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Posted on September 26th, 2013 (8:56 am) by Chase Woodruff

Even by the superluminal standards of the CERN particle accelerator of hype that is the blog-model music press, the rise of Glasgow’s Chvrches has been something to behold. It’s been barely a year since the electro pop trio’s debut single, “The Mother We Share,” hit the interwebs and went instantly viral, landing the Scots on dozens of "Best of" lists and the rolls of indie powerhouse Glassnote Records. On their way to releasing a debut full-length, Chvrches have checked off one buzzband box after another: the Pitchfork feature, the "Fallon" appearance, the summer festival circuit—and, most importantly, a steady issue of stellar, appetite-whetting follow-up singles.

There are so many different ways in which The Bones of What You Believe could have stumbled. Amid a whirlwind of publicity and touring commitments, Chvrches might have simply not been up to the task of equaling what they were able to do in relative isolation prior to last summer. They might have been too concerned with establishing their indie bona fides to make an album full of the gorgeous, accessible pop at which they excel—or, conversely, too stubborn to tinker with the formulas that have gotten them to where they are. Bones might have been half-baked, overwrought, chintzy, self-indulgent, patronizing, or all of these things at once.

Fortunately, it’s none of them; Bones is instead a staggeringly successful debut from a band that hasn't put a foot wrong yet and looks unlikely to anytime soon. Chvrches’ fledgling career might as well be a macrocosm of “The Mother We Share,” which is self-evidently impressive from its opening bars, as Lauren Mayberry’s vocals are sliced and diced and submerged in a cascade of watery synths, but only gains new layers of depth and charm with each inevitable repeat listen.

That depth is what elevates Bones from a solid first record to one of the year’s very best. A former journalist and member of Glasgow-based post-rockers Blue Sky Archives, the magnetic Mayberry draws the listener in like the world’s most dulcet-toned carnival barker, her breezy bubblegum vocal melodies colored with just the right amount of Gaelic lilt. But those in need of cheery sing-song uplift should probably look elsewhere; this is a candy-coated synth pop record about hurting people, about dysfunction and codependency, about love that comes at the expense of the self. “Lies,” one of Chvrches’ earliest tracks, finds Mayberry sarcastically rattling off the titular fibs: “We can make time,” “You could be mine.” Elsewhere, she is bitter (“I’ll be a thorn in your side till you die”), cynical (“All that’s golden is never real”), or simply weary (“I’ll give you one more chance / We can change or part ways”). Bones’ only victories are those that are won through loss, as on slow-burning standout “Tether”: “I’m feeling capable of saying it’s over.”

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty put on a nearly unimpeachable display of technical skill and stylistic instinct behind their keyboards and laptops (and, here and there, along the frets of a guitar). Bones’ freewheeling collage of shimmering modular keys, propulsive disco stabs, and overdriven bass is focused and unflagging without ever feeling programmatic. Ten tracks in, Cook and Doherty are still concocting restlessly inventive numbers like “Lungs,” which wraps Mayberry’s dependably catchy vocal hook around a sputtering "Super Mario" effect before it’s edged out by a bassy electro breakdown and reprised in polyphony with Doherty. Few albums this year will boast a song half as good; here, it’s almost an afterthought.

“Lungs,” in particular, places Chvrches neatly within a growing niche—shared by the likes of AlunaGeorge, Purity Ring, and Kate Boy—of artists applying to a basic pop framework the same expansive sonic palette and rhythmic quirks that the EDM craze has helped normalize among a broader audience. Maybe critics are right to label this “future pop,” but The Bones of What You Believe doesn’t feel like a visitor from some distant, speculative tomorrow; it feels like a step forward today. With records like this one, maybe we’re just living in the future.

Track List:
1. The Mother We Share
2. We Sink
3. Gun
4. Tether
5. Lies
6. Under the Tide
7. Recover
8. Night Sky
9. Science/Visions
10. Lungs
11. By the Throat
12. You Caught the Light

Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

88 / 100
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