Since they arrived on the scene in late 2012, the Scottish trio CHVRCHES have made a name for themselves as one of the most exciting acts to come out of the synthpop revival. In addition to their undying love for chunky off-kilter electropop, the group has a gift for writing explosive choruses. In Lauren Mayberry, they have a fantastic frontwoman who has become an important voice in exposing the misogyny inherent in both the music industry and the toxic parts of it fandom.
The band’s 2013 debut album The Bones of What You Believe was a consistently terrific set of new wave-indebted indie dance music, and the band ably follows it with their sophomore effort Every Open Eye. Frequently, the album departs from the hallmarks — like glitchy vocal and percussion samples — that the band honed as their own on Bones and its surrounding EPs and singles, but retains others. This results in an expanded sound for the band, all the while maintaining their distinct identity and place as a leading light in synthpop.
Among the record’s strongest tracks are those that delve into electronic music genres that the group had previously never explored. “High Enough to Carry You Over,” sung by synth player and guitarist Martin Doherty, is such a track: a neon-bright Italo disco rollerskating jam that winds up as one of the record’s surprise highlights. When the chorus comes around, the song doesn’t explode the way that CHVRCHES’ songs often do, but is instead a gliding slow-burn that compliments Doherty’s range.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Keep You On My Side,” which finds the band flirting with a Hi-NRG groove that would find itself at home on the radio in the early-to-mid 80s next to Yazoo, Dead or Alive and The Human League. The song’s shimmering keyboards and Mayberry’s propulsive vocals – particularly on the chorus – enhance the throwback effect the band is aiming for.
The sparse “Afterglow” is the album’s only callback to the dream pop elements that were evident in their sound on their early releases; The song consists of a single ethereal synthesizer that draws attention to Mayberry’s lyrics and vocals, parts of which sum up the record nicely : “with all of the light and shape/we take up our own space/i’ll find my own way back/back to the past tense.”
The songs that retain the band’s usual sonic palette, or offer a tweaked variation of the same, are just as good as those that stray from it. Fans of the first record will find a lot to love in the sweeping opener “Never Ending Circles,” which contains the solid Mayberry vocals and giant choruses the band are known for, but with a twist. The song has a pulsating beat that the band hadn’t previously utilized all that much and the band’s vocal samples and effects are kept at minimum, as they are on the rest of the record.
Lead single “Leave a Trace” positively recalls “The Mother We Share” at points while carving out its own identity in the band’s catalog as one of the band’s best midtempo ballads. Likewise, “Clearest Blue” has a bit of “Recover” in it, especially in its understated multi-part chorus that builds until the synths burst wide-open near the two minute mark.
Every Open Eye shows a significant maturation and growth in confidence in CHVRCHES’ sound while still retaining everything that makes them engaging. The record’s strong new wave and disco elements are welcome additions to their sound and hopefully pinpoint the directions they will take in the future.