The British music press is still the world leader when it comes to hype. The cabal of magazines and newspapers often strike gold but just as often thrust bands that had no place in the limelight front and centre. When Chvrches released their debut single ‘Lies’ last year they were touted as the next British band that the world needed to stand up and listen to. The song was all electronic twitches and loud synths and was definitely a good track but nothing particularly memorable. On their debut LP The Bones of What You Believe the band set out to make sure that they’re nothing if not memorable and do so with much aplomb.
The most striking aspect about Chvrches is Lauren Mayberry’s, the lead singer, voice. It is decidedly different, a bit Ellie Goulding and also a bit Russian music project/gimmick T.A.T.U. It’s a voice that seems as if it belongs to a schoolgirl; naïve, a little unpolished yet forceful in it’s quest to be heard. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, formerly of other Glaswegian bands Aerogramme and The Twilight Sad respectively, handle the production. In contrast to Mayberry’s voice, their production is sharp, precise and angular – it’s a synth stab here, a prickly arpeggiator there. It’s a modern sound but one that’s indebted to the sinister of 80s electronica of a Depeche Mode or modern revivalists Factory Floor, only appropriated for three-minute pop songs.
It’s this dynamic that makes Chvrches a little different from the legion of synth-pop contemporaries. The slightly dark and, at times, harsh production is placed up against Mayberry’s youthful voice. It’s a battleground that the album traverses skillfully playing on common themes of separation, heartache and longing, but played out in an embattled exchange between Mayberry’s voice and the production.
The most immediate example of this is the excellent album opener, ‘The Mother We Share’. A looped sample of Mayberry’s voice reverberates around the track as the production gets ever more propulsive. Mayberry’s voice sounds fragile as she fights to be heard over the music and as it dramatically unfurls she proclaims, “And when it all fucks up, you put your head in my hands. It’s a souvenir for when you go.” It’s hard-hitting, accessible and tightly organised – Chvrches showing their particular brand of thumping pop. The same formula is repeated over the next two songs ‘We Sink’ and ‘Gun’ and represents a bold and assured start to the album.
The song ordering shows that Chvrches understand that it is a trick that may be overplayed as the album moves to the more sparse and solemn ‘Tether’, it showcases Mayberry utilizing a different side of her voice as she sounds more restrained when she sings, “I feel incapable of seeing the end. I feel incapable of saying it’s over”. She shows she is as comfortable sounding hurt as she is sounding brash.
The album moves on to the outstanding mid-section where the fuzzed out Neon Indian-like synths provide a perfect foil to Martin Doherty’s turn with the singing duties on ‘Under The Tide’. Then on to their smash hit ‘Recover’ which placed in the middle album reminds you of their skills in crafting Mayberry’s siren voice, this time working in tandem with the probing keyboards, towards the enveloping climax. The centerpiece however is ‘Night Sky’. This time Mayberry’s voice engages in an increasingly strained battle with the music as it is buffeted and rocked by the thunderstorm production. It features clever harmonies between Doherty and Mayberry as the latter begins to sound more desperate as she morphs into the storm herself as she proclaims, “I’m the night sky. I’m the fire in your eyes.”
The tail-end of the album is marked by the Grimes-like twisted snarling soundscapes of ‘Science/Visions’ and the hip-hop influenced ‘Lungs’. It shows the group can try their hand at their own distinctive versions of various styles. After the hyper-paced and head-rush feel of the rest of the album, it closes with the beautiful, ‘You Caught The Light’. It ditches the sharper elements of the Chrvches sound for bold swathes of electronic hiss, vibrating bass and a solitary guitar. It’s Chvrches attempting to craft an epic and doing so.
Chvrches have listed some of their disparate influences as including Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston, Robyn and Elliot Smith. These influences are picked up over the length of The Bones of What You Believe, which is always propulsive, sometimes solemn, lyrically honest and unashamedly designed to be immediate and not overly complicated. It is a careful balancing act that they largely succeed in maintaining this through the album that uses the group’s diverse talents so effectively. They succeed in crafting a debut album that only makes you wish more people were this confident in crafting a pop album.