By Wade Powell
Sometimes it’s easy to pick out the differences between mainstream and indie music: recording quality, lyrical choices, song structure and accessibility all come to mind. But every once and a while an album comes along that makes you reconsider those differences. Cue CHVRCHES, the young Scottish synth-pop band whose debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, has this reviewer scratching his head over its lack of mainstream presence. The Bones of What You Believe is an astonishingly confident debut, glossy yet real, and it is oozing with mainstream appeal.
CHVRCHES (pronounced “churches”– the letter V makes internet searches easier) are based in Glasgow, the epicenter for indie music that has produced Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, Frightened Rabbit and many others. CHVRCHES’ music emanates the same freshness that those bands have brought to the table and takes it to new heights.
Take “Gun,” the show-stealing centerpiece of the album, for example. The song’s catchiness is unquestionable from the start of its glittery intro riff, as singer Lauren Mayberry threatens in the sweetest voice possible, “You had better run from me… I am going to come for you with all that I have.” “Gun” has everything someone would expect to find in a hit song these days: a fast tempo, flashy production, center-stage vocals and provocative, fun lyrics. Yet the single didn’t come anywhere near the Billboard 100. The song sounds like it was born there. “The Mother We Share,” another radio-worthy song (of which there are several), has only grazed the alternative chart.
The Bones of What You Believe can accurately be described as a euphoric merging of The Knife’s Silent Shout and Postal Service’s Give Up. Synthesizer arpeggios and bass riffs are abundant, as are pulsing dance beats and emotional sensibility. Besides the angelic Mayberry, the album’s shimmering and nearly futuristic production is the other star of the show here, almost totally outshining secondary lead vocalist Martin Doherty, who handles “Under the Tide” and “You Caught the Light” in the fashion of M83’s Anthony Gonzalez.
It’s a shame CHVRCHES aren’t receiving more recognition, not only because these songs are highly enjoyable, but because they could open up mainstream audiences to deserving artists beyond the likes of Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell (who I mention based on his heavy-handed involvement in the two biggest songs of 2013, “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines”). CHVRCHES’ debut has the potential to unhinge the floodgates for other alt-pop acts like Solange, Janelle Monae and Haim.
Until that happens, CHRVCHES will have to settle for critical acclaim and a passionate international fanbase. Sigh. Not too shabby, I guess. In the end, it’s only pop music, but The Bones of What You Believe is pop music done right. It’s smart, it’s fresh, and it gets stuck in your head. It’s an instant winner for pop music fans, mainstreamShare on social media