CHVRCHES hit new heights of confidence on their upbeat, synthpop-laden second album.
Energy is a hard thing to fake for a band putting out their second album. In dealing with the pressures of maintaining the momentum of a well-received first effort and simultaneously creating something fresh, too many artists fail to make their music as passionate and exciting as it was in their formative years. Luckily, Scotland’s CHVRCHES seem to be stressing their own superhuman vitality on their second album, Every Open Eye, on which they have no qualms about pushing the tempo and never looking back. The band spring to life with a saturated intensity on the immediate “Never Ending Circles” before diving head-first into a series of accelerated, propulsive dance hits ranging from the subtly sinister (“Keep You On My Side”) to the sugary and fashionable (“Bury It”) to the dramatic (“Playing Dead”). That vigor may be doubly important for an indie dance pop band looking to build on the success of their debut, and it does wonders in making their latest an easy and fun listen.
It’s worth noting upfront that Every Open Eye features no songs with as charged and penetrating a refrain as that of the band’s three-year-old towering pop statement “The Mother We Share”, but that song was just as eclipsing a single on their first album, The Bones of What You Believe. What Every Open Eye does instead is bolster CHVRCHES’ consistency as a hook-driven electronic pop band; sturdier structures, more confident production, and upfront instrumentation all help to strengthen and distinguish their particular brand of synth-pop. It provides all the alt-pop charm of their debut release with the self-assured, determined character of a second effort. It’s a testament to the endlessly infectious charm of “The Mother We Share” that the song could overshadow an album as good as CHVRCHES’ first; with no such overpowering singles on their second release, their music feels fuller, at the same time more cohesive and more dynamic.
Without departing much from the sound of their first album, CHVRCHES seem to have focused more on the details. A greater sense of enthusiasm permeates through the sparkling synths, bubbly bass and driving dance beats. That upbeat character travels through singer Lauren Mayberry’s unwaveringly bright voice as well, perhaps the band’s key distinguishing feature, reminiscent of the melodic strength and earnest, empowering sentiment of someone like Paramore’s Hayley Williams, whose lyrics embody the kind of compassionate optimism that Mayberry also dabbles with, as in the anthemic chorus of “Make Them Gold”: “We are made of all our mistakes / We are falling, but not alone / We will take the best parts of ourselves / And make them gold". Mayberry’s choruses on Every Open Eye aren’t always the delicate hooks she made them on The Bones of What You Believe; they’re stronger and more uplifting, not only lyrically but also in their melodic character. It all contributes to that greater sense of confidence that dominates the album.
It’s just one of the many ways CHVRCHES approach modest growth on Every Open Eye. There are examples all over the album; “Clearest Blue”, for instance, rides on a steady four-on-the-floor kick for two-thirds of the song before crescendoing into an arena-sized synth riff -- one the record’s biggest moments -- taking a pleasant but safe pop song that wouldn’t feel out of place on The Bones of What You Believe and pushing it to another level of grandiose spectacle. The songs on Every Open Eye move better, evolve cleaner and hit bigger heights. It’s a subtle evolution, but a big step for this kind of pop band; it helps elevates them beyond the already respectable status of modest college radio hitmakers to that of a truly capable and durable pop act. Every Open Eye most likely won’t be the mainstream crossover CHVRCHES have the capacity for, but it does get them that much closer.