opinion by JEAN-LUC MARSH
In the realm of synthpop, standing apart is no easy task. The genre is a constellation of nascent stars, each competing to be brighter than the rest. Catchiness is easy to manufacture. Enduring content is another matter entirely, as it is only too easy for emotions to fall by the wayside, swept away by neon shimmers and 8-bit chirps. The result is that many of the stars in the synth pop galaxy are flashes in the pan; outfits that burn out once the novelty of a single intriguing rhythm has dissipated. Indeed, electropop suffers from a relatively short shelf life. The rare artists that capitalize upon the winning combination of a rhythmic wallop and words to match, are those destined to remain in orbit long after the initial buzz has died down.
Enter CHVRCHES; a ragtag trio of Scots drawn from disparate corners of the sonic spectrum with one goal: to make synthpop that sticks. Each of the tracks they have shared since their debut nearly a year and a half ago, shine with a unique vitality. The overflowing confidence of “Lies” was the first intoxicating drop we were allowed to drink, followed by “The Mother We Share,” with its massive hook and cascades of iridescent synths. “Recover” followed a more plaintive path, finding lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry longing for someone to be her comfort. Most recently, “Gun” emerged as an aggressive, neon-dipped threat, and a warning to take CHVRCHES seriously, should you not have been converted beforehand.
All four tracks are present within CHVRCHES’ debut album The Bones of What You Believe, each separated from the others by only a single song. Typically, front-loading all previous material onto a debut record is a gamble. Despite this, CHVRCHES do not rest on their laurels. The quartet of singles are some of the group’s best, but they aren’t all that they are capable of. Having mastered the creation of meteoric melodies, CHVRCHES spend a decent portion of TBOWYB exploring more introspective territory without compromising the infectious ebullience that endeared them in the first place.
Mayberry’s dynamic lyricism and sprightly delivery is the x-factor that propels much of CHVRCHES’ work from humdrum dance floor fodder to stratospheric anthem status. She punches well above her weight, taking emotive twists with simple changes in tone. TBOWYB isn’t all glimmer and sugar though. Beneath the polished electropop exterior, is a tangled knot of psychopathic tendencies, insecurities, and introspective moments.
On “Gun,” a track brimming with thinly-veiled menace, Mayberry becomes unhinged, hurling phrases such as “I will be a gun / And it’s you I’ll come for,” before taking cover behind glittering crenellations until the next assault. “Recover” is a coruscating cry for help, and one of the first glimpses Mayberry allows of a chink in her armor. “Tether” is a sprawling epic that expands from despondent guitar licks into a colossal wave of power pop synthesizers, reflecting the inner process of mustering the fortitude to sever a detrimental tie. “We Sink” is a high-octane ode to persistent, dysfunctional love. “I’ll be a thorn in your side, ‘til you die / I’ll be a thorn in your side, for always,” Mayberry intones, not intending to surrender anytime soon. For a sugary-sweet dismissal of a former flame, look no further than the hopscotch beats and Mayberry’s dulcet vocals on “Lungs.”
The only weak track on The Bones of What You Believe is limp album closer “You Caught The Light,” which inexplicably abandons Mayberry and the nimble verve found throughout the other eleven tracks for male vocals and a catatonic attempt at a lighters-in-the-air slow-burner.
“All that’s golden is never real,” sings Mayberry on penultimate song “By The Throat.” It is a statement that has no place on TBOWYB, an album which requires no diminished expectations. This is how synthpop was meant to be; the robotic notes of a keyboard rendered human and given a beating heart. CHVRCHES have constructed a debut record that will not lose its luster with each successive spin, and proven that they have the substance to remain aloft as their cosmic kin come crashing down to Earth. [B+]