I was ready to hate CHVRCHES long before I heard the opening notes of “The Mother We Share,” the first song on the band’s debut album, The Bones of What You Believe. Between their instant blog hype (on the back of one song, no less!), their all-caps, spell-check-breaking name, and their timely entry into the nearly bursting synth-pop bubble, I was geared up to disagree with anyone about the band’s next-big-thing status.
I doubled down on my hatred when I first heard “The Mother we Share,” which is TBOWYB’s worst song and, potentially, the album’s biggest hit. Chances are good you will like this song. I found it to be cynical, pandering, and bloodless in a way that turns my stomach. Alas, my hate ends here, as The Bones of What You Believe is an assured, well-crafted, emotionally honest piece of music that isn’t nearly as sweet as it seems at first brush.
Lead singer Lauren Mayberry is the group’s obvious standout, as it is her lyrics and vocal delivery that impress most immediately. While some of the band output boarders on twee (like the very good “Lungs” and “The Mother We Share,” which, you know, see above), Mayberry’s lyrical content stays firmly in a darker world than the pop hooks would suggests. Her songs are about distance, failed and failing love, and personal struggle, structured in the same “show, don’t tell’” way that great one-act plays are written in.
Of course, the music holds up, too. Ian Cook and Martin Doherty, who round out the band and do most of the synth and sampling arrangements, are able to weave together songs and sounds that can be poppy and bright one second, dark and troubling the next. Their best work, songs like “Gun” and “We Sink,” merge the pop sweetness with Mayberry’s darker nature, creating songs that can be appreciated both on the surface level and much further beneath.
A special point must be made for “Science/Vision,” the album’s best track and one of the songs of the year. Taking a modern spin on New Order, the band makes a dark and poignant track that advocates letting go and moving on, whatever that may mean. Mayberry tells an unknown party to “breath / don’t speak / it’s leaving your body now:” her words hang above the track and suggest a whole secret world happening beyond the song, too painful to visit, too interesting to ignore.
While there remains something cynical about the way the group packages some of its more single-ready songs, it’s hard to fault CHVRCHES for wanting to bring people in with sunny-sounding pop hits. When it get’s this dark in the middle, it’s nice to have some light to look for.