Big Stir Records is proud to announce the March 27 release of the new album from CHRIS CHURCH, GAME DIRT. It's the esteemed singer-songwriter's debut for BSR, a self-produced collection with Chris playing all the instruments on 13 brand new tunes. GAME DIRT is up for preorder now on CD and digital formats at www.bigstirrecords.com/store and everywhere music is sold or streamed.
It's been hard to miss the continuing rise of Lenoir, NC's CHRIS CHURCH on the global pop rock scene over the past decade. Recent releases like 2017's Limitations of Source Tape and 2020's exploration of “Heavy Melody” Backwards Compatible have topped countless critics' “Year's Best” lists. It's equally easy to hear, if harder to pin down, why Church's music reaches beyond the boundaries of the power pop form. Undoubtedly, he possesses the requisite command of melody and a powerful, instantly-recognizable vocal presence, but his compositions have an unforced depth and visceral openness that can't be learned. Simply put, Church's tunes have what Neil Young – one of an eclectic clutch of keystone influences – would call “the spook”.
Church has followed diverse paths over 30 years of being an original musician. In addition to his solo work, he's performed, written and recorded with power pop bands and progressive hard rock/metal outfits and taken detours into musical experimentalism and composition for performance art pieces. Recently he's moved into new roles both in the studio (as a producer) and onstage (frequently with the star-studded Nashville-based cover band The Long Players).
Chris's brand new album GAME DIRT is once again something different and new, even by the standards of his exploratory career. It's less a response to the musical challenges of the pandemic era than the result of simply hitting “record” and seeing what happens. The final record reflects a looser, more straight ahead rock and roll element, adding a pinch of alt-country and '90s indie styles in with his pop rock sensibilities. Literally left to his own devices, Church has tapped into a new source of urgent creativity that might not have surfaced in a more perfect world.
Kicking off with the boisterous lead single “Learn” (from which Lindsay Murray's artwork takes its baseball-themed cues) and diving into the brief, insistent “Falderal” – yes, all the tunes have one word titles – the album's immediacy is clear from the outset. “Fall”, with its stately groove and intricate jangle, brings the implicit melancholy of the record into focus: “You can't just ignore that you're far too critical of yourself” might be the key sentiment here. Not that Chris is telling... perhaps more than ever, the lyrics are intentionally open to interpretation, and on the following track, the gorgeous mandolin-ornamented “Gravity”, the listener may hear the references to a fever that never comes down and “the death of subtlety” as reflections of either the realities of 2020, a more internal landscape, or the hazy crossroads where the two intersect.
As Game Dirt unfolds, Church makes it clear that, musically, the only rule is that there are no rules. It's thus that the twangy No Depression vibes of “Lost” and “Smile” rub shoulders with the epic “Trying”, awash with shifting time changes and bittersweet major-7th chords. There are the crunching riffs and searing solos of “Hang”, and there's “Know” (as in “know your enemy”), which sounds like the Brian Jones and Mick Taylor iterations of the Stones playing at the same time. There's the '90s alt-rock march of “Down”, the near-new-wave stutter of “Praise”, and a pair of sparkling Big Star-worthy ballads in “Removed” and the closing “Sunrise”. Each one is draped with hooks and indelible choruses that easily stand with those of their influences.
In less subtle hands and less uncertain times, the album might play as a virtuoso rock and roll history lesson. But Game Dirt is digging at something deeper than that, as Church leaves the edges rough and favors truth over polish this time out. It's an inward-looking record for inward-looking times, the sound of an artist pushing his own limits not just musically but lyrically as well, and there's a lot of stark emotion on display. While it's fluidly grafted onto the genre conventions of more songwriterly tunes like “Learn”, “Lost” and “Smile” (although the latter contains the telling line “I'm content to reinvent the undefined”), the looser compositions sport murkier, often dark stream-0f-consciousness musings. “Removed” opens with the words “anatomy of a failure”. “Falderal” begins “and I see for the first time, and everything is black”, its title signifying “nothing left of substance”. The title of “Trying” Is simply the end of the phrase “you can die trying”.
That's not to say that Game Dirt is bleak so much as it is unflinching, and all the more rewarding for it. One only needs to look at the tunes bookending the record to see that Church is spotlighting honesty, especially with oneself, as the key to growth. “Learn” is so cheerfully swinging that you might miss it: “When you're just about to sort it all out, that's the best time to doubt”. And it's no accident that Chris chooses to end the record on a note of hope that doesn't shy away from the weariness familiar to many of us at the start of 2021: “I just want to feel all right... tired of hearing the worst everybody's got to say, so I'm gonna find myself a brand new way to look for the sunrise.” That new way is, in a very real sense, what's heard all across the record.
Those who know Chris Church's music have come to expect an attention to pop songwriting craft, but here he reinvents himself to create a record celebrating reinvention. The fact that Chris plays all the instruments on Game Dirt with a hint of abandon and produced and mixed it himself with a distinctly non-modern sonic approach proves again how his disregard for expectations remains intact. So too does his gift for following a song wherever it may lead, and giving it the passionate delivery it deserves. So too, perhaps more than ever, does the spook.