April 3, 2013

Test Spins: CHVRCHES, Recover

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CHVRCHES, and yes that’s with a “v,” is the Glasgow synthpop trio that deservedly got a lot of buzz for two excellent singles, “The Mother We Share” and “Lies.” And while those two singles were beautifully cold club-bangers, the band’s debut EP Recover leaves behind what made them unique in a saturated field.

And what a saturation synthpop has become: Ever since The Knife’s breakout single “Heartbeats,” sunshine club pop tunes blended with militaristic thumping beats have become the norm. Nothing ostensibly “synthpop” has escaped the icy touch of darkwave, however light it was. But every artist had a little something unique: M.I.A. has agitprop, Crystal Castles has gritty goth and Purity Ring has its R&B shimmer.

CHVRCHES has been compared with Purity Ring, but other than their almost-simultaneous emergence the two couldn’t be more different. Purity Ring manipulates reverbs so synths and vocals sound grandly distant, while CHVRCHES is brings them closer to the listener’s ears and heart. “The Mother We Share” longs for an estranged sibling — a minefield of cheesy emotion — but the childlike quality of singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice made it innocently relatable. Mayfield embodied confident honesty in a musical era full of insecure artists resorting to autotune.

Recover falls flat because unremarkable production overwhelms CHVRCHES’ greatest asset: Mayfield’s voice — which recedes with each subsequent song. Its eponymous track has so much going on at the same time that the track ends up amounting to nothing at all. Mayfield devolves into a chorus in “ZVVL,” and main vocal duties are passed on to another band member, Martin Doherty, with mediocre results. The reduction is complete with “Now Is The Time,” culminating into the cheese fondue fountain trap that the band had so expertly avoided.

In this sense, Recover suffers from the same problem that Light Asylum’s debut did last year. Singer Shannon Funchess’ unique booming baritone made the electronic post-punk duo the most exciting sound out there, but that hype fizzled out because her partner’s production held back her voice. If you restrain what makes you unique, what’s making the rest of you stand out?

Original Author: Kai Sam Ng