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Chvrches Continues Synth-Pop Reign on 'Every Open Eye'

Chvrches-Every Open Eye-Glassnote Records-4 STARS

Synth-pop isn’t the most revered of genres, in large part because it is extremely easy to do badly. Scottish trio Chvrches, however, are up-and-coming stars of the genre—their previous album, “The Bones of What You Believe,” received critical acclaim for its polish, catchiness, and unique sonic signature. Despite the frequently quick turnover for synthy artists, Chvrches shows no signs of falling into a sophomore slump on their second album, “Every Open Eye.”

Chvrches

The album kicks off with “Never Ending Circles,” a rousing anthemic song whose cascading, echoing synth trill, punctuated by the occasional ethereal coo from lead singer Lauren Mayberry, gives it a certain sense of space and openness that characterizes Chvrches’ particular brand of music. ”Empty Threat,” with its preternaturally catchy, rolling melody, is also also a highlight, as is “Make it Gold,” a number almost arena-rockish in its ardor. Chvrches’ claim to want to “Take the best parts of ourselves / And make them gold” is stirring enough to override any accusations of kitsch. And the album’s closer, “Afterglow”, is aptly named—it’s a beautiful, balladic number that serves as a worthwhile and soothing coda to the high-energy album.

The album’s lyrics are filled with quasi-angsty, millennial buzzwords such as “regret,” “bones,” “letting go,” and “confusion.” But the rhetoric of the album never devolves into meaninglessness—from a purely content-based standpoint, Chvrches could be called unoriginal, but the lyrics of “Every Open Eye” never quite dip into the vacuous or the banal. Its messages still hold power, well-trod though they are. The blend of resignation, guilt, and blamelessness seen in “Bury It,” for instance, feels familiar but not quite trite; the sentiment behind the line “I never promised you anything I couldn't do” still packs an emotional punch. And even their familiarity isn’t a glaring flaw—the sheer inventiveness and polish of Chvrches’ music goes a long way towards excusing the slightly stale lyrics. Besides, up to a certain point, it doesn’t really matter what Mayberry is actually singing about—her voice is so valuable as a sonic instrument that the content it carries becomes almost secondary.

However, the unique sound that Mayberry brings to the album, distinctive as it may be, cannot prove a potent independent source of interest for the full length of the album. Toward the end, the album’s crystalline, upbeat synth-poppiness risks wearying the listener. Of course, there are the occasional diversions from the band’s typical sound, but none are particularly successful—“High Enough To Carry You Over” is the token male-sung number in the album, and though Martin Doherty’s vocal performance is a departure from the “Every Open Eye” standard, the musical aspects of the song hew to that expectation. Without the edge provided by Mayberry’s voice, the track becomes distinctive only with respect to the rest of the songs on the album—on its own, however, it’s unremarkable, and certainly not one of the band’s stronger offerings. “Down Side of Me” fares slightly better, with its minor-key tonality and more subdued mood nicely offsetting the expansiveness and poppy intensity of the rest of the album. It does, however, start to feel slow and repetitive, and eventually settles into Chvrches’ standard anthemic chorus instead of sticking to its guns and staying somber.

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The sheer polish and innovation of the album’s offerings, however, prevent it from ever growing truly exhausting. Its tracks are fairly homogenous, but, taken individually, the offerings are all fairly high-quality pieces, able demonstrations of Chvrches’ well-honed pop sensibilities and ear for hooks. And Chvrches was also able to deliver the album live, performing a much-applauded set at this weekend’s Boston Calling festival.

“Every Open Eye” is not quite a masterpiece of an album, but it’s a very strong sophomore effort from a band that has already demonstrated itself to be a burgeoning synth-pop powerhouse. For all its brightness and palatability, Chvrches’ new offering demonstrates a remarkably insightful grasp on modern pop sensibilities—and that rock-solid understanding promises to propel the band to even greater heights.

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