[Album Review] Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

Ever since they released “Recover,” the momentum gathered around Chvrches has been hard to ignore. It was one of those perfect pop singles that nailed the space between experimental futurism and nostalgic throwbacks. It was music for the present, refreshing and feelgood, and each subsequent single followed the same path. The ultimate arrival of The Bones Of What You Believe, then, was almost an official coronation, an unfortunate effect of the hype train.

Fortunately, the album really is that good. The hype train may have railroaded it into critical acclaim, but it’s absolutely deserving of it. It’s a very good record and, months later, “Recover” remains one of the year’s best singles.

There are times when The Bones Of What You Believe sounds like a consolidation of every cool trick from today’s electro-indie scene. There are moments that recall M83 at his 80s nostalgic best, The Knife’s “Heartbeats” cranked up to its full pop music potential, or the chopped-up vocal flourishes from Passion Pit. And despite all that it stops short of being derivative or too familiar. In fact, the sum of these parts always comes out crisp, modern, and smartly constructed for maximum infectiousness.

It’s almost meticulous how well they deploy all the right moves. The synths pulse at the right time, the drums roll right when you need them to. “Tether” comes out of a quiet interlude with the perfect techno breakdown that would make a fantastic festival ender. “Lungs” is a beat-heavy mid-tempo sing-a-long that will give some much needed breathing room between the songs neon peaks and gun metal valleys.

A lot has been said about the reigns of indie being turned over to a wave of danceable, sensible pop music like Chvrches (and Aluna George and Lordes and Grimes and…) But in this climate, Grantland’s Steve Hyden asks, “Where’s the anger?” He’s right to say that a lot of the pop bliss floating around the blogosphere lacks a specific kind of urgent, emotional weight. Yet that absence isn’t really felt on The Bones Of What You Believe. One of the most cutting aspects of their songwriting is the ability to juxtapose these upbeat dance synths with urgent lyricism.

Let’s not forget that the second single, “Gun” declares with a full heart, “I will be a gun / and it’s you I’ll come for.” On “We Sink,” the lasting line is “I’ll be a thorn in your side ‘til you die / I’ll be a thorn in your side for all.” On the glittering “By The Throat,” it’s “I’ll take this thing by the throat and walk away.” The bitter bites and pop sweetness make great flavor companions.

Lead singer Lauren Mayberry doesn’t sing them with any special disdain or snarl. In fact, she reels it back to great effect. The most affecting part of “Gun” is the second lap to the chorus, except this time around Mayberry puts on a vulnerable, quivering voice to match the synth’s retreat, but she still threatens, alone, “I will be a gun.”

The single greatest quality that Chvrches has achieved is an all-spectrum cool. Pop is supposed to be the domain that is aimed at everyone, but that becomes less and less true as the monoculture continues to splinter. Chvrches and The Bones Of What You Believe feels sincerely like music for everyone – indie mopers, dance revelers, bubble gum pop enthusiasts, nostalgic retromaniacs and everyone in between. It’s a perfect bullseye, a straight shot to the heart of music fans.

Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.

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