Review by Michael O’Neill
In another, more just universe, mainstream radio embraces the pop masterpiece that is the new CHVRCHES album. The Scotland trio’s sophomore release Every Open Eye is a record jam-packed with sugary hooks and monstrous synthesizers. It’s undoubtedly one of the year’s most enjoyable, anthemic, and dance-worthy albums, and has helped propel CHVRCHES into the same headspace as other mainstream crossover artists such as Tame Impala and alt-J. Every Open Eye has the pop sensibilities to dominate airwaves, but it won’t, and CHVRCHES seem to be just fine with that.
When the world got its first taste of Every Open Eye back in June with the release of lead single “Leave a Trace,” some fans worried that the band had failed to deviate at all from the upbeat, synth-pop-centered formula used on their highly-praised debut, The Bones of What You Believe. While the synth-pop base is still there, along with Lauren Mayberry’s glistening vocals, the music of Every Open Eye is more dense and layered than ever before. Most songs follow a standard verse-chorus formula, and all but one clock in at under five minutes, but CHVRCHES manage to utilize this conventional pop structure without sounding clichéd, repetitive, or artificial. The end result is a more fleshed-out and well-executed sound that only builds upon a stellar debut record.
One major distinction between Bones and Every Open Eye is that, unlike the former, the newer album never lulls in between songs. Every single track is capable of being a smash hit. The debut peaked early with the (still fantastic) opening one-two punch of “The Mother We Share” and “We Sink,” and by the time you got past “Recover” you still had five admittedly underwhelming songs to go until the end of the album. Every Open Eye is more consistent throughout; from the opening disco-stomp of “Never Ending Circles” to heavenly closing number “Afterglow,” you never find yourself wanting to skip ahead.
That being said, Every Open Eye’s strongest run comes in its first five tracks. The aforementioned “Never Ending Circles” and “Leave a Trace” set the tone for the rest of what’s to come by stacking contrasting keyboard parts atop one another, with stadium-sized drum beats pushing everything forward. “Keep You On My Side” is a fast-paced song that maintains a high level of energy throughout, and “Make Them Gold” contains the most uplifting instrumentation and lyrics on the album: “we are made of our falling days; we are falling but not alone,” Mayberry sings sprightly.
Rounding out the remarkable five-track sequence that kicks off Every Open Eye is the album’s undeniable high-point, “Clearest Blue.” In the build-up to this album, it was generally accepted that CHVRCHES could never write another song that could stand toe-to-toe with “The Mother We Share,” but “Clearest Blue” has blown that theory out of the water. The pulsating track builds in anticipation for about two minutes underneath Mayberry’s most mesmerizing vocal performance to date. “Will you meet more than halfway up?” she screams, and by the time the eighties-inspired keyboard riff kicks in, you can’t help but find yourself bouncing along to the music. It’s the best song CHVRCHES have ever written, and holds its ground against some of the other titan singles of 2015.
The comedown after the climactic “Clearest Blue” is only a slight one, as the album’s other six tracks hardly drop off in quality. “High Enough to Carry You Over,” the only song on the record that features keyboardist Martin Doherty on lead vocals, is a twinkling ballad that shows the band can be just as effective when slowing down the tempo. “Playing Dead” and “Bury It” pick the volume back up, the former making use of a lot of vocal manipulations and samples, and the latter leaning on a distorted keyboard riff.
Closing track “Afterglow” is another ballad, and is more muted than anything else on the album. The drum machine is notably absent, leaving just a celestial wash of synthesizers to accompany Mayberry’s equally sublime vocal performance. The repeated refrain of “I’ve given up all I can” that ends the album is Every Open Eye’s most peaceful, reflective, and flat-out beautiful moment.
Lyrically, Every Open Eye is defiant in the face of adversity, which is very much reflective of Mayberry’s personality. After speaking out against online misogyny in The Guardian and revealing some of the absolutely heinous, sexist comments she’s been receiving ever since CHVRCHES hit it big, Mayberry became a prominent feminist figure in the alternative music scene. Lyrics like “bury it and rise above” and “I believe nothing that I’m told” align perfectly with her confidence in the face of such vitriol. Her resilience is unfloundering, as she tells those who want to see her fail that she laughs at their stupidity and won’t be going anywhere for a long, long time
Every Open Eye is by far the best piece of Pitchfork-approved pop music to enter the world in 2015. There’s no reason, other the lack of a huge major-label marketing push, that some of these songs can’t be top-10 radio hits. While it did hit #1 on the Billboard rock charts, the mainstream is unlikely to accept Every Open Eye simply because of the group’s public image as an indie-cred act. No one can justifiably call this group a one-album wonder anymore, and you should expect them to be topping festival bills for years to come. Even if they don’t achieve the superstardom that they probably deserve, CHVRCHES can be pleased in knowing they’ve crafted an album that’s the rare combination of musically impressive and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
Play Leave A Trace now and here.