It’s with caution that we approached Glaswegian ElectroPoppers Chvrches sophomore album, Every Open Eye. It cannot be stated enough how much we love their début full length records, The Bones Of What You Believe; it was our album of the year in 2013 and for a long time a whole day didn’t go by without us listening to it at least once. We believe the words “fucking stunning!” were used.
Difficult second album syndrome may be a music industry cliché, but not without cause. A band’s first record is usually made up of tracks they have written along their entire career to date, usually honed my touring and rehearsing with the best of their best making up their premiere collection. The follow up, however, most likely has to be written from scratch. Touring the first album can give new songs some road-testing, but it really does put a band to the test, coming up with the same amount of material as they have in their entire career to date in just a year or so. Some rise to the challenge and prove their talent, some fail miserable.
Thankfully Chvrches fall into the former category.
That said, Every Open Eye is a widely different album to The Bones Of What You Believe. Sure, critics not so in deep with SynthPop are probably saying it’s more of the same, critics with narrow views of synthesizer music are probably saying Every Open Eye is straight-up ElectroPop; but they would both be wrong. It would be far too easy to say that this is Chvrches flexing their tried and tested formula, that it is a return of vintage electronic music (which was always an odd comment, there’s very little vintage in Chvrches crisp electronic sound. There has been SynthPop since the 80s y’know!) but all that would be to miss the real beauty of Every Open Eye, and album teaming with contemporary influences (it’s an incredibly Indie album, there are flairs of R&B too) to be spotted by the electronic music aficionado..
We’ve been living with Every Open Eye for a couple of weeks not, and one of the biggest things that struck us about it is the notion that this is an album written by a band that has been touring pretty heavily over the past couple of years. This is a album written by a band who plays live to play live. Loaded with bombast and big crowd pleasing moments, Every Open Eye revels in anthems and chants in a way the more introverted The Bones Of What You Believe didn’t. If the previous album was singer Lauren Mayberry’s exposed raw nerve, Every Open Eye is a defiant manifesto. Mayberry’s lament replaced with an invitation to join in the anger and euphoria of the eleven track contained within.
Every Open Eye really does hit the ground running. The opening salvo of Never Ending Circles and Leave A Trace is one of the best album launches in recent memory. Never Ending Circles is pure anthem material. A lurching bassline drives forward a symphony of all those elements that make Chvrches Chvrches. Sampled and chopped up backing vocals, thunderous drums, Lauren in optimism lined with bitterness mode, massive chords and sweeping choruses. Never Ending Circles, combining these elements, could have quite easily turned out to be Chvrches-by-numbers but the trio manage to avoid the formulaic trap with stellar songwriting. It’s a superbly spine-tingling opener who’s elevation is continued in the album’s lead single, Leave A Trace. A impassioned, and personal, song that combines Lauren’s proud opus with a soundtrack of emotive electronics that melds atmosphere with a rock solid groove.
Keep You On My Side is the first of many tracks on Every Open Eye that seems to be written with live performance in mind. It’s high BPM and frantic arpeggios complement the chant-a-long vocals will no doubt become a Chvrches live set highlight, but in a listening scenario gave us our first frown of the record. Highlighting a rawer production style that is present through the album. At times the sparse, upfront mixing style of Every Eye Open works well to convey this live energy contained within so many of the tracks, but at times we did miss the more cohesive, more comfortable, production style of The Bones Of What You Believe. This continues into Make Them Gold, and Indie anthem made synth that sees the first appearance of Iain’s chugging bass, here underpinning Every Eye Opens most euphoric and rousing refrain.
Which brings us to Clearest Blue, another of the album’s standout tracks. Revelling in the history of SynthPop (particularly early Depeche Mode), Clearest Blue serves up a high-energy and heartfelt track that seems to be one big build. Again, this is a song crafted for live enjoyment featuring a couple of moments that were surely written for their ‘crowd going mental’ appeal; when the drop comes, it comes hard.
No Chvrches album would be complete without Martin stepping up to the mic. This time High Enough To Carry You Over comes thick with a synth-Funk as Doherty croons, strangely like a Scottish Dave-1 from Chromeo. It seems more relatable, and to our minds slightly better, that his outing on The Bones Of What You Believe but after this quick aside where dropped straight back into the live focused monster tunes with Empty Threat. More of Ian’s powerhouse bass, more of Lauren and the kind of massive vocal performance that has no business coming out of such a small frame. Empty Threat is possibly the best of the crowd-pleasers, it’s resonant lyrics and crisp vocals being something to shout about.
Moody Future R&B infiltrates the record in one of Every Open Eye’s quieter moments, the smokey sweet Down Side Of Me (a personal highlight) as waves of Lauren’s (in this instance) gentle vocals intertwine with pinprick synths and warm keys to provide a little respite amid the juggernaut numbers. The following tune, Playing Dead is the most The Bones Of What You Believe track on Every Open Eye. It’s melancholy optimism, both vocally and musically, would have actually made an excellent album closer with it’s (again, live focused) but stuttered sample breakdown providing a stark contrast to (what we think is) Mayberry’s best performance on the record. Before the sweet and calming exit of Afterglow, Comes Bury It, perhaps the album’s lowest point, a barrage of synths and chants that is exciting in it’s own way but feels slightly like an afterthought.
Is Every Open Eye as good as The Bones Of What You Believe. Well…no. But just saying “no” without explanation seems unfair. Taken out of context Every Open Eye is a fucking amazing record that we could not recommend enough to everyone. We’ve been listening to it almost non-stop for the past two weeks and loving every second. The Bones Of What You Believe is such a legacy to live up to, I’m not sure anyone could have done it. Every Open Eye just isn’t quite as great as it’s predecessor, but don’t think for a minute that that doesn’t make it one of the best albums of the year. It really is. Top five. It beats the crap out of almost everything released in 2015…it’s just that in 2013 Chvrches released something a tiny bit better.
That’s not a dis though. You need this album in your life right now.
♫ Chvrches – Leave A Trace
♫ Chvrches – Never Ending Circles
Chvrches’ second album Every Open Eye is out now.
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