September 18, 2013

Test Spins: Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe

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By: MIKE SOSNICK

I’ve already been hooked on Chvrches for a while. I have been addicted ever since the Glaswegian synthpop trio released their first track, “Lies,” in May 2012. Their synth loops were creative, their vocals shimmering and their choruses catchy. After the group’s Recover EP and singles “The Mother We Share” and “Gun,” I was eagerly awaiting the day I’d get the privilege of listening to their debut LP, The Bones of What You Believe. I’m not alone in my anticipation. Chvrches, spelled with the Roman “V” so as not to confuse their Internet searches with religious edifices, had already made quite a splash before the release of their first full-length. While Glasgow has been primarily an EDM and guitar rock city, Chvrches can be credited for a surge in interest in electro-indie in the area.

For many, the star of the band has been lead singer Lauren Mayberry. A petite girl who looks closer to 18 than her actual age of 25, Mayberry brings strong, talented vocals with an omnipresent hint of coyness. While she doesn’t lack confidence, she never sounds fully at ease with her own talents. Coupled with her troubled, dark lyrics, this slight waver lends a warm, human trait to even the most electronic tracks, a quality which has made many of her listeners develop a huge crush (myself included). Always clever yet timid onstage and in interviews, the masters degree-wielding vocalist is adamant about deflecting the spotlight. She reiterates time and time again that she is not Chvrches and that her bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty aren’t writing music specifically for her voice. Rather, they see the group as a collective effort and Lauren’s voice as just another instrument at their disposal.

The Bones of What You Believe proves this to be a healthy, effective strategy. The album is packed to the brim with infectiously catchy synth patterns backing depressing and occasionally sinister lyrics, creating a unique juxtaposition that Chvrches strives for. The album features all four of their singles released so far, each one more compelling than the last. They made the correct choice to re-record their first one, “Lies,” with stellar results. Whereas the vocals seemed a tad wonky and misplaced in the original version, the increase of bass in the synth and drum mixes makes the track a standout on the album.

Standing out on this LP isn’t an easy feat since the record is so memorable front to back. “By the Throat” succeeds with early europop-inspired synthesizer patterns and passionate male backup vocals. Even though it begins fairly unmemorably, “Night Sky” ends up being very emotionally powerful with its shadowy instrumentation. Moreover, “Tether” is spacious and atmospheric, and gives the album room to breathe with Mayberry’s particularly melodic vocal delivery. Soon to be featured on FIFA ’14, “We Sink” has an overly complicated synth loop and a strange interlude but somehow emerges a catchy pop tune.

As Chvrches continues to prevent Lauren from becoming the sole focal point of the group, Martin Doherty features as lead vocals on two tracks. While the distortion and bass of “Under the Tide” gorgeously compliment his voice, “You Caught the Light” is his real moment of true excellence. His crooning combines with dreampop textures and Chvrches’s signature bright synths to hammer home both the group’s brilliance and their non-reliance on Mayberry’s delivery.

Between the tracks from Recover, the singles and the fact that they perform almost all these songs in their concert set, there really isn’t much new content here. Despite this fact, none of it feels stale. Given the quality of these repurposed tracks, I admit that I had unfairly high expectations for this album. Not only did it live up to even the wildest of them, but The Bones of What You Believe gives the feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg for Chvrches. They’re brimming with clever, effective ideas, and they’re executing them flawlessly. They’ve been criticized for being simple synthpop and for not breaking new ground. That statement might have a grain of truth, but I’ll take exciting, genre-leading, successful releases over experimental ones any day. Although the band takes cues from diverse influences, the main constant throughout their debut LP is brilliance. With The Bones of What You Believe, Chrvrches is continuing to flesh out their sound, and their future is bright as can be.

Mike Sosnick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at msosnick@cornellsun.com.