Like fellow mixed-gender electronic group MS MR – whose studio caught fire, stubbornness is an attribute that can be associated with Scottish synthpop trio Chvrches. When faced with the decision of whether or not to team up with outside collaborators for their follow-up to 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe, they chose to keep all the music production within the skeleton of the band. When questioning whether to record their second album in a studio away from their beloved Glasgow basement – where the magic happened on their debut – they chose to resist the temptation.
When lead vocalist Laura Mayberry faced cyber misogynist abuse following the video for lead single “Leave A Trace“, the Scot spoke on Channel 4 News about battling against sexist intimidation and starting a feminist collective (TYCI) in a refusal to be silenced. The strong trait of persistence is what has placed Mayberry’s band Chvrches in the overlapping circle of a Venn diagram between mass-marketed pop appeal and the young indie scene on a global scale.
Although their new album Every Open Eye is quintessentially Chvrches including Lauren Mayberry’s amiable voice and a focus on sparkling synthesizers and samplers, it diverts more into electropop, lacks the composition diversity and lyrical edge of its predecessor. Firstly, it’s too stubborn in its song structure with songs consisting of predictable drum patterns that lack spontaneity, lightweight high pitch electronics that pleads for a remix and an unsurprising euphoric drop in the bridge. Chvrches have confessed that they wanted to make songs more instantaneously accessible – as oppose to second album obscurity – but ironically in the process they’ve become less memorable.
This strikingly contrasts with the distinguishable and intriguing turns on their debut including the adventure movie soundtrack of “Night Sky” and the cold futurism of “Science/Visions”. On the rare occasions when Every Open Eye presents opportunities to stray off structure, they are too reminiscent of specific influences: “Make Them Gold” (Erasure’s “A Little Respect”), “Bury It” (Björk’s “Enjoy”) and “Empty Threat” (a fusion between anything by Dragonette and Lionel Ritchie’s “Dancing On The Ceiling”). It begs to differ why in a recent interview; they hinted that this release would be more “spontaneous”.
On a positive note, “Leave A Trace” sounds like a seamless continuation from their previous album due to the quirky and sharp synth invention from Iain Cook and Martin Doherty and Mayberry carries her empowering and confrontational rebellion. “You talk far too much for someone so unkind…“. One of the immediate charms of Chvrches was how the frontwoman overcame her fragile structure and created a controlling persona with threatening and revengeful lyrics such as “I will be a gun and it’s you I’ll come for” (“Gun“) and “I can sell you lies, you can’t get enough” (“Lies“).
There’s not an adequate amount of that on here, instead we are succumbed to the repetitive subject matter of hesitant break-ups and u-turn indecision. It’s a universal theme but it’s a broken record narrative annoyingly without a conclusive resolve. Why didn’t Mayberry use the social network misogyny as a catalyst for a powerful topic? It could have stretched into discussions on anonymity, bullying and cowardice.
“High Enough To Carry You Over” is noteworthy for continuing the tradition of giving synth player Martin Doherty a chance to sing, helping to project the anti-Paramore unity image of Chvrches, where all members have an equal status on promotional activities (music videos, interviews) and the overall band image. Although his voice doesn’t have a recognizable personality as it’s metamorphosed from his two debut contributions (a humble and emotive M83 impersonation) to his sole effort on Chvrches sophomore album (throaty R&B pretentiousness).
An example of when stubbornness would have been welcomed here, like in the case of “Afterglow“, a song they re-worked several times until it made its way onto the finale of the album. As a stripped back ballad with just an organ present, it displays Lauren Mayberry’s vocal ability away from the suffocating electronics. Its sentimental reflection on the aftermath of a relationship is sweet and admirable, especially because it finally strays away from the aforementioned relationship lyric recurrence.
Every Open Eye is a metaphorical title comparing the force of hurricanes with the strength of the heart, but this album will be as impactful to listeners as a passing breeze. Chvrches’ Every Open Eye is out now via Glassnote Entertainment and Virgin Records, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs