The group builds a wall of raucous noise with bricks from all corners of the rock and blues universe: brassy horns, soulful wails, glammy guitar riffs and pounding percussion. Even if there’s a gap here and there, it’s a largely successful remodel.
Em and the MotherSuperiors are especially effective on the sultry, slower turns, be them romantic (“Tangerine,” “Repeaterette”) or dark (“So You Think You’re the Devil”). Moments like these are when singer Emily Alexander and her powerhouse howl really get their proper due.
Churches hedges nondescript at times (“Contra”), but that’s somewhat alleviated with stirring takes like “Powertrust,” which marries a post-punk guitar riff to the group’s self-described brand of “psychedelic soul.” The song is an unexpected but wholly fascinating success, one that finds the band’s own voice in the process.
With tracks like opener “Alien Love Song” and “Brian Wilson’s War,” the band struggles to find the proper footing between agreeably swampy and bewilderingly muddled in concocting its witch’s brew, leaning more toward the cacophonous than the melodic. But for the most part, Churches into Theaters is a soundly produced and skillful look back at the past half-century of American music. — Joshua Boydston