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CHVRCHES produces epic pop

John Darr | Tuesday, September 24, 2013

You’re sitting there, in life. You’re reading and blinking and breathing and yawning. The world around you is a giant parking lot of normalness.

Then a golden warrior kitten jumps onto your shoulder and lets out the cutest battle cry in history. You whip Mace Windu’s lightsaber out of nowhere. Day turns to midnight and the lights in the parking lot turn into disco balls as the stars flash, nyan-cat-like, across the heavens. You are about to save Earth, Taylor Swift and the moon’s secret population of meerkats.

That’s what listening to “The Bones of What You Believe” makes you feel like. Declarations of love and freedom explode out of synthesizer tidal waves. Bass drums pulse like desperate heartbeats. Snares crash like falling meteors. Choirs shout into space. CHVRCHES makes epic pop music that’s as inviting as Buzz Lightyear’s outstretched hand. Believe me – you’re going to want to take that hand.

But before grappling with this monster of an album, some background: CHVRCHES is a three-piece electropop band from Glasgow, Scotland. Pronounced “churches,” the band started gathering hype with “Lies” and “The Mother We Share,” a pair of massive singles released via Internet streaming services like YouTube and Soundcloud. In a matter of months, CHVRCHES started receiving attention from a host of British publications including The Guardian, NME, The Huffington Post and BBC. In 2012, the group released the critically-acclaimed “Recover” EP through Virgin Records, and since then, they’ve been slowly releasing new music single by single. 

Which takes us to the full album – “The Bones of What You Believe.” Like a fantastic salad, “Bones” works because each ingredient in CHVRCHES’ sound is fresh, rich and crisp. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry carries each melody with a voice that’s clear and powerful. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty provide bass, guitar and synth performed with immaculate precision. Each band member has a background in music production, and on “Bones,” that skill makes the most of each musical opportunity. The bass is strong and deep but never dominates; the synths and voice intertwine but never collide. Each element stands out and yet works together – the proverbial salad dressing is ever-present and yet none of the croutons are soggy. 

Of course, ingredients are only as good as their recipes. Thankfully, the songwriting on “Bones” is five-star stuff. The clear production allows CHVRCHES to cram numerous hooks into each song, resulting in tunes that are catchy from start to finish. Synthesizer melodies, chopped vocal lines and even drum patterns leap out and make every song memorable. The verses and bridges are often so enthralling and pleasant that the choruses seem to explode out of nowhere – the poor listener’s brain is unable to comprehend an increase in what seemed unsurpassable awesomeness. Although much of the album stays in anthemic pop-song territory, a few changing song structures such as the brooding thump of “Science/Visions” and the ballad-like closer “You Caught the Light” prevent the album from entering repetitive territory. 

And then there are the lyrics. Almost in direct conflict with the joy and energy exuded by the music, “Bones” finds Mayberry confronting flawed and dying relationships, albeit passing through to solid ground. Mayberry’s voice carries words as if they were mantras – each syllable is a statement and a step forward. Album opener “The Mother We Share” comes to terms explores a partner’s painful silence in a one-sided relationship: “Never took your side/never cursed your name/I keep my lips shut tight/until you go.” 

In “We Sink,” Mayberry warns a companion that “We will fall if you lead us” before declaring, “I’ll be a thorn in your side till you die, if we sink we lift our love.” It’s a sense of directness and acceptance that differentiates CHVRCHES’ romantic narratives from the average pop hit. Mayberry does not complain or accuse, but rather declares, triumphs and moves on.  And when you’re listening to her, it’s hard not to feel as if anything can be overcome.

“The Bones of What You Believe” is an expertly crafted pop album that bursts with life and spirit. It boasts insanely catchy hooks, near-Kanye level production and lyrics that actually add to the music. CHVRCHES are one of the catchiest, most exciting bands to come out of the indie scene in the last decade, and as is the band’s namesake, everyone is invited to listen.

Contact John Darr at jdarr@nd.edu