It’s difficult keep up with the seemingly endless streaming of immersive releases – both contemporary and vintage – on the streaming services lately, but arguably one of the most exciting releases for 2023 would have to be Australian indie rock band The Church’s first studio album of new material in nearly five years, The Hypnogogue.
The Hypnogogue pays homage to classic concept albums of the 70s-like Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, boasting a dystopia tinged narrative about an aging rock star from the future seeking out an occult scientist with a machine (The Hypnogogue) that could supposedly revive his stalled career by “pulling music straight out of dreams.”
As a new listener to the band, I picked up a wide variety of influences and nods throughout the album, ranging from late-60s/early-70s progressive rock acts like The Moody Blues or Syd Barrett-period Pink Floyd to 80s-era goth contemporaries like The Cure or Love and Rockets.
The Hypnogogue is also the band’s first album to receive an immersive mix. Mixed by Darrell Thorp and mastered at The Metropolis in London, the Dolby Atmos mix perfectly enhances the melancholy, 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 acoustic guitars as well as some electric rhythm parts.
“Ascendence” kicks things off with the synthesizer swirling around the room and tom rolls in the rear speakers, while the core rhythmic elements and lead vocal stay upfront. “C’est La Vie” keeps the strong momentum going, though I felt the lead vocals were a little too far back in this track.
The ambient piano intro to “The Hypnogogue” gives way to an eerie guitar pattern in the front rear speaker, as the drum reflections hit off the ceiling and a second guitar fires up in the rear. Acoustic guitars percolate from the top speakers and percussion pops in the rears, along with the “did you make the reservation” backing vocals. As the track builds in intensity, synthesizers swirl through the front and side speakers.
“Thorn” is another highlight, sounding almost like it came off Love and Rockets’ classic Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven album. Acoustic guitars again appear exclusively in the height speakers to great effect. Steve Kilbey’s vocals from the front “phantom” center come through with striking clarity.
Perhaps my favorite track is the dreamy “No Other You” – in which Kilbey’s vocal delivery really reminds of Justin Hayward – but the final two songs, “Antarctica” and “Second Bridge” also sound phenomenal in Atmos, with the rhythm guitars panned diagonally in the height speakers.
If you’re set up to stream in Dolby Atmos, don’t hesitate to check this one out!