Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Every Open Eye | Chvrches

If it isn't broken, why fix it?

This seems to be the approach for Scottish electronic outfit Chvrches. Their debut album, 2013's The Bones of What You Believe, introduced listeners to a tinny, sparkly brand of synthpop. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry's voice, a bright soprano that would have churned out quite a number of hits during the late 1990s pitch-shifted days of eurodance bands like Aqua, sealed the deal on the group's sound, adding a punchy energy to each song. Their sophomore attempt, Every Open Eye, delivers more of the same: bouncy, hook-oriented electropop with a refreshed sense of urgency.

Hyperactivity is kind of Chvrches' thing. Ten of the album's eleven tracks blur together into an uptempo whirlwind that leaves a vivid, but certainly not audacious, impression. Not to be pigeonholed with encompassing power pop acts in the Top 40 vein, the band sits somewhere between Grimes and M83 on the spectrum. And unlike those chart-topping, bass-powered bangers, synths and heavy drums bear the brunt of the instrumental workload here. In "Clearest Blue," they build towards an exuberant breakdown and dance around Mayberry's voice, and in "Bury It," they flower into the album's most noteworthy choruses under her shouts of "Bury it, bury it, bury it and rise above."

Lead single "Leave a Trace" ushered in the era on a strong note, with a strong focus on Mayberry's confidence and brazen lyrics. "I know I need to feel released / Take care to tell it just how as it was / Take care to tell on me for the cause," she sings, admitting her own faults but cursing love. A majority of the songs on this LP chronicle the highs and lows of the same relationship: "Never Ending Circles" begs for the end of a relationship ("If you want another / Say you need another"), while sentiment soaks the dull "Make Them Gold" and the driving "Keep You On My Side." Walking the same lines as the latter, "Empty Threat" gleams with a strong melody and confident vocals to mask underlying vulnerability.

Just like their debut, this record has one random track that swaps out Mayberry's vocals for those of Martin Doherty, one of the trio's two instrumentalists. "High Enough to Carry You Over" is a refreshing change of pace, whereas "Under the Tide" of The Bones of What You Believe was just a forgettable disruption. The album's closer, "Afterglow," also twists the album's formula, being the only track to step away from the super-produced speaker-shakers. It is a glistening sendoff for an album that spent nearly 40 minutes in overdrive; "I've given up all that I can," Mayberry repeats at the end of the track, reminiscing on the storm of feelings that conjured every other song here.

Every Open Eye definitely has both eyes focused on energy; the material here is sure to keep Chvrches towards the top of festival billings for a few years to come. Distinction is the downfall here, just as it was on their debut album; fingers can be pointed towards fixed production habits and Mayberry's one-track voice. Despite her solid projection and strong grip on dynamics, Mayberry can't overcome her voice's lack of versatility (or she just hasn't been given the platform to display it). Although the unwavering abuse of the same sounds and vocal techniques kills individuality of each song, the album as a whole tells a clear story. The installments of that tale may blend into one nondescript event, but when digested in one sitting, it's a relatively enjoyable experience.

Every Open Eye is out now under Glassnote Entertainment.

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