With only a few singles to their name, and a full-length album yet to arrive, Glasgow synth-pop trio Chvrches have ended up in a situation both enviable and precarious. The group recently emerged as one of the most talked-about bands at this year’s SXSW, and prior to that, toured with alt-pop superstars Passion Pit, with more than a few sold out headlining shows of their own. This is a substantial amount of attention and pressure directed toward a pretty young band, though it’s not as if Chvrches’ members are new to performing or writing music. Vocalist Lauren Mayberry, the youngest of the group at 25, also performs with Blue Sky Archives, while Iain Cook and Martin Doherty are both Glasgow indie rock vets, having played with Aereogramme and The Twilight Sad, respectively.
The trio’s combined years of experience, then, largely contributes to the emergence of a debut EP that arrives with the sound not of a band just finding its feet, but with a powerful and well-defined direction. Chvrches have been compared to the likes of The Knife as a result of their dense, synth-laden sound, but if the parallel is there, it’s to The Knife of the sonically massive, hook laden“Heartbeats,” rather than the darker, chilly Knife of Silent Shout. Recover’s title song is a warm, brightly throbbing tune that broadcasts with an open heart, Mayberry asking during the soaring chorus, “If I recover/ Will you be my comfort?” But then again, there is some darkness lurking beneath the bigger hooks and sunnier melodies, which crops up on a tune like “ZVVL” (presumably a reference to Zuul, the gatekeeper of Gozer?). Here, the synths throb with sinister textures, the vocals are obscured by vocoder effects, and any light shining through is effectively blocked by its frosty-cool aesthetic.
Not that Chvrches don’t balance those two extremes beautifully, as they do on “Now Is Not the Time,” a gorgeous, Kate Bush-like anthem that bears the alternately heartwarming and chilling chorus of “There is nothing that can come between us/ As we hide and watch the city burn.” It’s romantic, but laced with fuck-all attitude, and that fairly well sums up what makes the group so intriguing in the first place — their music can, and should, appeal to everyone, but beneath the soaring melodies and open-hearted choruses, Chvrches are misfits at heart.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.