Scottish trio's debut album reveals the post-rock melancholia behind the electro-pop bangers
How three individuals grounded in the homespun Caledonian traditions of post-rock and twee-folk managed to build the gleaming chrome-pop edifice of Chvrches is far from self-evident. That discrepancy has led some to question the purity of the trio’s intentions, but Chvrches are – in spirit, if not in sound – indier than most indie bands. They recorded this debut album themselves, in Iain Cook’s front room, keeping A&R men at arm’s length until they’d made the record they wanted to make. What’s more, while most new bands will agree to anything if there’s a morsel of publicity to be had, Chvrches aren’t afraid to put their foot down – particularly when it comes to the singling-out of vocalist Lauren Mayberry, who is cute as a button, smart as a whip and nobody’s fool.
Were they even half as cynical as their naysayers suggest, Cook and Martin Doherty would be sequestered away in a studio while Mayberry styled herself like a 23rd-century geisha and gave dull interviews to fashion magazines. Judging by the songs alone, however, a degree of suspicion is perhaps understandable: Chvrches’ first four singles (all present here, though ‘Lies’ has been re-recorded for additional polish) are so strong, it seems inconceivable that they weren’t written by some shadowy cabal of electro-pop svengalis. Yet there’s more to ‘The Bones…’ than straightforward bangers. Chvrches make music for the small hours, but it’s more often of the solitary, rather than social, variety. Behind that beast of a chorus, ‘The Mother We Share’ is an affecting portrait of two dysfunctional but interdependent siblings, and the album’s temperament – one minute Mayberry is goading you to “Take a good swing at me” on ‘Gun’; the next, she’s “Incapable of saying it’s over” as ‘Tether’ reaches its crescendo – feels indisputably Scottish: outward bullishness masking a melancholic interior.
There’s a strong ’80s influence, of course, but there’s also great songwriting: the glacial ‘By The Throat’ could be a lost Erasure single, while ‘Science/Visions’ turns Giorgio Moroder synths into a sinister electronic sacrament. The final song, ‘You Caught The Light’ (sung by Doherty) is the connective tissue between the band’s past and present: its phosphonic guitars and stately, circuitous structure have more in common with The Unwinding Hours or The Twilight Sad than any of Chvrches’ usual touchstones.
All told, while not every track has the immediacy of ‘Lies’ or ‘Recover’, there’s not a weak one among them. Chvrches have stuck to the bones of their beliefs, and you’re going to want to suck the marrow right out of them.