puppy god Album Review by Tom Murphy

church fire has been delivering an emotionally charged exorcism of a live show since adopting the moniker in 2012. It’s a combination of buoyantly luminescent melodies and industrial dance beats with vocals that range from the wrenching and tender to surging with righteous outrage. Its appeal is one of reconciled contrasts with performances that are confrontational and challenging, yet inviting and not short on a sly sense of humor. Its lyrics are informed by the personal as the political, but rather than mock the perpetrators of oppression or make straw figures of their points of view, church fire dives into the issues and finds the raw core to present it in a riveting, creative form. For most of its existence the group was a duo until mid-2019 when Kate Warner of Mirror Fears joined the original duo of Shannon Webber and David Samuelson. Warner brought her own production and sound engineering expertise to church fire and Samuelson transitioned to live drums, expanding the sonic range and visceral impact of the music. Webber’s magnetic and powerful presence as a frontperson remains as entrancing as ever, but altogether this incarnation of the band hits as more than an industrial darkwave dance band, it has a punk physicality that helps to render its rich and vulnerable emotional content more vibrant and immediate.

This new lineup of church fire recently recorded its new album puppy god as its first fully collaborative effort. One hears in its often frantic paces Samuelson in the pocket with nearly manic hyperpop-esque rhythms with the abrupt and rapidly accelerating and decelerating tempos like a human drum machine for which years of beat making in church fire prior prepared him. Warner’s and Webber’s vocals compliment each other and trade off in the seething, noisy chaos of the appropriately titled “cough on the rich” but in more ethereal grace on “almost over.” The production on this new album reveals that the trio has not only refrained from staying stuck in the expectations of its previous music, but that it has absorbed more recent electronic musical aesthetics and emerged with a style that once again adapts itself well to the subject matter with an expressive versatility that has been a hallmark of church fire’s sound. This is music that is equal parts industrial synth pop, hyperkinetic dance punk and dreamlike ambient 8-bit EDM doom. Whether the songs are about the systemic destruction of the natural world, the corrosive effects of patriarchal and capitalist ideology on society and personal psychology and the need for love, or the connection and vulnerability in the face of the opposite, the music on puppy god, as the name suggests, is fortifying and endearing and a signal to a very basic level of human solidarity that transcends time and culture.