What does it sound like?:
The Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus first formed in Liverpool in the mid eighties and released two albums and two EPs over a decade. They were silent until 2013 when French label Infrastition offered to repackage their back catalogue and have been enjoying a flurry of creativity since. They start from a Christian outlook, but are more influenced by Eastern European Orthodoxy where Church art is sacramental rather than illustrative and beauty is discovered in the pursuit of divine truth, not created by mankind. They mix Folk with Gregorian chants and Drone Music, but are willing to roam far and wide, even into Electronica and field recordings, to express their musical ideas. They know their scriptures and they know their poetry and philosophy, from West to East. They understand that Christianity is a broad church and that faith encompasses doubt and long, dark nights of the soul. After all, their name is a reference to the terrorist group in Luis Buñuel’s 1977 film, That Obscure Object Of Desire, ‘a quixotic treatise on lust and love’, that they probably saw in the original French.
They are a record company nightmare, shunning the limelight, avoiding interviews, marketing and promotion, believing their art should speak for itself. Live, they shroud behind screens and curtains. The twenty year hiatus waiting for the right inspiration has enabled them to extend their family. The daughter of one original member now plays piano in the band and another directs the films they use during live performances.
Now, in 2020, we are treated to two new albums released at once.
For a man who dislikes marketing, founder member Leslie Hampson is remarkably articulate describing his work; “Songs of Yearning is an album of longing, exploration, fascination and passion; together, the pieces describe the search for that which is most treasured and lost… there is an emotional thread running through the album, pieced together from the echoes of half-forgotten memories, in what is sometimes a despairing search for compassion, peace and redemption.”
The music is indeed melancholy, sung with crystalline beauty by Jess Main in six different languages: Greek, Latin, French, English, Russian and a Finnish dialect of Swedish. The music drifts slowly, buoyed by Elisa Carew’s cello and Hampson’s acoustic guitar. There is repetition, there is contemplation, there is a harmonium drone and it all ends with birdsong.
Nocturnes is a limited edition companion piece. Hampson says, “Nocturnes is not a collection of demos or outtakes, but an album in its own right, echoing and reflecting the world described in Songs of Yearning, at times in a dream state and at times in a beautifully clear state of consciousness and awareness.”
In defiance of its title, Nocturnes feels lighter than Songs Of Yearning. I Carry The Sun is a bright start, almost a Pop song, understandably released as a single. Its lyrics are derived from WB Yeats’ poem, Those Dancing Days Are Gone. It stops just as it begins to get going and we are back to Falling (full length version) and static music, with little structure, no hooks and no choruses.
The Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus are skilful musicians who care a great deal about their work, dedicating a lot of thought and time and effort to put together their albums and live performances. They have done their homework, studying music, scripture, poetry and history closely. Their music is intelligent and well put together. They create as part of a spiritual quest. No less an authority than Stuart Maconie views them as ‘one of the most fascinating and enigmatic bands ever,’ and Uncut has rated them as ‘remarkable… alluringly strange 9/10’. The words ‘haunting’, ‘meditative’ and ‘intense’ have been deployed to describe their albums. However, I find Songs Of Yearning and Nocturnes deep and meaningless, enigmatic to the point of pretension, earnest yet lifeless, worthy but dull.
File under admirable rather than loveable.
What does it all *mean*?
Sometimes a great sounding theory doesn’t work out in practice.
Goes well with…
A live performance experienced in a sacred setting might do the trick.
Might suit people who like…
The greatest benefit of listening to The Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus is as a conduit to other musical byways, such as Gavin Bryars, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Avro Pärt and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It is about as far from Gospel you can get, lacking any sense of joy or celebration.