Arts album review

Synth-pop beats of Scotland

CHVRCHES delivers a solid debut album

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Album cover art of Chvrches’ The Bones Of What You Believe.
Courtesy of Virgin Records


The Bones of What You Believe


Virgin Records

Released Sept. 20, 2013

Lauren Mayberry, Ian Cook and Martin Doherty, otherwise known as the Glasgow-based synth-pop band CHVRCHES, have entered the music scene with quite a fanfare. After the relatively unrecognized premiere release of their singles “Lies” and “The Mother We Share” in 2012, the band suddenly took over headlines in early 2013. BBC ranked them fifth in their poll “Sound of 2013,” after which the band released their EP Recover to positive critic reviews, and within a few months CHVRCHES were already touring around the world.

Although the three Scots do not come from similar musical backgrounds (all three of them were involved in different musical projects prior to forming CHVRCHES), they are very specific about the type of music they make together: dance and synth-pop. Their debut album The Bones of What You Believe could easily be described in terms of these two genres, but it would be unfair to disregard the nuanced complexity and unique sound expressed in their songs. The closest reference to the specificity of their sound would be Depeche Mode — there is a prevalence of the Depeche-like psychedelic synth-pop, but at the same time CHVRCHES also instill an observable sense of upbeat melodies and dance floor-oriented beats. This nuanced complexity stems from two unique factors: highly-polished production, and Mayberry’s unique voice.

The album’s first track, “The Mother We Share,” gives a great overture to the album and exposes the brilliance of the album’s production. The verses and chorus of the song exchange in an interplay of slow buildup and upbeat, fast-flowing lyrics “I’m in misery where you can seem as old as your omens / And the mother we share will never keep your proud head from falling”. The well-defined production is easily seen in these outbursts of rhythmical choruses, but the most meticulous efforts of production are showcased in the smallest details. “Recover”, for example, dives in a few seconds of silence after the chorus, but with careful attention one can notice that the silence is supported by pulsating sounds that resemble those of sonar. A small detail like this one seems insignificant, but these subtle sounds infuse the song’s feeling of insecurity and vulnerability even into the post-chorus silence. “Night Sky”, one of the album’s most successful tracks, is another result of careful attention to detail — the nocturnal and introspective quality of the song is achieved through variations of opening lullaby-like tones.

While it seems unjust to give disproportional credit to the band members, Mayberry undoubtedly makes up the essence of CHVRCHES. Her voice, colored with feelings of inherent innocence and acquired maturity, gives a lively twist to the psychedelic flavor of the album. The chorus of “Lies” opens with the lyrics “I can sell you lies / You can’t get enough / Make a true believer of / Anyone, anyone, anyone”, which might sound like a worrisome depiction of Mayberry’s deception abilities, but when they are represented by her voice, the image of deception is replaced by the one of forgivable mischievousness. Similarly, “Under the Tide” starts off with Martin Doherty building the musical core of the song, but it’s not until Mayberry comes in with the backing “Oh oh oh” vocals that the chorus picks up the infectious pop motif.

Even though the album loses some of its catchiness and uniqueness in songs like “You Caught the Light” and “Science/Visions,” the majority of its songs give enough substance for a strong musical structure. The Bones of What You Believe is nothing novel, but it’s a fresh and unworn combination of remarkable production, slick melodies, and Mayberry’s delicate voice. Its psychedelic tone will not always complement your mood, but when it does, there will be no way to avoid dancing to the synth-pop melodies of Glasgow.

Highlight tracks: “The Mother We Share”, “Lies,” “Recover,” “Night Sky.”