CHVRCHES are one of those upcoming bands with a two-tier fanbase. There are those who’ve heard Gun playing in Zara, and have considered downloading it on iTunes. Then there are those who wait for the clock to tick over on the eve of the release, who visibly twitch when the name of their favourite song is mispronounced, and are in love with each and every band member. Shamefully, I am in the second category. I think that CHVRCHES have an incredibly unique sound that combines New Wave synth sensibilities, Lauren’s child-like voice, and something I can only describe as stomp.
From this album, we’ve already heard The Mother We Share, Gun, and Lies. It’s hard because those three tracks each stand alone as incredible singles that have blown the doors off what synth-pop can sound like. So, we are left with a pool of eight completely fresh tracks.
I’ll be upfront: the three singles are among the best, if not the best tracks on the album. I’m around my fourth listen now, and nothing has beaten Gun, or The Mother We Share yet. That stomp that is extremely present in those three tracks, that really powerful kick-snare brutality that underpins the saccharine melodies, isn’t particularly present deep in the album. A definite low for me on the album was Tether. The track is fairly stripped down, and has strokes of a kitschy love song. The sounds of real guitars are peppered into the mix - it doesn’t work in my opinion. Lauren’s voice is very sweet and high but its greatness is in its counterpoint in those gnarly electronics. Up against those guitar slaps, it sounds a little twee.
We Sink is the kind of thing I expect from CHVRCHES. The song is a busy blend of euphoric synth arpeggios, Lauren’s irresistable vocal catchiness and ever more catchy vocal contributions from the two guys. The tune is also a great example of something that really adds a depth to CHVRCHES. They have an uncanny ability of making an ecstaticly happy track with oddly resentful, dark lyrics (see Gun). It’s a contrast that I absolutely love.
When I saw CHVRCHES at Reading, one of the two standout tracks that I hadn’t heard before was Under The Tide. Martin Doherty takes the vocal lead on this track, and he absolutely owns the sound. When performing live, he was a ball of energy that added some much needed dynamicism to the stage. The refrain of the track rattled around my skull for days after the festival, and I adore the sense of constant building.
The other track that leapt at me at Reading was Science/Visions. The tune gives of a similar vibe to ZVVL, from the Recover EP, but with Lauren taking the vocal lead. The clanky arpeggios in this track lend an incredible intensity to the sound. The whole soundscape seems to be a study of stadium-size grandeur. Those drums are so beautifully melodramatic; they reminded me of the Pandemonium section of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. There’s a great poppy darkness here that really pulls the song out from the album; it’s addictive.
Two songs at the end of the album introduce some welcome experimentation in CHVRCHES’ sound. Lungs has an almost infuriatingly simple vocal melody (I still love it) but really pushes the boat out in terms of weirdness in the production. Mixed into the beat are strange pings and zips, and then the bridge is simply a harsh metallic sounding clash mixed with sampled sirens and vocals, which is shockingly catchy as a melodic unit. Just never try and sing along to that part. You Caught The Light is the biggest departure however. Right from the start, this is no ordinary CHVRCHES track. For one, the song takes far longer that the usual short and sweet pop ballads to reach voltas. You Caught The Light takes its time, wading through fizzy and lush synth chords, with Tycho-esque guitars weaving in and out. Martin’s vocals are mellow and extraordinarily un-CHVRCHES. The change is a fantastic display of versality from CHVRCHES, and a true pleasant surprise at the end of album.