CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe | Album Review | By Volume

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The Bones of What You Believe

Ecstasy via catharsis.

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Author: on October 11, 2013
Virgin / Goodbye
September 20, 2013

It feels somewhat difficult to approach CHVRCHES’ full-length debut. The band has hardly created something standoffish or upsetting, The Bones of What You Believe is simply one of the finest records you will probably find this year. The hooks are relentless, the music itself isn’t groundbreaking but they grab from so many different tasty musical cookie jars the final product is a surprisingly mouth-watering collection of familiar aesthetics. It’s a little bit house, a little pop, some DnB, trance, IDM, R&B, shoegaze – CHVRCHES are as likely to come off reminiscent of a Depeche Mode or M83 as they are a futuristic Blondie or more robotic Prince and The Revolution.

There is something distinctly human about their music; similar lyrical storytellers to their fellow Glaswegians Stuart Murdoch and Tracyanne Campbell, CHVRCHES populate their resplendent pop with somber lyrics recalling missed love, impossible longing coupled with cold fights and broken family ties. The Bones of What You Believe isn’t here to pat you on the back, it is an album to be lived in, to be experienced, to share in its despair and immense joy. These are lives, successfully compartmentalized, miniaturized and translated onto record. Specific emotions, intensely personal experiences, set to kinetic electro pop and projected loudly outward in every direction. That is why this record can be difficult to cope with at times, not because of any declining quality or questionable ethics – it simply grabs hold so tight you better be ready for nothing less than a possession, otherwise turn around and stroll back out the door.

There is no time for casual hearts and passing eyes when concerning CHVRCHES. They can seem a facsimile on the surface – a collection of hipster-approved buzzwords that are calculated into a band; Vampire Weekend on MDMA, or some other half-assed, piss-poor assessment of both those bands. Sure, CHVRCHES have a history within Glasgow’s music scene outside of, well, CHVRCHES; and yes, they are all university graduates whose music initially comes off sounding quite a bit more youthful than their respective ages. One could mistake the sugar for pomp within The Bones of What You Believe. “I’ll be a thorn in your side / til you die / I’ll be a thorn in your side / for always”, Lauren Mayberry sets this in concrete on “We Sink”, nearly drowning in a trance-inducing tempest of skybound synth lines. That is it though, CHVRCHES’ hook, their ferocity, their honesty and their tangible heart. And not heart like the proverbial essence within – to listen to The Bones of What You Believe is to willingly accept the three bleeding organs imbued into each song. CHVRCHES coat this LP with blood in the most resounding ways possible.

No single member steals the show, though many will argue Mayberry; Iain Cook’s bass lines and Martin Doherty’s sampling and both their synth work are the bread with which Mayberry’s butter blends so well. And while Lauren aids in the creation of the band’s synthesizer wonderlands, the electronics seem to predominantly fall into the hands of Cook and Doherty. They deserve to be commended (beyond Martin turning in excellent lead vocals via “Under the Tide” and exceptional closer “You Caught the Light”) for creating arguably this very catchy album’s most infectious aspect. Their bassy rumbles are deep and chest-rattling, their synthesizers are deceptively warm, filled with child-like wonder and timelessly constructed. They allow Mayberry to live within her narratives; she can consciously breathe within these songs, as though you were sharing an intimate conversation on a late night walk home. Many of the tracks present themselves in syncopated patterns, footsteps to be followed and Mayberry simply occupied these guises, though not to demean her contribution, as she is something to behold indeed.

Lauren’s performance on record is astonishing – from biting quips, existential breakdowns, self-indulgent masquerades and introspective realizations, she handles each with immense class and furthermore turns a lot of what seems to be personal shame into glacial hooks. Like “Science/Vision’s” restless chorus, delivered on an acidic tip — this is iceberg-to-Titanic level shit – immense, so much so it feels historic, as though it were crafted to soundtrack world-shifting events. “Science and visions / be near when I call your name / a mind full of questions / a current to purify”, she exclaims, as though from the mouth of a Borg. Resistance to The Bones of What You Believe is indeed futile though, this is intelligent, emotional, firebrand pop music that deserves to be personally treasured as much as it warrants echoing across the world’s festival stages. “Hide, hide, I have burned your bridges / I will be a gun / and it’s you I’ll come for” may sound more than a bit hostile, but via Mayberry’s sultry delivery it is one of the more endearing decrees a band could issue to their listeners. You are ours now, and those other bands, you will not be seeing them much now that we’ve met.

Many have likened CHVRCHES to Depeche Mode and I think that comparison rings true, along with a likeness to the xx, but concerning both bands, it isn’t so much a musical similarity. Sure, like both acts, CHVRCHES’ classically pop approach to electronic music grants their debut a somewhat timeless quality. As far as the mix is concerned, The Bones of What You Believe sounds exceptional from a technical aspect, the lows are clean and warm, the treble is just messy enough, while the final master gives the record almost a sepia tone. As though the 80s-esque approach they’ve taken with each of their videos for this record stretches beyond simply their intended visuals – the band themselves are the type of people that would prefer to work with film over video. Yes, the process requires persistence and is unforgivingly expensive, but nothing will ever have that look, and when you want that look there’s nothing else that will suffice. CHVRCHES strain for and ascertain that look here; with clinical sharpness, they rip their chests open and invite us all to inspect. Much like a Depeche Mode and xx, they take their intrinsic sadness and turn it inward, force it out, pressurized into the antithesis of their sorrow – pure and complete cathartic ecstasy. That alone I think is deserving of praise, but when we can have our catharsis and eat our cake too, via deft samples, killer synths and heaps of personality — well, now that is just downright good luck.

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