Thursday, 5 September 2013

CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe


This isn't a time for lies; this isn't one of those snarky attempts-at-attention to profess either some absolute form of surprise, or make-out that such a scenario has been unexpected. No matter how you see it, regardless of commercialism of the story or continuing saga of the siatuation, Scottish synth-pop trio CHVRCHES' rise to Everest-high attention-turned-anticipation throughout the virtual World, is one that lies finely poised on the balance between expectance and bafflement. In an age that's seen many an interesting two/three/four-piece acts stamping their mark on recent synth habits, it's been hard to shrug away from the growing excitement enshrouding arguably one of Scotland's biggest exports since [non-musically] malt whisky, deep-fried Mars bars and [musically] closer to topic, greats such as Cocteau Twins, Primal Scream and countless more respected acts following suit. And while 2013 has seen synth-driven pop and song-writing talent cross many fields - from the RnB centrifuge of AlunaGeorge & Autre Ne Veut, to the crisp melodic concepts of Youth Galaxy & Austra, even the dub-influenced turnabout of acts such as Purty Ring last year - CHVRCHES have over the space of two years gained a level of canny attraction other acts would only dream of posessing. It'd be foolish then to proclaim The Bones Of What You Believe as just another usheredly-mentioned release for the synth backlog. And as many fans, critics and speculative types have waited patiently for the Scot's first proper, complete, pried package of delivery to land at their door-step, one of music's biggest questions about worthiness is only going to increase.

But CHVRCHES don't perform in a kind of riddling, head-scratching obliqueness. Their music instead plays out almost culminatively; fleshing out harder-to-decipher areas of pop while at the same time magnetizing the very thing that makes the sub-genre so infectuous and attractive in the first place. The graceful open-hand to beginning track The Mother We Share offers up with immediance lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry's perfect mix of lyrical cynism, compassion and conveyance in a song that takes the trope of close relationships (albeit one of siblings rather than lovers) and expresses it in a canny mix of care and discomfort. Amidst a plush of punchy drum beats and glittering synth hooks, Mayberry's voice remains adamantly poised yet still wanting to express care and admiration. 'In the dead of night, I'm the only one here/And I will cover you until you go' she offers, going on to consider that 'when it all fucks up, you put your head in my hands/It's a souvenir for when you go'. As much as this is expressed equally on par with the music's bright and optimistic kick of electronics and percussion, her tone still seems to contain a morsel of dignity and maturity, like she herself isn't taken in by the whole prolonging, loveliness bullshit of this characteristic of narrative.

Even when Mayberry's voice isn't treated as the driving force of the track's context, the soothing transcendance in key on We Sink allows the band's instrumental accomplishment to hit home - here, offering one of the album's (no surprise from the title) deepest trudges of melody and arrangement. And amidst the lower-pitched analog synths and darting glimmers of sound on the opposite end, Mayberry's vocals still manage to tuck themselves in between the song's harmonious layering. So of course we shift once more back to the opposing directive on Gun and find Mayberry letting her honest, quite-blunt quite-direct notion take centre stage. While it's CHVRCHES' vocalist whom most listeners will be taken a back by via her dispelling of the narrative's finer, provoking detail, 'I am gonna break you down to tiny, tiny parts' and the more sticking: 'You stuck in the knife that you held at my back/Did it make you feel so clever'. I wouldn't feel as focused on these words had Mayberry not have delivered them in such a calm, collected and acceptant tone like she's been expecting such a scenario to occur. On a related note, the way the music acts to drive the narrative but never overly dominates or even exaggerates the intensity of it creates some really nice dynamics and deliveries to tie into Mayberry's own execution; the 80's nostalgic sheen of notation and clarity adds to that intriguing calmness in a track tackling such heated topics on revenge and the like.

This confidence and calmness in Mayberry's delivery begins to conjure similarities with Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife. Perhaps not so much characteristically - or when comparing either's women's personality, but taking to a track like Tether which finds spacious guitars and dubbed beats expanding their floorspace, it's great to see Mayberry rise to the deliberate lack of colour and texture earlier on and act as a way to catalyse the track forward into a later pulse of 4/4 drums and crystalline synths. But the biggest forward-pushing moment, and indeed one of the great demonstrations of balancing effect with structure, is on the immersive Lies - a track taking clearly from the euphoria of club-orientated electronics but triangulating it superbly into CHVRCHES' formulaic swatch of emotion and instrumentation. So while Mayberry's powering spring of vocals and the glitchy sampling of her voice breaks in-and-out of presence, it's the sounds emanating-soon-enveloping the space that captivate me. Like I'm reliving the ecstacy of early-90's House music, or completely lost in a live performance of such attractive sub-fields of electronics, the band's no-holding-back philosophy while still managaing to contain a sense of direction and clarity in their sound, is a joy to hear.

So it's confusing, and deflating in relation to what's come before, that Under The Tide finds backing vocalist Iain Cook take priority. Unfortunately, not only do I feel his lesser-skill in delivery comes to the forefront of the track, his deliberate out-of-time nature with the rhythm - and more-so the way he comes across almost half-arsedly conveying the emotive and more passionate scope of the track to us - only goes to put me off large portions of the track. It's nice to see Recover - the self-titled track off their 2013 EP - featuring on the album, though in retrospect when comparing the larger bulk of new material presented on the record already, the track does feel caught in other tracks' shadows due its lack of a push and directness instrumentally - this is despite Mayberry's nice shift in tone in-between verses, and the crispness of the synthesizers present. While Night Sky opens in a fairly secluding, lone state of mind, the way it opens up like Lies began as - exploratory synth lines that widen and expand upon trajection - and leads into a swift, direct hit of drum beats thereafter continues CHVRCHES' dominance as a band who can enact sensual joy as much as they can explore the importance of balancing Mayberry's focal points with the instrumental's own drive for tone.

Lungs is an intreresting observation, as the pattern of beats and placement of bass synths changes CHVRCHES' sound to that of a slight RnB flavour. From this, Mayberry's slightly less blunt vocals, present her in a differing charm to what we've experienced previous. Despite the track shifting slightly into grittier, urban territory with its synth textures and beats, the trio still keep their identity in place without coming off an act trying desperately to appeal to as wide a crowd. That borrowing and use of other aesthetics from close-net fields like RnB and even electro-pop, is one of the things that stands most accomplishing on this record. The way By The Throat still sustains that recognizeable flair of hues amid the band's use of synthesizers and how Mayberry places herself about the track's production, what I like is how comfortable and easy the track seems to push off in its choral sections where the music begins to upscale itself in that ascending arms-out reach of accomplishment. It doesn't feel entirely captivating emotionally true, but the ease at which CHVRCHES seem to nestle into these fields of execution, is deserving of respect. So to have the warm breeze of expansive guitar and gated synths play out the final track, You Caught The Light, feels evermore like a conclusive highlighting of the trio's skill to crafting catchy synth melodies, but ones not intent on flaunting its hooks without emoting compassion and an eye for context. And given the track seems to encompass the reality of space and openess to the point of tension, it only exemplifies the effectiveness CHVRCHES have in refining their sounds to their most sincerest and revealing of qualities.

One of the main reasons I deliberately back away from a horde of hype or catalog of comments striving to pull in more attention, is that it often blinds (me included) the listener - and the target audience to that effect - in really taking account of what effect and impact a select album actually presents when it comes to reflecting on and discussing the true merits of its delivery. CHVRCHES may have huddled together, prior to listeners experiencing their debut LP, with a sense of accomplishment in being noticed, but that doesn't mean the end result will be interrogated any less. Fortunately, pressure or demand is something that has barely slithered its way onto this album, and it's clear the Scottish three-piece not only know where they stand, but can identify with where it is they want to be going. The Bones Of What You Believe works because it plays out like the quintissential melting pot to making synth-pop such a feast to claw into, but also as a way to push the boundaries of the genre's fairly gestural sound overall. Rewarding us with some of the best, most finely-crafted compositions to date, CHVRCHES prove unquestionably their stride towards reaching for  equally the behind-closed-door privacy as much the open-to-all excitement of the dancefloor. Canada may be flying the flag for the synth and electronic scene, but it's a certain three-piece from Scotland that are doing most of the talking. And their argument, from the looks of things, is almost without fault.
~Jordan

8.3

2 comments:

  1. Iain doesn't sing on any of the tracks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. *as a lead singer.

    ReplyDelete