Chvrches’ ‘Love Is Dead’ Is Pure Pop For Indie Enthusiasts
Glaswegian trio Chvrches exploded with their 2013 debut, “The Bones Of What You Believe,” and quickly gained attention for their masterful channeling of infectious electronic music via the indie pop band format. They tapped into the zeitgeist in a way that rapidly won them a dedicated fan base and much critical acclaim. The band’s 2015 follow up, “Every Open Eye,” expanded the sound to wider proportions, and suggested ambitious pop aspirations. Their new record, “Love Is Dead” is a natural next step.
If people who gawk and drool at Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup have ever left you secretly scratching your head, and thinking that the whole thing is a bit emperor’s-new-clothes, you’re not alone. Warhol’s print looks exactly like the original advertisement, yet the former is considered “art,” and the latter isn’t. Of course, that’s precisely the contextual oddity responsible for so much of the fanfare, but it leaves one a little disoriented; all the lines have blurred, everything is murky, and it becomes a confounding exercise in futility keeping track of exactly what is what. It’s much the same case with a lot of contemporary “indie” music. Traditionally, indie bands have, with overt commercial proclivities, only flirted with such instincts from a distance, downplaying their pop indulgences with tasteful detachment. On the other hand, you have a band like Chvrches who turn out unabashedly pop content with an indie posturing that allows them to slip in the glossiest mega-pop, under the radar, to audiences who typically wag their fingers at such fare. It’s arguably more of a clever marketing maneuver than anything else, but it also has a liberating effect. When the overlap between genre descriptors and the ambiguity of labels reach such extents, it compels people to follow their instincts, and like and dislike things for what they are.
This is especially the case with Chvrches latest album. Regarding the new direction, singer Lauren Mayberry has remarked, “if it’s going to be more pop it should be more aggressively pop — there’s no doing things in half measures.” This statement of intent sums things up neatly. The band has streamlined their songs, opting for immediacy over quirk and nuance. A couple tracks into the record, a distinct pattern emerges. There’s always an anthemic chorus that strikes at a laughably predictable moment, and it’s all about making the biggest, broadest impact. The lyrics too have been stripped down and distilled, reduced to snippets of simplistic, universally relatable sentiments that are hammered in with merciless repetition. The songs abound with platitudes like, “If you feel it, could you let me know?” from “Miracle.” Typical chorus lyrics are “Get out, get out / Get, get, get out /Get, get, get out of here,” from — you guessed it — “Get Out,” or “It’s a deliver-iver-iverance,” from — yes — “Deliverance.” Such frothy, frivolous fare can seem like a bit of a farce. Yet, for a record that purports to be “aggressively pop,” it’s actually a stunning success.
Any band that can be loosely described as “synth pop” must bear an ‘80s imprint, presenting enough signifiers from the decade when the genre’s lexicon came to be defined. Such is the case with the instrumentation here: the tones, textures, arpeggiated melodies, octave-shifting tomfoolery, and lavish washes all nod back in time. But there’s none of the revivalist decade fetishism that characterizes most synth pop. If there’s any era whose sonic sensibility is exploited, it is decidedly the present. There are “post-EDM” elements all over, in the builds and the drops, and the glossy production really packs a punch.The songs sound as is designed to be played on the mainstage at Ultra Music Festival.
Mayberry’s voice is a major factor in giving Chvrches their characteristic sound. Her sweet, chirpy voice is always sharp and clear, buoyant and effervescent. Her notes are short and clipped, with practically no bends or melisma. While this melodic rigidity fits into the mechanical framework of the electronic stylings, the warmth and unaffected emotion of Mayberry’s vocals simultaneously serve to offset the impersonal qualities associated with synth pop. The one track with Martin Doherty, who usually sticks to synthesizers and samplers, on lead vocal duties has a much colder feel, although it adds some refreshing variety.
“My Enemy” is a clear standout, with a chorus that is extremely catchy without seeming to try so hard as other songs. The National’s Matt Berninger joins Mayberry on vocals, and his sonorous voice and wistful delivery serve as a winsome counterpoint to Mayberry’s characteristic singing. The track also has busier, more syncopated percussion than most others, and the overall sound recalls Purity Ring. On most other songs, it’s more like Carly Rae Jepsen, if she fronted a vaguely indie, electronic band. “Never Say Die” is a highlight in terms of sound textures, with some deliciously heavy synth bass in the pre chorus buildup. The percussion-less “Really Gone” and the instrumental “ii” provide a reflective pause in an otherwise upbeat and colorful album.
Many of the new songs’ lyrics express an urgency stemming from an acute awareness of the passage of time. In “Graffiti,” Mayweather reflects, “Time to kill / Was always an illusion / Time stood still / And now we never will.” Of course, the relationship drama that one would expect from the bold album title, “Love Is Dead,” is a prominent topic, but it’s channeled into the broader theme of persistence in defiance of time. In “My Enemy,” Mayberry explains, “you could be my judge / If you could start remembering, all the time that you used up.” When “Love Is Dead,” one is pressured to make up for time wasted on failed relationships. In this sense, the album’s title could even be seen as a motivational sound byte; it’s an expression of a temporary feeling, one with an empowering potential that belies its dispirited sound. In fact, the optimism expressed elsewhere makes this more likely than a categorical denunciation of love. Consider that one song is titled “Never Say Die.” “Deliverance” reiterates this: “You better give up on giving up.” In “Forever,” Mayberry states, “I always regret the night / I told you I would hate you ’til forever.”
The dogged persistence with which Mayberry repeats the refrain “never, ever stop,” in “Never Say Die,” shows that she means it. The ambition expressed exemplifies Chvrches’ new album, altogether. These are songs meant to propel bodies into motion, and unite fans in impassioned singalongs. The “aggressively pop” ideal has been aggressively pursued and accomplished.
“Love Is Dead” is available May 25 on Apple Music.