THE BONES OF WHAT YOU BELIEVE
Take the sound of The Naked and Famous, throw in a dash of Purity Ring, stir the whole thing together with a heaping spoonful of Glaswegian sincerity, and you’ll end up with a pretty close approximation of CHVRCHES. The Scottish synthpop trio’s debut LP, The Bones of What You Believe, has been pretty thoroughly hyped over the last few months, and I’m happy to say that it doesn’t disappoint.
It kicks off with one of the band’s singles, “The Mother We Share,” and doesn’t really let off the accelerator from there. “Gun,” “Tether,” “Lies,” “Recover,” and “Night Sky” are all infectious, radio-ready tracks that keep the energy level right up where you expect it to be. On my first listen, I was sort of astounded by the consistency. Some of the songs start slowly, but they reliably explode into catchy, driving choruses that make you want to dance around in your car like an idiot.
The lead singer, Lauren Mayberry, is definitely the highlight of the group. She manages to be expressive and powerful while still maintaining an air of vulnerability. I’m getting pretty tired of the aloof, waify hipster-girl persona that’s been in vogue for the last few years, and despite looking the part, Mayberry offers a dynamic vocal style that keeps things interesting.
The lyrics are impressive as well. They cover the typical indie synthpop subject matter, such as love, betrayal, and vaguely melodramatic relationship issues, but they feel natural and emotive without trying too hard. There’s substance to CHVRCHES’ style, and while they’re certainly not The National, they’re far from the vacuity of bands like Alt-J or Interpol.
But there are a few caveats to this praise. If Bones ended after track eight, it would be pretty close to perfect. The pacing up to that point is great, and everything is very cohesive. And then, all of a sudden, it gets boring.
The problem isn’t that the last four tracks are bad, it’s just that they don’t deliver on the expectations established by the first three quarters of the album. Where “Tether” steadily builds into a blinding crescendo of up-tempo synths, “Lungs” drones on lazily without ever reaching any sort of climax. There’s nothing wrong with that, but after getting accustomed to Mayberry’s impassioned belting it’s a little underwhelming. “By the Throat” picks things up a bit, only to have the album close on the let-down that is “You Caught the Light.”
Now, this certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, but it is a blemish on what would otherwise be a phenomenal album. It seems like there’s often an unconscious (and probably self-imposed) pressure on electronic musicians to tone things down for the closing tracks. They feel they have to give the listener a little bit of denouement, lest the ending feel too abrupt. That’s certainly the traditional way of doing things, but in cases like this I’d rather wrap things up with an exclamation point that better represents the work as a whole.
Regardless, The Bones of What You Believe is definitely worth checking out. CHVRCHES have given a strong showing out of the gate, and I’m excited to see how they develop in the future. A lot of synthpop groups stagnate after their debuts, but this ain’t the band’s first rodeo. Iain Cook, formerly of Aereogramme, and Martin Doherty, a touring member of The Twilight Sad, back up Mayberry and provide some assurance that these guys and gal aren’t going to fizzle.
Come what may, CHVRCHES is kicking ass at the moment. Do yourself a favor and pick up this album.