CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
Released: September 20, 2013
Producer: Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, Martin Doherty
Genre: Electronic, Pop, Synthpop
01 The Mother We Share
02 We Sink
06 Under The Tide
08 Night Sky
11 By the Throat
12 You Caught the Light
Glasgow has a short history of indie pop and dance music which, sadly, have crossed paths only a few times in the case of Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Looper. CHVRCHES are the latest to continue this chain. Their debut LP, The Bones of What You Believe, is filled with emotional theatrics, hook-loaded songwriting, an awe inspiring atmosphere and some of the most forward thinking sonics in electronic music today. All this combined into a style that feels very right-now. CHVRCHES embody everything a generation raised in electronic music, is looking for in a rock band. Whether it’s the danceable textures favored by the Electric Daisy Carnival fans, the complex electronic layers “invented” by The Knife or the innovative songwriting of the likes of M83 and Passion Pit.
Unlike those bands, CHVRCHES avoid guitars almost entirely and focus puerely on electronic equipment which is great because the hooks of The Bones of What You Believe are inarguable regardless of instrumentation. The sound is immaculate and perfect, thanks to Rich Costey, who handled the mixing, who gave the sound the well deserved clarity we can hear now. Processed effects, pitched-down vocal samples, frizzy synth-pad textures. Every note sounds clean and sharp, a necessary corrective to the chemical-dipped wooziness that has dominated electronic indie pop in the last few years.
Cook and Martin Doherty handle the majority of the instrumentation. Making a vocalist with a voice as light as Lauren’s sound so perfect is difficult. First we need to know that Cook handled guitars and programming as a member of defunct alt-leaning post-rockers Aereogramme, while Doherty was once a live member of throat-shredding shoegazers the Twilight Sad. Both of them together have managed to make an album that makes the vocalist stand out instead of overshadowing it.
In comparison to Glasgow’s male dominated bands Lauren’s voice is a powerful addition to a bands arsenal. A local-band lifer who once pursued a career in music journalism, Mayberry’s voice is a multifaceted instrument, the emotional kernel in CHVRCHES’ molecular makeup. She can sound cutting, aching, triumphant, fragile, and weightless, sometimes all at once; on “Lies”, she soars above the chorus’ mountainous build, and her vocal surge rescues the murky techno of “Science/Visions” (something of a Knife tribute).
Even when Mayberry’s at her most powerful, her voice possesses a specific, relatable humanity, which brightens the adolescent glow of her lyrics. (Occasional lead singer Doherty, makes good enough on his two featured songs, the rippling “Under the Tide” and the prom-dance lushness of “You Caught the Light”). Her words might look overwrought on paper, but when set to the emotive sounds that CHVRCHES trade in, they sound towering, impassioned, and life-affirming. Depeche Mode, a spiritual antecedent, have a classic song with the refrain “All I ever wanted/ All I ever needed/ Is here, in my arms”; that kind of emotional directness and simplicity is a hallmark of the songwriting here.
The Bones of What You Believe also shares some of Depeche Mode‘s large-scale ambition: the arpeggiated-synth burst that closes “Tether” sounds like it was orchestrated for the optimal turn-all-the-lasers-on-at-once trigger at a live performance, and it’s all the better for it. Throughout, CHURCHES‘s effortless populism finds them in a long tradition of bands who take a highly personal sense of turmoil and blow it up onto an arena-sized screen. Which is basically the best thing about the album and CHVRCHES in general. The fact that while the orchestration sound complex it breathes an aura of humanity and effortlessness at the same time.