Hey TL, review number 5. This one is slightly different in that it's about half the length of the others I've done so far. It's also my first review of new music rather than something that I've already had for a long time.
As per usual, comments/complaints/criticisms welcome, and if you could, please give my blog a follow. It'd mean the world to me. <3
Flash Review – Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe
Chvrches are a Scottish electropop trio, consisting of frontwoman Lauren Mayberry, bleeps and bloops composer Iain Cook, and beatmaker Martin Doherty, though they all contribute to each element of song production. The Bones Of What You Believe is their first full length LP, having released several singles and an EP, Recover, since their inception in 2011.
There can be comparisons drawn between them and kings of female vocalist synthpop The Knife, or electropop star Robyn, and really Chvrches sit somewhere in between, offering a blend of easily accessible synthesised sound and more adventurous angles and less pop-focused lyrics (we have two f-bombs in the first two songs).
The record opens with a single released in the months coming up to the release, “The Mother We Share”. Definitely their strongest song, and a great way to introduce the album. Lauren’s voice is sampled to form a part of the beat, offering an element of creativity, but really it is just an extremely capable, well produced electropop song.
Chvrches approach a pretty conventional genre of music with a bresh of fresh air, and their music moves between very simple and conventional stylings (such as the opening to “Gun”) with a bit more adventure (the end to “We Sink”). Both of those tracks are very strong and the album’s strong start really does continue.
“Gun” featured on the Recover EP, generally considered to be stronger than the title track. The competence of the synths and beats is very clear, as they steer the track along from verse to chorus with a ridiculously catchy hook. Lauren’s vocals lilt on top of it all, though she sometimes gets drowned out by the instrumentation.
It’s hard not to talk about Chvrches without mentioning Lauren, who seems mostly responsible for the band’s swelling fanbase (no pun intended). The fact she may be the most adorable human being on the planet likely does have some impact on why Chvrches have exploded in popularity in recent months, but that isn’t to take away from her musical ability – she does have a lovely voice, and contributes to the synths as well. She herself has said it is startling how many people make the assumption she just sings and the guys do all the work, and it isn’t fair to any of them, the production on the songs really is a team effort in every aspect.
“Tether” is a far slower track than the opening three, with a slow guitar chord progression that rings of influence from the primetime of synthpop in the 80s. Like most of their songs it is something that doesn’t do anything wrong – the lyrics are fine, the instrumentation well applied, the production clean and intelligent – but it doesn’t really ‘wow’. That is, until the break in the middle of the song that leads into a frankly delightful synth melody sweetened by drums samples straight out of the 80s. It is a fantastic and unexpected end to the song.
Enter another single, “Lies”, their first release. It is kind of a disappointment that they would have so many songs already released featuring on the album (“Recover” features too) but they are the strongest songs the band have really produced. “Lies” is a good song no doubt, but it is very much a first single – the other hits on the record are more mature, more carefully constructed, more intricate. Don’t take anything away from “Lies” however, it too has some delightful vocal sampling in a break, and were Lauren’s voice replaced by that of Bernard Sumner it wouldn’t sound too unlike a New Order track from their later works.
The end of “Lies” however is filled darker and grittier synths, which continue into “Under the Tide”, the first track on the record not sung by Lauren, as Martin Doherty takes over. As the song writing is, like most things, a communal effort from the band, it shows their ability to be diverse, and the track is very different from the bouncy pop heard earlier – it has more “feel” to it. More comparisons with The Knife (especially Deep Cuts) can be drawn here, as they too share male and female vocals.
“Recover” opens with quickly pausing vocals that are a little abrasive, but what follows is pure electropop brilliance. It is almost unbearably catchy. As the synths deepen Lauren’s extremely short verses become less hard on the ears, and before you know it we’re back in the rich synths of the chorus. Unfortunately the song fades away before it really feels over, leaving a slightly disappointed taste in our…ears?
Many electropop bands can produce a few great hits and proceed to have the rest of the album as filler – and with so many existing acclaimed tracks on the album this isn’t far from the truth. “Night Sky” is an example of filler. But compared to some records, where the weaker tracks are so much worse than the stronger ones – The Knife’s first effort and Deep Cuts can be accused of this – most of Chvrches’ filler tracks are still excellent. This is one of them.
“Science/Visions” takes another different approach, with echoing vocals and a muted synth line that leads the bass to become the focal point of the track. There are more links to all kinds of 80s bands here – Gary Numan, The Human League, New Order again, Reflex, Depeche Mode… this is their most authentic original synthpop sounding track for sure. But it is also one of the weakest. The sci-fi soundtrack style is great, and something that would be interesting to see experimented with further, but compared to the rest of the tracks it is weaker.
“Lungs” offers a more personal side to Lauren’s vocals, less metaphorical than earlier tracks, far more straight-shooting. Her voice is modified to prevent it from being swamped in sound as it can be, and so she becomes her own instrument in it, which makes it another different and interesting song. The synths offer stronger bass and guitar too, which makes it ring of some tracks from Sleigh Bells’ excellent debut.
“By the Throat” is the penultimate track on the album, which is a bit surprising in itself, the time has flown by. For an album of 48 minutes, it does not feel remotely that long – tracks like “Recover” and “The Mother We Share” really end too soon. There is nothing wrong with “By The Throat”, but it is a filler track – it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd around it, but it’s one hell of a good crowd regardless.
The record ends with another slower track, “You Caught the Light”, with more 80s-esque beats that sound almost like John Maus. Doherty returns to the mic which is in all honesty a disappointment. Doherty’s singing is fine, but the image of the band and the band’s best songs come with Mayberry at the helm. “You Caught the Light” does have a lovely gritty sounding synth line with some powerful bass, but it trickles off as kind of an anti-climax to the record, which is a shame.
Chvrches really seem at their strongest when they focus on pop hooks – it is hard to take them too seriously, they are a ‘light’ band without much emotional depth, but as a pop band they are absolutely brilliant. Their production is first class, technical ability is remarkable for a new band, and they have a frontwoman who has already achieved some sort of cult hero status online. This is a band that is genuine, fun and catchy – there really isn’t anything to dislike, and plenty of things to really really enjoy.
The Mother We Share – 89%
We Sink – 84%
Gun – 87%
Tether – 78%
Lies – 79%
Under the Tide – 76%
Recover – 86%
Night Sky – 82%
Science/Visions – 75%
Lungs – 77%
By The Throat – 74%
You Caught the Light – 73%
Overall Score – 80% – Very Good
DISCLAIMER – THESE SCORES ARE NOT AN ASSESSMENT OF THE OBJECTIVE QUALITY OF THE MUSIC. THEY ARE REFLECTIVE PURELY OF HOW MUCH I ENJOYED EACH SONG, WITH A GUIDELINE AS TO WHAT THAT MEANS TO ME.
0-10% – Awful
10-20 – Incredibly poor
20-30 – Missable
30-40 – Below average
40-50 – Not great
50-60 – Average
60-70 – Better than average
70-80 – Good
80-85 – Very good
85-90 – Exceptional
90-95 – Must listen
95-100 – Seminal, masterpiece