The Bones Of What You Believe
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
It may not be the traditional method of getting to your debut album, but what does tradition have to do with the music business these days anyway? Scottish trio Chvrches actually released their first track back in May of last year and periodically surfaced in the interim between then and now to drop fetching synth-pop singles (four in all) on an unsuspecting indie-rock public. Only now is their first full-length, The Bones Of What You Believe, finally appearing.
Those singles, all of which are on the album, are outstanding, which means that the album already is one-third of the way home. The highlight is “The Mother We Share,” one of the best songs of any kind released last year. It uses a staccato vocal snippet of lead singer Lauren Mayberry as a kind of instrumental hook, an effect that works way better than it should. Mayberry then gives a clear-eyed account of a deteriorating relationship over a sea of synths. As an album-opener, it’s tough to beat.
Mayberry is an interesting singer, her vocals sounding pixie-like at first listen with a subtle Scottish brogue attached. (Listen to the way she clips her long “o” sounds throughout.) What sneaks up on you is just how piercing those vocals are, standing out even when her bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty make a dense racket behind her.
She also surprises with the toughness of her lyrics. No shrinking violet this one, she’s not about to be wronged by any suitor without ladling out some retribution. On “Gun,” she sings “I will be a gun and it’s you I’ll come for.” On “We Sink”: “I’ll be a thorn in your side ‘til you die.” Her protagonists are honest enough to admit the hurt they’ve suffered in these songs, but they’re also ready to dish out some vengeance, even if it’s only by lingering in the memories of their exes.
The real neat trick that Chvrches pull off is putting this blunt subject matter into colorful, tuneful packages, making this some of the catchiest romantic anguish on the block. Even the minor keys of “Recover” never seem maudlin when surrounded by the roiling keyboards. Despite the unsparing imagery and Mayberry’s assertion that “All that’s golden is never so,” the soundscape created by Cook and Doherty on “By The Throat” is too animated to wallow or brood.
The good news is that the singles aren’t the only things that hit home on the album. “Tether,” which starts off slow and atmospheric but explodes into synth euphoria, effectively chronicles the difficulty of leaving a dead-end relationship, while “We Sink” actually soars on a wave of video-game blips.
There is an inevitable letdown whenever Mayberry hands off the mike, while the second half of the disc lags a bit compared to the rat-a-tat of the first seven tracks. Yet the overall evidence suggests that Chvrches straddle the line between indie contemplation and pop exultation with flair. It may have taken a while for The Bones Of What You Believe to arrive, but it more than meets the standards of all the tantalizing sneak previews.