Monday, June 4, 2018

Love is Dead | Chvrches

Very early in their career, Chvrches were chosen as the pop band of choice for finicky listeners – the flagship act of Pitchfork pop, if you will. For every elitist declaration of “I don’t like pop music” comes the essential postscript “except Chvrches.” The trio’s twinkling in-house production and lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s shouty soprano voice have attracted a particularly selective crowd. Without much effort, they were deemed the smart man’s alternative to pop and catapulted themselves into the top few rows of festival billings.

On the trio’s third record, Love is Dead, the sharp tips of their synthesizers and automated beats are gelled back with styling from mega-producer Greg Kurstin. Gasp. It shimmers as if it's covered with a blanket of glitter, and nowhere is that more apparent than on “Graves” or “Heaven/Hell,” where Chvrches are on an ultimate sugar rush. The well-versed producer Steve Mac also appears on the record, though not molding as well as Kurstin when he puts his hands into “Miracle.” Its melody dances over an uncharacteristically heavy instrumental before plunging into an even more uncharacteristic breakdown.

Kurstin’s saturated pop production has never been ignorant to trends in popular commercial music, but it hasn’t been dictated by them, either. Here, it is very much in-tune with the pre-existing template Chvrches’ past two records have laid out: It twinkles, sputters, and bursts through Mayberry’s short, choppy phrases that are looped into oblivion. On “Deliverance” and “Never Say Die,” she stomps her foot across it: “Is it deliver-iver-iverance?” and “Never, never, never, ever, never, ever, ever say die,” she sings. And on closing track "Wonderland," it sweeps with majestic flairs as Mayberry sings what are perhaps the record's most developed lyrics.

On this record, Chvrches prove themselves to be the short-form journalism of pop music: They have a lot of information on hand but a very strict word count to get it all out. For a record that is such a blunt declaration, Love is Dead offers the least amount of liberty for justification. Mayberry is at her shortest-spoken form yet, not offering the poetic lip service of, say, the lead singles from the group’s previous records. In comparison, lead single for this cycle, “Get Out,” provides no more than catchy, spastic fodder for the record. The same could be said about many tracks, like "Never Say Die" or "My Enemy," a sleepy duet with The National singer Matt Berninger.

As the commercial pop debut of Chvrches, Love is Dead does the job just fine. As a proper Chvrches record, though, it changes the band's identity and trajectory. Adorning the band in their biggest, flashiest productions to date, it expects more out of Lauren Mayberry – and Martin Doherty, for that matter, on the few tracks that he reemerges as a lead vocalist – than either of them may be able to deliver in their vocals and the emotive intentions behind them. In turn, it may also train the ear to expect less from Chvrches, if satin-finished production and static vocal performances turn out to be the newest stock features for the band.

Love is Dead is available under Virgin EMI Records and Goodbye Records.

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