Chvrches – Every Open Eye
In late 2013, as indie synth pop reached a high crest of popularity, Chvrches emerged fully formed from Glasgow with a debut record that appeared to capture the best of the zeitgeist. The Bones Of What You Believe was bruising, a warhead of bombastic choruses and thundering swirls of drum track percussion. When Lauren Mayberry proclaimed on single ‘Gun’ that: “I will be a gun, and it’s you I’ll come for” the sentiment was defiant and outright deadly, even though encased in a sugary coat. Emotional wounds had rarely sounded so powerful, and so dance worthy.
It duly shot up the charts, and what followed was a truly gruelling schedule: Chvrches played over 350 shows in two years, before returning to Glasgow to take a well earned six-week sabbatical. Capitalising on the intense touring cycle, Every Open Eye poured out in six months inside their home studio, this time decked out with vintage synthesisers paid for with their album advance. The mammoth tour, and the speed of its creation, helps explain why Every Open Eye is lean, keenly focused, an immense growth from their debut that keeps their foundations intact. Second records are fraught with danger, yet Chvrches appear to have slickly side stepped the landmine.
Every Open Eye is relentlessly optimistic
They’ve eschewed the grimmer experiments that popped up on Bones; there’s nothing here that even remotely resembles the darkness of ‘Science/Visions’. Even more, there’s nothing here that really strays outside the glowing pop mould, apart from maybe the closer ‘Afterglow’ – which serves as a necessary, drifting calm down after an album of highs. Instead, Every Open Eye is relentlessly optimistic, aspirational even, as if Chvrches can already see the illuminated festival crowds laid out before them. When Mayberry sings: “We’ll take the best parts of ourselves, and make them gold,” on ‘Make Them Gold’ – she’s appears not only to be referencing those crowds of dancing millennials, but to Chvrches musical output.
Mayberry’s particular gift, of wrapping heartbreak inside an iron fist, is as strong and nuanced as ever. It’s bizarre why anyone would have the gall to call her “pixie-like” or “pint-sized” when she is this forcefully self-assured. Whether she’s delivering the final blows of a relationship on opener ‘Never Ending Circles’, or burying the remnants of one on single ‘Leave A Trace’, Mayberry is always in control. After all, ‘Leave A Trace’ was – in her own words – aptly described as a “middle finger mic drop”. This albums’ ‘Gun’ moment comes in the shining ’80s throwback ‘Playing Dead’, where Mayberry swings up the register and announces “there are no silver linings in anything you said… I’m chasing the skyline more than you ever will.” When she’s not storming the trenches, as on the gorgeous trip-hop of ‘Down Side Of Me’, she manages to muddle nostalgia, longing, anger, and acceptance into a cold post-relationship cocktail.
Whether it’s vicious thumps of drum track toms on ‘Never Ending Circles’, or a dervish twirl of descending keyboards on ‘Keep You On My Side’, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty have deftly created the instrumentation needed to support her, the compositions complex but agile. There’s an allegiance to early British synth pop that rings through, Pet Shop Boys and fellow Scots the Eurythmics being obvious touchstones.
But Every Open Eye transcends mere imitation when Chvrches release themselves from their tightly structured formula and luxuriously stretch out. On the album’s zenith, ‘Clearest Blue’, they wrap themselves into tight swirls of synths, gradually squeezing and suffocating before the vocals fly off and a shuddering drop pulls the pin to give it release. The album’s closer, ‘Afterglow’, has Mayberry relenting after a record of fighting to sing, “I’ve given up all I can” over the long, liquidy drones. After having spent all of its time in a heady pop stratosphere, Every Open Eye drifts to its tranquil close.