From the misty land o’ water kelpies and Sheena Easton comes the blindingly bright trio Chvrches, a synth-pop group from the universities and basements of Glasgow.
A once gritty city with a formerly fearsome rep, Glasgow’s put out some definitely non-tough sounding acts like Simple Minds, Belle and Sebastian, and The Bay City Rollers, amongst others. And now Chvrches, whose well planned synthesizer/keyboard driven sound is meticulous and dramatic.
The group (Lauren Mayberry; vocals, Iain Cook; keyboards, bass, synthesizer, vocals and Martin Doherty; synthesizers, keys, vocals) has a high gloss surface that hints at depth (Tether), with pulsing keyboard washes that put the synthetic in synth. But what matters is that their sound grabs attention in a flashing fashion. It’s also down to whether they can give their machines enough warmth to allow communication to the masses.
They get part-way there with Lies, a lilting techno-rock track that courses along with a curious Highland thrum.
Mayberry’s voice is compelling in an electro-enhanced vibe that rides the sound waves. She taps into the distance that electronic-driven music creates.
Some of the songs hint at monumental gestures like the looping outro of Under the Tide, but at times the crystalline shine of Chvrches sound is one dimensional. You can hear the lack of depth that is inherent in the techno sound (Recover).
At their best, Chvrches tames the synthesizers and undertakes dreamy mini-voyages that evoke the illusion of internal travel (Night Sky, Science/Visions). It’s a close-your-eyes-and-feel-it kind of journey rather than a rocking car ride (both trips have their place).
At other points in the album, the trio falls into the mid-tempo pace and hard, glossy veneer that seems endemic to synth-pop bands.
The band reaches for the sky and hits the heights at times, but the content of the material is uneven and the music lacks a lived-in quality that the precision highlights.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star every Friday.