CHVRCHES are without a doubt the most hyped band in recent memory, but that’s more than justified by at least three, if not four excellent singles that preceded The Bones Of What You Believe. The feast of infectious earwormy hooks on those singles portrayed a seriously talented trio that in a short period of time has secured their place amongst the biggest names in contemporary synth-pop.
Still, I was getting increasingly worried that when the Scottish trio finally raised the curtains, it would reveal a castle in the air, altough erected on a couple of exceptional cornerstones, but with a lot of feathery fillers in-between. There have been too many synth-pop outfits relying on the occasional hit, glazed in sugary sweet catchiness, but with little substance underneath to sustain beyond ‘the flavor of the day’.
Fortunately for CHVRCHES, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Already on first listen, it becomes evident that the tracks that occupy the space flanked by “The Mother We Shared”, “Gun” and “Lies” are, if possible, even more astonishing. So while, “Lies”, “The Mother We Shared”, “Recover” and “Gun” hit equally hard in context as they did as separate offerings, they’re far from being the only highlights. In fact, there’s at least a handful more from where these came from – at times a bit subtler, at times a bit darker – but all equally infectious. “We Sink”, “Tether”, “Night Sky” and “Science/Visions” make up a new quartet of excellent creations, overwhelming the ears with glowing 80’s throwbacks that dance hand-in-hand with Lauren Mayberry’s charmingly graceful vocals. And since these tracks are less fixated on chart success, they are allowed to float a whole lot more freely, while still checking all the right boxes to work outside of their album context.
On two occasions, “Under The Tide” and “You Caught The Light”, singer Laura Mayberry lends the microphone to Martin Doherty, and while it might be a bit unexpected, or even discouraging to hear Doherty in the shadow of Mayberry’s knife-cutting croons, it establishes the trios dynamic range, showing that they can produce breathtakingly gorgeous music even when the tempo is considerably slowed down and Mayberry is pushed way into the background. It’s only on “Lungs” that they fall through the crack; and while the track works as an exhaling follower to the synth weighty “Science/Visions”, its overly sugary catchiness gets borderline annoying and breaks substantially from the momentum they spend the preceding nine tracks to shape.
Nevertheless, one stumble doesn’t take away that the trio has released an exceptionally cohesive statement that sound more as the result of a band that’s been around long enough to perfect their sound through a series of releases, as opposite to a debut from a band that’s been making music for little over a year. But it’s a trio of experienced musicians from disparate corners that make up the band. All of them have played in various bands before joining forces; Ian Cook was part of a post-rock group called Aereogramme , with at least a hand-full of albums released. Mayberry was the lead-singer of the folk pop outfit Blue Sky Archives, while Doherty toured with the heavily guitar-induced The Twilight Sad. But from where they got their electronic influences remains a mystery. However, I suspect that it could well serve as the key of explaining why they stand-out in an infinite sea of acts dedicated to shallow hooks and 80’s throwbacks.
There’s also a more deeply rooted musical awareness in The Bones Of What You Believe that goes beyond what you would typically expect from a contemporary synth-pop outfit. The trio confessed of being influenced by Prince (that they frequently cover onstage with “I Would Die For U” – altered as “I Would Die For V”) as well as The Cure’s Disintegration. And both these influences make sense, even if it’s not in an obvious way. But underneath the upbeat and life-rejoicing façade, the lyrics tell a darker tale; revealing dysfunctional relationships (“We Sink”); vengeance bordering on psychotic (“Gun”); relationships gone sour (“Recover”, “Tether”); and similar reflective themes that fodders from eerie places. Point being that it’s not exactly you’re average bubblegum-y love songs that’s on display here. And it’s this exact juxtapose of meditative lyrics and shimmering synth-pop melodies that molds TBOWYB into near-perfection. The fact that CHVRCHES opened a couple of shows for Depeche Mode, couldn’t be more fitting. Depche Mode have spent the last four decades working out just the perfect balance between these sentiments, so if there’s a band on planet earth to carry their legacy further, it seems to be CHVRCHES.
While few bands do, CHVRCHES have more than lived up to the hype and created a substantial and strong debut that doesn’t risk of losing its shiny gloss any time soon. When so many bands are dedicated to being instantly catchy without uncovering much substance, CHVRCHES gives a heart and meaning to lifeless synthesizers through Mayberry’s intense and reflective lyrical themes. Whether they can repeat the glorious compositions of TBOWYB in the future is an entirely different matter, but be sure to see them becoming a staple name on major festival billboards and on commercial charts for years to come.
- CHVRCHES Debut – The Bones of What You Believe (electricsloth.com)
- ALBUM REVIEW: CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe (okwest.wordpress.com)
- Listening Post: Chvrches (thedailybanter.com)
- First Listen: Chvrches, ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ (wnyc.org)
- Review – Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe (kaioticmusic.com)
- [Audio] Chvrches’ ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ album (electronicrumors.com)
- Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe (papergong.com)
- CHVRCHES – “The Bones of What You Believe” – ALBUM REVIEW (jakobsalbumreviews.wordpress.com)