Where Eerie Meets Astounding: Devon Church’s New Album ‘Strange Strangers’

Where Eerie Meets Astounding: Devon Church’s New Album ‘Strange Strangers’ 

Devon Church’s new album, Strange Strangers, via Felte Records, is full of haunting charm. With vocals from his partner, Ada Roth, the tape-saturated combo of ograns and widescreen guitars compliments Church’s cynical lyrics and deep voice. Written in quarantine, Strange Strangers pays homage to the setting in which Church wrote it. He and Roth relocated to Manhattan’s northern tip, where Church would spend days among the gardens of The Met Cloisters. Combined with his developing relationship and deepening interest in Buddhism, the mood of the album is a piece of Church’s heart. Strange Strangers borrows its title from the Marxist eco-philosopher Timothy Morton:

“The strangeness of strange strangers is itself strange, meaning the more we know about an entity the stranger it becomes.’”

Timothy Morton

Photo Credit: Roeg Cohen

The opening track, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” is an ironic take on Christian imagery. Church uses biblical imagery as a foil for open hearted messages based around love, psychedelics, and being imperfect. One of the most refreshing parts about listening to an album is when an artist chooses for the first song to truly come from within. That is the essence of this song, which toys with the lines of personhood. “Giving birth to myself again,” Church croons after opening with the expected yet satisfying line “Slouching toward Bethlehem.” The song carries a nice swing when it picks up, with a repeating use of “stranger” to reference the album’s title.

“This Is Paradise (But Not For Us)” dives even deeper into Church’s dark humor, draped in melancholy, golden folk. Here, it is a play on Adam and Eve. “Jesus was a genius,” sings the Adam character, “but I prefer his early stuff.” His existentialism is not for the purpose of being negative but rather a release from expectations. It draws on something everyone can feel, forming a pilgrimage through varying spiritual states. This song reigns over five minutes long, and could not be a second less. “This is Paradise (But Not For Us)” takes its time to look around, take it all in and feel something about it.

“Bored of the Apocalypse” is a spotlight moment of futuristic folk. Its lyrics are free thinking, delivered by a bellowing, rugged narration. He leans into the absurdity gleaned from the title of the song without straying from his musical patterns of grasping, baritone vocals. 

“All is Holy (A432),” the album’s focus track, gives gritty statements to a gospel sound. It celebrates the act of being incomplete, changing. Holy takes on a dual meaning: sacred, but also literal holes in the world, of the heart. Those can be the same thing, Church encourages. He and his wife co-wrote some wonderfully original videos for the album, including “All is Holy (A432)” Directed by Jonas Sunstrom, the video is composed of a series of film photos of New York. 

“[‘All is Holy (A432)’ is] a song about experiencing the divine in the mundane, and especially in the face of mortality. The lyrics were inspired by a dream I had about taking out the garbage after work and realizing I could die while doing this mundane task and having an almost religious epiphany”

Devon Church

“Flash of Lightning in a Clear Blue Sky” is a standout track on the album. It begins with an electronic, drifting introduction, falling into a stringy consistency that feels like floating. The violin lifts the song into a romantic state and moment of perfect orchestral balance. Its climax is breathtaking, the electric guitar resonating far after the song’s end. It tackles both love and classic Buddhist metaphors, creating a dual reality throughout. It is both a spiritual and personal romance. 

“Ephemera” is an undoubtedly loving song that appeals to the idealists. Another call to the album title, it references strangers, but here there is a wispy recollection of being rescued by the presence of a person one was never expecting to come along. There is no happy ending, “we go the way we come” but the moments of togetherness are anything but left behind. 

The lyrics of “Winter’s Come” speak to a memory that is blurry, but refuses to let go completely. Like Winter, something will always come back, remain. It plays with the past and perception, an apt ode to the sense of longing that comes easily when the sun sets at 4 p.m. Ada Roth’s vocals get their spotlight here, bringing a dreamlike light to the slow and syrupy tune. Her verse is brief, but the listener is left wanting it back, a feeling that nestles well with the tune as a whole.

“Since I Fell” begins with a beat that invites the hips to sway, but eventually turns into a ballad that may cause a tear to be shed. It is clear through this song, after the preceding tracks, that Church has mastered the outstretched hand, the eye that scans for traces of the past in every stranger’s face. He ends the lyrical portion of the song with a call for mercy, an acknowledgement of a mess, but the instrumentals persist far after his cry. It slows to an ascendant, glistening outro that dusts the dampened eyes with sparkle.  

“Deer Park” closes the album by artistically lacking lyrics. It allows the final word to be without any words at all, which seems to be the right choice after Church has brought the listener through an attentive and witty lyrical journey. Here, they can absorb it all with their head in the clouds. 

Strange Strangers Album Cover

Church hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba and is now based in New York. He has experience as a multi-instrument musician, writer, and producer of the dream pop duo Exitmusic. Pitchfork described their album Passage, via Secretly Canadian, as “insurgent, cinematic, and sometimes brilliant.” They released their biggest hit, “Swan Song” with Felte Records in 2018, the same year in which Church debuted his solo album We Are Inextricable, also with Felte Records. His solo debut leaned into a heartier folk rock sound, leaning into influences such as Bob Dylan. Strange Strangers brings this even further.  

Stylistically, I wanted to make a sort of Death of A Ladies Man (Leonard Cohen) meets Brian Eno’s Deep Blue Day sounding record – I like how both those pieces treat cosmic subjects with both strange, imperfect beauty and ironic humor. They also marry devotional sounding American country, folk and gospel music with something uncanny, futuristic and apocalyptic, which is what I was aiming for sonically with Strange Strangers.”

Devon Church

Check out Strange Strangers below. 

Haven Capone Author
I love listening to folk and laughing until I cry.
Haven Capone Author
I love listening to folk and laughing until I cry.

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