The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches debut full-length offering, was, as band member Iain Cook puts it “recorded in a windowless basement” in his house. In such an environment, one might expect an atmosphere of escapism to appear: it’s not surprising then that their tunes seem so eager to hop into your head and hitch a ride. And they are welcome guests.
Chvrches popped up out of nowhere about a year ago, cunningly disguising their name by making the “u” a bit pointier for enhanced googleability. The trio, consisting of Glaswegian multi-instrumentalists Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty have been careful to avoid any predictable branding as “Lauren and the beards”, given Mayberry’s vocal prominence, instead standing firm as a balanced trio. This works for them: they’re a bit like Neapolitan ice cream, that triple-striped staple of any worthy dessert counter. Three flavours that separately are just fine, which when combined in the right way create a powerful and delicious synergy.
The group has been steadily teasing listeners with a trickle of singles throughout this year, all of which are present on the new album and provide a familiar scaffold from which to hang the new material. The brilliant The Mother We Share and Gun remain some of the highlights of the album, with their infectiously effervescent melodies and neon synth work setting the tone for the rest of the record. Thankfully, the trio didn’t show all their best cards too early, and some of their earlier releases are overshadowed, in a good way, by other tracks on the album. Tether complements its precursors as a sparse and delicate interlude, before subtly growing to a powerful resurgence of pace. We Sink and Night Sky are further jewels: disarmingly catchy hooks floating above glitteringly colourful instrumentation.
The album has its slightly awkward moments, if only in contrast to its soaring high points. The ominous chanting from the band’s bearded members underscoring Science/Visions induces a slight unease, which is only just saved by Lauren joining in with the bad trip. In general the points on the record driven by the band’s male contingent fall short of the rest, with the exception of the lovely Under the Tide, a meaningful break from the saccharine preceding tracks.
Taken in context as a complete story however, The Bones of What You Believe absolutely overcomes any of its weaker points, and makes complete sense: although not all (but many of) these tracks are lead single material, each track complements the rest. Together they weave together an incredibly accomplished piece of sugar-rush cathedral-pop, with a general mood of optimism and brightness (and Scottishness) bolstered by Mayberry’s uplifting vocals. Surprisingly, the record manages to avoid the kind of sameyness you might expect from such a lineup, and each of the tracks works out of context as a flavour of its own.
One might argue that there’s nothing much new here. Iridescent synthesisers, beards, alluring chanteuses and catchy hooks have all been done before in various combinations. It doesn’t matter though: it’s done with style, and the familiarity only helps the charm of the work come across. The fact that the album was mostly self-produced and self-styled allow a playfulness and personality to shine through (alongside such gems as Mayberry’s impression of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, look it up). It is evident that these three are making exactly the music they want to make, and that makes this an album worth listening to.