Album Review: Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

[Virgin; 2013]

If you’ve been following Glaswegian trio Chvrches since they released “The Mother We Share” just over a year ago, then you’ve already heard a sizeable chunk of their debut album. The steady drip-feed they’ve provided in the time since has only served to intensify the buzz for their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe.

But if you’ve been paying attention, it should be fairly obvious by this point what type of listening experience Bones is: Diabetic melodies, galloping drum machines and bouncing synthesizers, nearly uniform refrains of dysfunctional human interaction. Chvrches have applied this format in interesting ways in the past. But is their sound sustainable for an entire full-length? The answer is a tentative yes.

Chvrches’ ultra-vivid music is the work of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, who use guitars and synthesizers to build mountaintops for tenderfoot singer Lauren Mayberry to opine from. Both had already established themselves with other projects (Cook with Aerogramme and the now-defunct Unwinding Hours, Doherty as a live member of the Twilight Sad) prior to forming Chvrches. Their experience is readily apparent in their layered, finely-tuned arrangements. They’re almost cicerones for Mayberry, whose puerile voice carries a naivety and innocence that frequently belies the toxic undercurrents in her lyrics.

Bigger is better for Chvrches, and their eye for scope sometimes works against them. Bones spares no effect, no flourish, forgoes no opportunity to squeeze in a little something extra. These songs are utterly waterlogged. Chvrches are dancing on a musical knifepoint, painting with colours so intense they often distract from the complexity within. Restraint is not in this band’s vocabulary. In particular, these surpluses take their toll on more introspective pieces. The metallic, nocturnal churn of tracks like “You Caught the Light” and “Tether” attempt to soar when they should simply float.

But when Chvrches nail it, boy, do they nail it. Their single “Gun” is loaded to the brim with hooks, each new passage leaving something memorable in its wake, be it a fleck of synth, a melodic earworm, or the lyrics. “You have better run from me with everything you own/’Cause I am going to come for you with all that I have,” warns Mayberry, her accent fading in and out. The sentiment is so starkly divorced from the scintillating arrangement that it takes a few extra listens to unpack everything.

Elsewhere, “Night Sky” embodies an intense sort of grandeur that’s usually reserved for the likes of M83, and “By The Throat,” utilizes vocal contributions from all three members to stunning effect. But other, slightly less pop-oriented tracks like “Science/Visions” and “Under The Tide” seem out of place. They come across as confused instead of experimental, and disrupt the record’s generally euphoric tone.

As all of their advance singles have proven, the cartoonish maximalism of Chvrches’ production is damn near irresistible in chunks. They write very strong songs, but aural satiation sinks in over Bones‘ 48 minute runtime. Credit where it’s due – this is an entrance that few bands would have the stones to make. They’ve parachuted into the party with zero regard for the meeker acts they may buckle under the force of their landing. That said, let’s chalk Bones’ flaws up as a by-product of the blind giddiness that comes with making such an enormous first statement.