A conceptual opus based around George Orwell’s ‘1984’ but looking at the spectre of ‘Big Brother’ five years on, TAYLOR SWIFT’s ‘1989’ sold over a million physical copies during its first week in the US.
This was a release which was confined to CD and digital download variants with no concessions towards streaming and, initially in the first few months of release, vinyl.
Meanwhile ‘Style’ and ‘Clean’ took the electro mode even further, with the latter being a collaboration with modern day technology queen IMOGEN HEAP. One track that did not fit in with the ‘1989’ concept and therefore restricted to deluxe bonus track status was ‘New Romantics’. But the now New York based pop princess’ celebration of the most colourful of youth movements in the 20th Century has been released as a single in its own right.
Miss Swift’s opening gambit of “We’re all bored, we’re all so tired of everything” quite vividly references The Winter of Discontent, increasing unemployment and the onset of Thatcher’s Britain, although PET SHOP BOYS’ Neil Tennant recently referred to Swift as the “Margaret Thatcher of pop music”. With the social economic purge by the current Cameron government, these lyrics also resonate in the current climate.
But on the packed dancefloor of The Blitz Club, people were forgetting their troubles and “too busy dancing to get knocked off our feet”, while with eyeliner in abundance (and that was just the boys!), Miss Swift recalls the “tears of mascara in the bathroom”. With “trains that just aren’t coming”, the lack of all-night public transport for club goers in London back then was only too apparent. And it is a problem that sadly still afflicts the capital today.
Closing with the profound line “The best people in life are free”, it is a reflection of the creative spirits that emerged from within the outrageously attired clientele like VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET, CULTURE CLUB and LANDSCAPE. And of course “every night with us is like a dream”.
Coupled to a classically rigid Linn Drum derived beat, if Miss Swift’s inherent Americanisms were not so apparent, this enticing electropop number could easily be mistaken for the dreamy allure of Scandipodean twins SAY LOU LOU, thanks to the input of Swedish producers Max Martin and Shellback.
It was LANDSCAPE’s Richard James Burgess who first coined the term “New Romantic”. And with this historic narrative on The Blitz Club, ’New Romantics’ has become the original resident DJ Rusty Egan’s favourite TAYLOR SWIFT song.
The success of CHVRCHES is proof that there is still an international market for synthpop.
Successfully overcoming the second album syndrome that afflicted LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, LADYHAWKE and HURTS, ‘Every Open Eye’ showcased a refined CHVRCHES and their knack for great songwriting.
Now elevated to arena status, the gigs at the SSE Hydro in their hometown of Glasgow and tonight at London’s Royal Albert Hall are evidence of how far CHVRCHES have come.
It’s been an upward trajectory for Lauren Mayberry, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook since their debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ in 2013. As well as selling half a million copies worldwide, TAYLOR SWIFT notably borrowed their sound for her song ‘Out Of The Woods’. However, the success had taken its toll on the group’s frontwoman, with online misogynistic attacks and criticisms of her static stage presence.
This has been tough on her psyche but thinking positively, a change in approach has successfully allowed her to differentiate between her public and private personas.
This attitude is reflected in Mayberry’s new found confidence on stage, while she still retains her charming, down-to-earth banter with the audience in the manner of a student who still can’t quite believe she has the best job in the world.
Appropriately, the opening ‘Never Ending Circles’ is her fight back manifesto. Known for practically standing still at CHVRCHES earlier shows, tonight she is back and forth, punching the air with aplomb, as the following ‘We Sink’ from ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ reinforces the mood.
Aided by three screens displaying everything from pixelated images themed around the ‘Every Open Eye’ artwork, to the bars and triangles last seen on GARY NUMAN’s ‘The Touring Principle’ shows, CHVRCHES have indeed developed as a live act.
The presence of frantic new numbers like ‘Keep You On My Side’, ‘Make Them Gold’ and ‘Empty Threat’ reflect the influence of their American success.
With an air of controlled aggression, Mayberry therapeutically pounds an electronic percussion set on the latter and Cook even ventures out with his bass. These are more new wavey tracks that could have made the soundtrack of a classic Brat Pack movie from back in the day
Riding on the natural momentum of those songs, Mayberry and Doherty swap positions for the live debut of ‘High Enough To Carry You Over’. A big improvement on ‘Under The Tide’ and ‘You Caught The Light’ from their debut, it’s a credit to Doherty for taking singing lessons and delivering a fine slice of Trans-Atlantic pop.
The punchy ‘Playing Dead’ keeps things lively before the brilliantly hypnotic power of ‘Science/Visions’, complimented by a mad display of lighting. A sprightly ‘Gun’ continues the first album innocence until Mayberry drops to the floor. Remaining there for the first verse of ‘Bury It’, this is a slice of feisty machine pop that will become a girl anthem of the future.
Doherty makes his return to the mic for the polarising ‘Under The Tide’; the CHVRCHES faithful lap it up, but the casuals sitting further back in the huge confines of the Royal Albert Hall take the opportunity for a comfort break. With his one-legged kick dancing, what can’t be denied though is The Dok’s enthusiasm and sense of fun. The sweet but solemn ‘Recover’ acts as a breather, before the momentum of the home stretch is raised with ‘Leave A Trace’.
A magnificent ‘Clearest Blue’ closes the main set, wonderfully held in a state of tension before the potent lift in the final third which sends the Royal Albert Hall crowd into a total frenzy. For the encore, ‘Afterglow’ with its angelic ambience sees Mayberry exposed and practically acapella; it is a beautiful moment which adds a new string to CHVRCHES’ bow. Finishing with ‘The Mother We Share’, this song of such quality that it really could be covered by TAYLOR SWIFT and sell millions!
Tonight, CHVRCHES are at the height of their powers and even feel able to leave out their calling card ‘Lies’. Two albums on and several world tours later, CHVRCHES have proved themselves as the saviours of synthpop. What this Glaswegian trio have managed to do is get youngsters listening to electronic music outside of the brainless EDM complex. As far as synthpop is concerned, this can only be a good thing for the future of the genre.
‘Every Open Eye’ is released by Virgin Records as a CD, deluxe CD with three bonus tracks, vinyl LP and download
CHVRCHES have actually achieved what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, LADYHAWKE or HURTS never managed; a decent second album!
And the best bit is, it’s a logical development of the first. None of this going house, disowning synths, rocking out or turning into SIMPLE MINDS nonsense! Hallelujah! Here’s a synthpop band actually using synths and proud of it!
Recorded in their basement studio in Glasgow and again self-produced, Iain Cook, Martin Doherty and Lauren Mayberry have taken a less complex approach to their effervescent synthpop on ‘Every Open Eye’.
On mixing duties, the more electronically tuned Mark ‘Spike’ Stent works his magic behind the desk rather than MUSE producer Rich Costey who looked after the debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’. The end result is more varied and possibly, even better than its predecessor.
The album sees Mayberry in particularly feisty mood, emerging as a fighter following playing the victim on CHVRCHES’ debut. The apparent sweetness of her voice is again countered by vintage electronic backing, maintaining the light / shade demeanour that has made CHVRCHES so appealing throughout the world, especially in territories like South East Asia and the US which had all but forgotten synthpop.
The opening salvo of ‘Never Ending Circles’ is a statement of intent, a darker cousin of ‘Recover’ with a fight back manifesto. Mayberry is certainly biting at her detractors and while she’s not quite turned into a riot-grrrl, from a CHVRCHES perspective, this is a fair turn of assertiveness and aggression.
‘Leave A Trace’ is tougher still, “You took far too much” exclaims Lauren, on the attack. But what must not be forgotten is that this is an exemplarily pop song. Indeed, it could be a megahit if covered by TAYLOR SWIFT, who it has to be said, has mined CHVRCHES’ sound for her enjoyable ‘1989’ opus. Mayberry may be the anti-Taylor, but she has a few things in common with the starlet. With the horrid barrage of online misogyny she’s had to endure, Mayberry has had to shake it off too. Putting her energy into her art, with its booming backing, ‘Leave A Trace’ is a very personal song that acts as an inspiration to all.
‘Every Open Eye’ contains a delicious trio of uptempo electropop numbers that have been clearly influenced by the band’s success in America, possibly from watching Jerry Bruckheimer movies on the tour bus. With ‘Keep You On My Side’, the threesome deliver a pounding triplet stomper complimented by responsive synth phrases. On the even more frantic ‘Make Them Gold’, Mayberry needs a hero with pounding electronic drums and widescreen chords dominating proceedings. Yes, this could easily be a song from a montage scene in a Rob Lowe / Demi Moore film but despite these explicit Americanised overtones, they’re perhaps not as overt as GOLDFRAPP’s AOR flirtations were on ‘Head First’.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more epic, there’s ‘Empty Threat’ which takes its lead from Oscar winning era Moroder, with a rock disco arrangement held down by a solid rhythm section. Despite this, there’s space within the dynamics. Some may consider it retro, but this is classic songwriting that is a pleasure to the ears, especially compared to DURAN DURAN’s painful EDM blow-out on ‘Paper Gods’.
The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ shows how far CHVRCHES have developed. Although not unlike an amalgam of ‘Gun’ and ‘Science/Visions’ from ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ , ‘Clearest Blue’ is more accomplished. CHVRCHES’ productions are now less gimmicky and proof that the team of Mayberry / Doherty / Cook are comfortable in their own skins. Not needing to overtry, ‘Clearest Blue’ is wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there’s a potent surprise in the final third that recalls the distinctive overtures of Vince Clarke. The song is indeed, magnificence embroiled.
But it’s not all four-to-the floor. The template that CHVRCHES borrowed from PURITY RING is still omnipresent, and while their Canadian contemporaries have made themselves more accessible with this year’s ‘Another Eternity’ album, the Glaswegians have been more adept at using it within a pop context. A crunchy off-kilter percussion sequence provides the backbone for the pretty ‘Down Side Of Me’, but the proof is most obvious when Mayberry’s Trans-Atlantic lilt closely resembles Megan James during the middle eight. ‘Playing Dead’ is closest to the previous sound of ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ but with a rockier slant. A belting chorus sees Mayberry going into battle again, with her announcing “you can tell me to jump, but I won’t go!”.
The two Martin Doherty vocalled tracks on ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ polarised opinion and his voice makes an appearance again on the Oberheim driven funk of ‘High Enough To Carry You Over’. Is The Dok as technically accomplished a singer as Mayberry? Well, the factual answer is no… but taking on a more Americanised drawl in the vein of MISTER MISTER, this is a big improvement on his auditions for THE XX on the last long player.
Rugged machine synths burst into action for the wonderful ‘Bury It’; “I never promised you anything I couldn’t do” Mayberry exclaims, “we try to bury it and rise above”. With a barrage of stabs that haven’t been heard this side of NEW ORDER’s ‘Round & Round’, this is a determined anthem for female solidarity… and it WILL get covered!
To finish, ‘Afterglow’ is another Canadian inspired twist that takes CHVRCHES closer to ELECTRIC YOUTH instead of PURITY RING. With just some Eno-esque ambience providing the backing and no drums or sequences, it is a beautiful song that makes for a perfect ending. Recalling EAST INDIA YOUTH’s ‘Carousel’, it also showcases a developing musical maturity. “I’ll find my own way back…” declares Mayberry, all exposed and vulnerable before in a state of heartfelt resignation, she cries out “I’ve given up all I can…”
A track originally from Zane Lowe’s bizarre 2014 ‘Drive: Rescore’ collection, ‘Get Away’ is the first of the deluxe bonus tracks and although excellent, it’s easy to see why it has been relegated to this status. It shows CHVRCHES in a state of transition, continuing the glitch vocal processing techniques characteristic to the trio’s earlier signature sound while finding its feet in a more assured direction.
For those who don’t get the popularity of CHVRCHES, ‘Every Open Eye’ is supreme pop music. The repetitive eight minute blips of FACTORY FLOOR, this is most certainly not.
What the Glaswegian trio have managed to do is get teenagers listening to classic synthpop, people who don’t necessarily know or even care what a Jupiter 8 is. And that can only be a good thing for the future of the genre.
As for CHVRCHES, they have proved themselves more than adept as songwriters and producers… a career in Hollywood and TAYLOR SWIFT collaborations beckon.
‘Every Open Eye’ uses the following synthesizers: Moog Voyager, DSI Prophet 08, Roland Juno 106, Korg MS20 Mini, DSI Prophet 12, Roland Jupiter 8, Oberheim OBXa, Korg Polysix, Moog Sonic Six and Korg ARP Odyssey
‘Every Open Eye’ is released by Virgin Records on 25th September 2015. It is available as a CD, deluxe CD with three bonus tracks, vinyl LP and download
CHVRCHES UK Tour includes:
Brighton Dome (16 November), Bristol O2 Academy (17 November), Manchester Albert Hall (19 November), Newcastle, O2 Academy (21 November), Aberdeen Music Hall (23 November), Dundee Fat Sam’s (24 November), Birmingham O2 Academy (25 November), London Alexandra Palace (27 November)
With their debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ due out on 23rd September 2013, CHVRCHES will be re-issuing the gloriously sumptuous ‘The Mother We Share’ on 16th September to precede it.
Originally released in the Autumn of 2012, the mix has been slightly polished up and features what sounds like a re-recorded vocal. With it comes a glossy new promo video, courtesy of the budget now available having signed to Virgin Records.
Like TAYLOR SWIFT gone electro having uprooted to Berlin, ‘The Mother We Share’ is synthpop perfection and there is even a mash-up of TAYLOR SWIFT’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ and the Glaswegians’ ‘Recover’ doing the rounds that confirms the description is not quite as daft as it seems… whatever, CHVRCHES immediacy can be explained within that song. Despite the catchy chorus, ‘The Mother We Share’ is not wholly bubblegum and futuristic sounds warble off and on!
It has been a most amazing 2013 for Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. As well as coming 5th in BBC Sound Of 2013 and 2nd in Blog Sound of 2013, the trio have been impressing in Europe supporting DEPECHE MODE on five of their summer stadium dates. German Mode fan Grit Cheraka commented on TEC’s Facebook “they were great in Prague!” while Holger Splanemann added: “The very best part of the DM show in Prague. I wanted electronic music and got it only from Chvrches. Never again DM… but for sure Chvrches”.
With their debut album featuring songs such as the hook laden but progressive ‘Night Sky’, the piercing beauty of ‘Lungs’, the affected off-kilter anthem ‘Recover’ and the rousing calling card of ‘Lies’, CHVRCHES could make a true believer of anyone.
‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ is released by Virgin Records on 23rd September 2013 and available for pre-order as a CD or vinyl LP via Amazon
CHVRCHES UK live dates include:
Glasgow ABC (10 October), Sheffield Leadmill (12 October), Manchester Ritz (14 October), Bristol Anson Rooms (15 October), London Shepherd’s Bush Empire (17 October)
They’ve become the most talked about electropop act since LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, LADYHAWKE and LADY GAGA were highlighted in Caroline Sullivan’s Slaves To Synth article of Autumn 2008 in The Guardian.
Photo by John Spiers
And they have also just made the long list for ‘The Blog Sound of 2013’ and The Electricity Club is proud to say they were one of its nominations for this prestigious poll.
They are CHVRCHES, a trio from Glasgow formed in 2011 who comprise of Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. So far, they have toured supporting alternative electronica combo PASSION PIT and played live sessions on BBC Radio1.
Very much the darlings of bloggers since their first song ‘Lies’ hit blogsphere, Neon Gold (who hosted the free download of ‘Lies’) said they were “a godless hurricane of kinetic pop energy” while Breaking More Waves described ‘Lies’ as “the audio equivalent of up-on-the-benches sex with a horny lab technician”. Meanwhile, The Scotsman simply said they were “instantly likeable”.
So are CHVRCHES worthy of the buzz that has centred around them? As far as The Electricity Club is concerned, the answer is yes. After several decades of listening to, enjoying and understanding good electronic pop music, The Electricity Club believes it can spot potential, which is why this site ran a feature on CHVRCHES based on the strength of ‘Lies’ alone. But are they the saviours of synthpop, or a very good pop group who stand out because they have very good songs, a very good sound and a very good looking lead singer?
Photo copyright of Vikki McCraw
When TEC witnessed their live showcase at London’s Electrowerkz, CHVRCHES displayed the composure and quiet confidence of a band who have seven quality songs under their belt and aren’t afraid to reinterpret the works of a legend such as PRINCE. Indeed with their cover of ‘I Would Die 4 V’, they made it their own. As Deb Danahay put it: “the PRINCE cover was brilliant…my gut reaction? It was appealing that they didn’t pick an obvious ‘electro’ anthem to cover”.
In his book ‘Retromania’, Simon Reynolds commented that the minimal synth sub-genre consisted “of groups who would have been DEPECHE MODE or SOFT CELL if they could have come up with a tune!” Thankfully, CHVRCHES most certainly do not fall into that denomination.
Their sound consists of many building blocks such as ROBYN, ALPHABEAT, GIORGIO MORODER, LAURIE ANDERSON, THE KNIFE, PURITY RING and LADYTRON…but it’s synthpop with a capital P, the focus being on catchy melodies, inventive synth arrangements and a vital pop sensibility. Songs such as set opener ‘If We Sink’, ‘Lungs’ and ‘Night Sky’ are all accessible but most definitely have a leftfield slant. The building percussive energy of ‘Science & Vision’ with its appealingly emotive vocals is a great example of their avant pop style. There is a fragile tension but crucially, they’ve remembered to add a tune.
Out front, Mayberry is beautifully poised but doesn’t act the total ice queen. She even takes time for some amusing chatters with the audience on subjects such as West End Theatre shows: “You’re lucky we’re here because on the way up the escalator at the tube, I saw a massive poster for ‘The Bodyguard’ – the f***ing musical!” The banter provides a charming connection while her onstage chemistry with Cook and Doherty is filled of grins and laughter.
Photo copyright of Vikki McCraw
The boys themselves show serious intent but are not obsessive vintage gear fetishists; CHVRCHES use modern synths such as the Dave Smith Prophet 08 and Moog Voyager alongside the controllers, samples and laptops although the ever trusty Roland Juno 106 lurks in the armoury.
Lauren Mayberry’s alluring vulnerability and magnetic stage presence only adds to the appeal but the squelches and filtered waves indicate their output has come from a slightly more obscure planetary system
Ending their Electrowerkz set with the stupendous glory of ‘The Mother We Share’, the appeal of CHVRCHES can be summed up within the immediacy of that song. It is poptastic to the core as if TAYLOR SWIFT had been based in Berlin instead of Nashville, and had the artistic nous of being nurtured on a diet of ‘Black Celebration’. Despite the catchy chorus, it’s not all bubblegum though as weightier vocal influences are very much in evidence.
Phoenix FM DJ Rob Harvey observes: “the sparks in Lauren’s vocal attitude are akin to GARBAGE’s Shirley Manson, with the haunting timbre of Elizabeth Frazer of COCTEAU TWINS…”
He concludes: “They didn’t disappoint live. I was blown away by the sheer energy and dynamics of their sound. The lead singer Lauren had a cute vulnerability, and yet showed a dominant savvy on the stage”. Steve Gray thinks: “CHVRCHES are edgy, inventive and exciting. Whilst cult status seems certain, mainstream success is clearly within their grasp. With the prospect of their debut album in 2013, they could make a true believer of anyone”.
And yet despite the obvious talents and potential of CHVRCHES, they have attracted vitriol from several observers who have been dismayed about the interest the band has generated. However, it would appear perhaps that CHVRCHES profile has just been exaggerated by flakey hipster buzz bloggers who are all desperate to find The Next Big Thing before fingering their beards and pondering their next move.
Meanwhile, those who have missed out now want to get their revenge by heading the queue to predict CHVRCHES’ downfall with a hateful “told you so” attitude. Either that or they are peeved that an act who they don’t consider to be real music has garnered so much the attention!
Photo copyright of Vikki McCraw
But CHVRCHES have done many things to enable themselves to be worthy of consideration. First of all, their calling card ‘Lies’ was recorded as professionally as possible.
It is punchy and full of zest, unlike the flat home recorded demos that some new acts pass off as single releases. To help smooth their path, they also made a promo video for ‘Lies’ based around their live performance and synced in the studio recording.
Every aspect of a band has been seen as important including presentation and visuals as well as the music. Some bands do not seem understand this… to just be able to drift in late for soundcheck in scruffy attire and let the music speak for itself is lazily naïve.
Secondly, CHVRCHES didn’t spam the internet with too many songs after ‘Lies’. In fact, they didn’t reveal any; they left the audience wanting more. To write a song as good as ‘Lies’ and to produce it so well takes talent… you either have it or you don’t! Whether the talent can be sustained is another question that only time can answer. But at least the song exists for listeners to enjoy.
Thirdly, CHVRCHES spent two days rehearsing and co-ordinating their debut concert appearance. That may seem to be overdoing it but not all bands make such an effort. The Electricity Club could name a few much hyped acts from the past who have failed to make the grade in a live setting and have since spent most of the time dithering!
Photo copyright of Vikki McCraw
‘The Mother We Share’ and the quality live set prove that ‘Lies’ has not been a fluke. CHVRCHES are an act who really could appeal to a wide audience of all ages in the same way LA ROUX did back in 2009.
Always a keen observer of modern electro, The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan says: “CHVRCHES, like LA ROUX, have a strong original singer, and a very strong electro sound that screams club mixes. And with the right people, I can hear their songs pumping out of Ibiza main room dancefloor sound systems in the future, along with many new electronic bands. ‘Lies’ is bringing the spotlight on them and many more fresh new talents… let’s see what the future holds but I await with baited breath for a ‘Sweet Dreams’ from these guys….they are that good!”
Speaking of remixes, CHVRCHES’ first commission ‘Gold Dayzz’ for producer Nigel Godrich’s band ULTRAÍSTA is a sparklingly cosmic reinterpretation of a quite dour trip-hop track and highlights their technical ability.
So are CHVRCHES the Saviours of Synthpop? “Saviours” is probably too strong a superlative. As writer Bill Bruce commented on Twitter when discussing this very matter with TEC: “Synthpop’s doing just fine. It don’t need saving… least not yet”.
Still, it’s good to have some new hands on deck to help keep the synthpop ship afloat and steer it to some fresh waters.
Special thanks to Rusty Egan, Deb Danahay, Rob Harvey, Bill Bruce and Vikki McGraw
‘The Mother We Share’ is available as a download single via National Anthem / Create Control from iTunes and Amazon