CHVRCHES: The Bones of What You Believe
Contemporary music culture of an accessibly underground sort, embodied in web form by publications like Pitchfork, the AV Club, and Slant, tends to be identified with indie rock music. For nearly a decade, that genre has connoted more cerebral and introspective music, increasingly apolitical and self-reflexive.
Another vital current in this culture, however, and one that is less covered, has been this culture’s embrace of dance music. This dance music, moreover, has always had a more political edge. Groups like The Knife, LCD Soundsystem, and Grimes have put the body–and the body politic–back at center of their music. CHVRCHES, hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, has just released its first record, “The Bones of What You Believe,” after mounting hype has sent them from an obscure group to a band on a sold-out tour in less than a year. This debut is both appealing and ephemeral, placing it on a different–and lesser–plane than its closest partners in synthpop.
Lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s vocals are highly redolent of Purity Ring’s Megan James, and they employ a similar palette of synths to that Canadian group. Her lyrics are mostly soprano put-downs of loved ones, not exactly adventurous subject matter. Where CHVRCHES sets itself apart is in its preference for pop grandeur and soaring melodies. First track and premier single “The Mother We Share” illustrates this well. Neither the best nor the catchiest song on the album, it is nonetheless the track that has caught the most attention on the Internet. Dominated by its chorus, the song is a series of short buildups to massive and prolonged releases. This is an effective approach, but the first half of the album, where the band is at its poppiest, is also comparatively the weaker half. This is especially evident after the first three tracks, which are much stronger than “Tether” and “Lies,” the two to follow. The latter, especially, seems too much like a collection of sounds and moments we already heard; its stuttering voices, anthemic chorus, and general structure feel too familiar.
The best tracks on the album come late. Without sacrificing immediacy, “Science/Visions” and “Lungs” inject much-needed energy into the proceedings. The former is driven by a straight house beat, probably the most danceable to be found on “Bones,” and “Lungs” shines in its effective use of sharp synth effects to heighten the emotions of the romantically tense song.
What we have in The Bones of What You Believe is an album with a surplus of immediate pleasures. Glossy production leaves few rough edges, and every track is perfectly listenable. Moreover, the album is well-arranged and the songs are distinctive and hold up well on their own. What works against the album is that it is divided against itself. The tension between the poppier first half and darker, more danceable second half is neither intriguing nor productive but rather confounding. This might indicate that CHVRCHES is stronger at producing shorter EPs and singles at this point, as they lack the sort of grand overarching vision that you get from The Knife or Grimes.