Scotland's Chvrches Won't Be Pinned Down
There's something in Chvrches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry's voice — the way it floats just above the bass and synthesizers, its so-slight-you'll-almost-miss-it Scottish lilt — that makes it always a little disarming when she drops an F-bomb. "So easy I bleed out / What the fuck were you thinking? / We are gonna fall if you lead us," she sings on 2013's The Bones of What You Believe standout "We Sink." It's not that she sounds saccharine or "poppy" or any other dismissive adjective you'd care to throw at her, but the profanity tends to catch the listener off guard. And though it's easy to make too much of a curse word in a song, it somehow seems fitting for Chvrches in the way it suggests there's something more sinister — more jagged or dark or uncomfortable — behind these songs that are so easy to move to. The hooks are sharp enough to draw blood, maybe.
Only one LP in, Chvrches has already experienced an astounding amount of success, reaching so far beyond its Glaswegian beginnings that it's easy to forget the admirable pedigrees of its members: Iain Cook was a member of the criminally underrated Aereogramme, and Martin Doherty put in some time with the irreproachable Twilight Sad. Part of Chvrches' success is due to the hooks in each song on Bones, but it's more in the way the group plays with sounds (1980s synthpop is the easiest and therefore most reductive signpost) without ever sounding tethered to them. Like Depeche Mode, with whom Chvrches toured in 2013, Chvrches' music thoroughgoing and immaculately produced, those melodies taking residence somewhere in the front of your brain, the lyrics worming around somewhere in the back.
That Chvrches stands out among the current surfeit of bands working within roughly the same synthesizer-driven, electro-pop framework underscores just how precise and unique it is — how remarkably well singles like "The Mother We Share" touch upon past sounds while still sounding unprecedented. While Mayberry takes the vocal lead on most of the songs and sets Chvrches apart from its drearier Scottish counterparts, Doherty's breathy, weightless vocals on tracks like Bones closer "You Caught the Light" show that Chvrches is a group effort more than anything. The songs are full but not overstuffed. There's nothing to jettison and an awful lot of space to be dynamic.
It helps that Chvrches is as engaging when generating off-the-album ephemera as it is when you're spinning the disc. Mayberry's astute takedown of online misogyny that she wrote for The Guardian — something of a splash, though it still deserves a wider readership — proves that she's as adept at earning fans through her thoughtful and unguarded prose as she is with her ear for melody. (The master's in journalism she earned before forming Chvrches probably didn't hurt on that front, either.) Moreover, the band's turned itself into a tight touring unit, turning in memorable performances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show with David Letterman as well as dozens of well-received, headlining live shows.
Still, Chvrches is touring behind only one record, the much-blogged-about covers of Bauhaus, Janelle Monáe, and Whitney Houston notwithstanding. You can already hear the band outgrowing its debut, stretching the songs into surprising and looser new arrangements, and figuring out what the hell to do with all the momentum it's built. It's an exciting time to have the opportunity to experience the group live, to see how it all plays out before an already engaging band grows more so.
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