lights,” when he sings ‘walk on through…’ and the massive cloud of reverb fills up the back of the room.

The ambient piano intro to the title track gives way to an eerie guitar pattern in the front right speaker, as the drum reflections bounce off the height speakers and a second guitar fires up in the rear. Acoustic guitars percolate from the top array and percussion pops up from behind, along with the 'did you make the reservation' backing vocals. As the track builds in intensity, violin joins from rear left and synthesizers swirl through the side speakers.

More electric guitar from the front left speaker takes us into “Albert Ross,” quickly joined by an acoustic part in the front heights while tom-toms again take up the rear. Double-tracked vocals (‘everyone…must want something’) fill up the fronts, countered by a response chant of ‘forever’ from directly behind.

“Thorn” starts with a whistle-like synth part exclusively in the front height speakers, giving way to Steve Kilbey’s vocals from the front ‘phantom’ center (‘if you want to see the future…’). Acoustic guitars again appear entirely in the height speakers, staying in the rear for the verses then switching to the front for the chorus.

Perhaps my favorite track on the album is the dreamy “No Other You,” in which Kilbey’s vocal delivery really reminds me of The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward. The Atmos mix reveals that the main riff is actually made up of two harmonizing guitar parts, one panned to the front channels and the other up in the rear heights. Acoustic strumming from the center speaker underpins the lead vocal, with a second acoustic part appearing from directly behind.

Layers of guitar arc over the listener’s head for “Succulent,” along with a voiceover element somewhat reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “On The Run” from Dark Side Of The Moon (1973). After a short solo at around the four-minute mark, the song ends with a lone synthesizer up in the front height speakers.

One of the coolest moments in the Atmos mix would have to be the opening passage to “Antarctica.” It starts with a lone guitar in front speakers, then a second part enters from the rear left height speaker and a third from the front right height speaker. The diagonally-panned guitars continue to battle each other from above throughout the final two tracks, culminating in the epic room-filling finale “Second Bridge.”

Overall, The Hypnogogue makes for a brilliant and genre-bending new addition to The Church’s discography. As a new listener to the band, I picked up on a wide variety of influences ranging from late-60s/early-70s progressive rock acts like The Moody Blues or Pink Floyd to 80s-era contemporaries like The Cure or Love and Rockets. This music is an otherworldly experience even in conventional two-channel stereo, but the Dolby Atmos mix will transport you to another dimension.

Purchase The Hypnogogue in the IAA Shop!

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About the Author
Jonathan is an audio engineering enthusiast from New York with a passion for immersive audio, having amassed a formidable collection of multichannel optical discs and quadraphonic vinyl. He earned his undergraduate degree in Television-Radio from Ithaca College and Master's degree in Audio Technology from American University.