I can’t lie — I only got turned on to the brilliance of CHVRCHES, a three-piece Scottish electronic extravaganza, some six months ago. After falling down a YouTube rabbit hole one night, I came across their cover of Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” As this was easily one of the best songs of 2013, how anyone could do a cover any justice — I didn’t wanna know. CHVRCHES had some seriously misplaced audacity. So reluctantly, I clicked, and about five seconds later was proven so wrong. Sexy, gripping synths guided by desperate, pint-sized vocals filled the studio. It was enticing, exciting and inventive just like the original, but served the starkest contrast, too. My view count to this day probably ranks in the hundreds.
Every Open Eye
And so goes the band’s bumping sophomore release, Every Open Eye — it’s beautifully defined by the characteristics rife in the cover video, and each listen brings something fresh to the ears. Sad-yet-happy dance beats permeate as Scottish pixie lead singer Lauren Mayberry coos over lost loves and electronic hope. She’s apathetic with delicious little dashes of passion: an appealing, variety-laden combination, persuasive to the listener at best. Backed up with the magic synth fingers and occasional vocals of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, Every Open Eye rarely strays from its predestined greatness.
It’s hard to believe this is a sophomore release for the Scots, who’ve been around since 2011. They brought their sound to the electronic world with their first album, The Bones of What You Believe, and it’s only gotten better with age. It’s distinct, refined and akin to only them, avoiding any forthright genre clichés (i.e., d-d-drop the bass, Spanglish Pitbull raps and so on). “Clearest Blue” off the new album is no exception. The scene it sets: a steamy, neon club, pulsating with energy right from the start. Things get epic after the meaty, German dance hall beats drop at 2:15 and stay raving and jumping and sweaty until the finish. What’s that on the bottom of your club heels? Glitter and infinity.
“Never Ending Circles” is a strong opener and similar in its unwavering liveliness. Interesting, tiny synth quirks weave their way in and out, as they do on “Leave a Trace” and “Empty Threat.” All the songs feel a bit experimental but never lose that CHVRCHES listening factor, and Mayberry’s voice should take a lot of that credit. It’s hard not to keep discussing it because it’s crucial — almost as if Hayley Williams (Paramore) inhaled a substantial breath of helium, in the least annoying way possible. “Empty Threat” sounds like it could be an Anime theme song, or the accompaniment to one of those shady, low-quality YouTube videos devoted to Anime ships and lovers. Yet — always yet — CHVRCHES music is still alluring, still prodigious.
Sometimes, though, consistently high-octane tempos and driving synths can get repetitive. Fast-paced tunes in a sequence can’t slow down, content-wise, and, unfortunately, the album’s vibes glitch a bit on “Keep You On My Side” and “Make Them Gold.” It’s not that these are pitiful songs — they’re actually quite good. But “good” becomes a problem when every other velocity-driven ditty is fantastic and unique. The weak handful’s typical synths, lyrics and melodic lines are boring, especially when the band has proven — just a song earlier — that they can do better, more inventive work.
“Bury It” and “Playing Dead” turn it around with their hopeful lyrics, and “High Enough to Carry You Over” and “Down Side of Me” do the same. The latter two feature Cook singing with Mayberry and taking some lines entirely himself, which all lends to cool, Human League-esque trade-offs and juxtaposition.
Mayberry sings us away with “Afterglow,” the only slow, calm track on the compilation. The group was initially reluctant to include it, as the original cut was techy like the rest of Every Open Eye, but on the last day of recording they stripped and slowed it down. Mayberry laid down all the vocals in a single, emotional take. It sounds raw like that: like the aftermath of a wild rave, laying down in the middle of the dance floor after all is gone but your one true love, confetti in your hair, neon lights still flickering with every bit of hope you felt when you first got there.