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Chvrches: 'The Bones Of What You Believe' Album Review

Lilian Min |
September 24, 2013 | 12:01 a.m. PDT

Music Editor

Did Chvrches deliver on their first album? This writer says yes. (Photo via Wikimedia)
Did Chvrches deliver on their first album? This writer says yes. (Photo via Wikimedia)
"I can sell you lies / You can't get enough / Make a true believer of / Anyone anyone anyone": as vocalized by Lauren Mayberry's almost chirpy voice, the words take on a suspiciously sweet tone, beckoning to the listener like a trail of sugary water leading to a strip of fly paper. 

Scottish band Chvrches (pronounced "churches"), composed of lead vocalist Mayberry and bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, has been around since 2011, but it's only recently that the band's attracted the kind of attention that has now become de rigeur for a "buzz band." 

In their case, the buzz was kicked off by the tune quoted at the beginning of the review, the roiling, rumbling "Lies," which was released in May of 2012 on the blog of music label Neon Gold Records (whose co-founder, Lizzy Plapinger, also serves double duty as a member of rising band MS MR). 

ALSO READ: MS MR Plays With Shadows On ‘Secondhand Rapture’

The song's roughly hewn electronica sound suggests a cheekiness, a boldness, that only intermittently appears in the band's debut album, "The Bones of What You Believe." But this isn't a bad thing: "Bones" expands on the cornerstone of Chvrches's sound -- shimmering, sometimes aurally blinding synthesizers -- and takes it in some new, but pretty amazing, directions.

Later that year, Chvrches released the first official single from their "upcoming debut album," the cosmos-channeling "The Mother We Share." In the time between "Lies" and "Mother," the band had clearly softened up their synth sound, opting to cushion, rather than compress, their many harmonic lines.

By this time, Chvrches was now on the rise, ranking fifth on BBC's Sound of 2013 list. And by the time they dropped their first EP, "Recover," in March of this year, the heat was on for the trio to deliver something original, especially in the face of artists with similar personnel makeups, like Purity Ring or Crystal Castles.

ALSO READ: HARD Summer 2013: The Highest Highs Of The Weekend Fest

But those comparisons are misleading, because while Purity Ring is grounded in and punctuated by sonic steel, and Crystal Castles is built on jagged electronic tremors, Chvrches's sound floats, twists, and dazzles with a lightness that's more reminiscent of the spatially open tunes by artists like M83. Like Anthony Gonzalez's faux-operatic calls, Mayberry's and her bandmate's vocals can sometimes become lost in their musical distortion, such as in their album closing track, "You Caught the Light."

ALSO READ: M83 At The Hollywood Bowl: Review

However, that tune is the only low point of an album that pulls double duty as not only a brief musical history of the band, but also a neat set of glimmering synth-fueled tunes that sparkle on the surface, but, like a lone lure in unfathomably deep waters, hint at a stranger, more wicked satisfaction.

"Mother," "We Sink," and "Gun" (the album's third single) open up "Bones" and set up the misleading tone that carries throughout the entire album. Mayberry croons lyrics like "I'll be a thorn in your side 'til you die" and "I will be a gun and it's you I'll come for" over synth lines so airy that they could be plated for a French breakfast.

That's not to say that the band can't be sincere, though even then something's… off. "Recover" is an uneasy plea, as Mayberry plaintively asks "And if I recover / will you be my comfort / or it can be over / or we can just leave it here," while "Night Sky" has Mayberry cheerily intoning her undivided, unwavering (no, but really -- "Make me blind so I don't ever look back") devotion.

The same applies for "By The Throat," though in that song, Mayberry's voice slices through the staccato background line like a clarion call, even as the music collapses into a glittering, marbly mess.

Compared to all this aural frou frou, of particular interest, then, are those songs that have an earthier feel. "Lies," with its downright sexy (!!!) swelling, rolling synth lines, is a definite standout on the album despite being one of the band's first ever tunes. And on "Under the Tide," Doherty takes on vocal duties to deliver a gently inspirational plea, set over a slowly blossoming musical burble. 

Then there's "Science/Visions" and "Lungs," a back-to-back punch of witchy tunes, albeit mystical in different ways. "Science/Visions" is an incantation in full swing, all dramatic build and swooping musical gestures, while "Lungs" is a more playful take on that kind of supernatural sound, the Sabrina the Teenage Witch to "Science/Visions's" Lady Macbeth.

If there's one standout track on the album though, it's "Tether," a tune that sneaks up on the listener. It's earnest and honest, and by the time the song reaches its cascading climax, Mayberry's wistful, looping confession of "I feel incapable of seeing the end / I feel incapable of saying it's over" sounds like a knife in the gut.

It might be easy to pigeonhole Chvrches as just another indie synth pop band, but they've shown so much musical evolution in the past year that it would be downright naive to dismiss them as a one trick pony. On "Bones," they've proven that they can handle dissonance in duality even with music critics and fans breathing down their neck. Here's to round two -- or, to further follow in the footsteps of M83, they could do a composing gig instead?

Chvrches is playing the Wiltern on November 18.

Read more of NT's album reviews here.

Reach Music Editor Lilian Min here; follow her on Twitter here and on Google+ here.



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