The expectations have been enormous for the sophomore album from CHVRCHES, a synth-pop trio from Scotland.
The hype for album two really got going this summer when the band created a series of Instagram accounts that hosted a social media scavenger hunt to reveal the September 25th release date of Every Open Eye and its first single, “Leave a Trace.” The song took off and was an instant hit among alternative listeners all over the world. CHVRCHES peers were high on the new track, such as Bleachers’ frontman Jack Antonoff who labeled it his “Track of the Week.”
Since then, two more singles have been put out, escalating the excitement surrounding the upcoming record’s release.
The record delivers an emotional confession of the struggle of a failed relationship, and in doing so is one of my favorite albums of the year. With Lauren Mayberry providing lead vocals, and Iain Cook and Martin Doherty adding their incredible synth skills, CHVRCHES produced an album that violently shatters expectations.
Opening track “Never Ending Circles,” which was the second single off the record, delivers a pulsing affirmation that even though it might be over, ending the relationship was the right move. Lead Vocalist Lauren Mayberry exclaims in the bridge, “I don’t regret it,” as she recognizes the relief that comes with breaking it off with someone who put you through so much pain.
“Leave A Trace” follows as the second track, delivering a catchy and irresistible tune that reiterates the same message. Mayberry needs “relief” and “release” and says she gets just that when leaving.
The mood shifts a bit during track three, when “Keep You On My Side” presents the question of regret in a fast-paced, dramatic jam. That question is rejected in “Make Them Gold,” when a triumphant chorus confidently states, “We are breathing and letting go. We will take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold.”
The album hits its peak at track five with “Clearest Blue,” the record’s third single, a track that crescendos steadily until it erupts into a dance-enticing instrumental that rivals even the best EDM has to offer. The lyrics stress the importance of compromise when Mayberry shouts “will you meet me more than halfway?”
“High Enough To Carry You Over” is a drastic change from the rest of the album. Doherty takes over on lead vocals as he did on “Under the Tide,” the final single off their debut record The Bones Of What You Believe. While Doherty is by no means a bad singer, his voice doesn’t have the charm of Mayberry’s, which so strongly guides CHVRCHES’ unique sound.
Roles return to normal on “Empty Threat,” a joyous-sounding track that has a less joyous message. Mayberry sings of a longing for the past when she says, “I was better off when I was on your side,” and tries to shake off that sense of regret in the reflective “Down Side of Me.” What seems to be an emotional low point on the record, here CHVRCHES recognizes things are “not the same” (which the background vocals repeat frequently throughout the song). Mayberry wants to “believe and tell myself to think forward” but finds this to be a challenge.
It’s when we reach the final three tracks of the album that the lyrics start to take more assertive twist. In “Playing Dead,” an authoritative song with an enough-is-enough feel, Mayberry sings, “You can tell me to leave and I won’t go.” On “Bury It” she frustratingly confesses she put up with someone ruthless and tried to “rise above” to make things work. “Afterglow” ends the record on a somber note, reflecting on the emotional tug of war that ended in Mayberry admitting, “I’ve given up all I can.”
The 42 minutes of internal struggle that CHVRCHES put together on Every Open Eye is something special. It’s like a sneak peak into the band’s diary that tells its story in a way that makes you want to read it over and over again. With Mayberry’s soothing yet confident voice and Doherty’s and Cook’s masterfully creative synth work, CHVRCHES have found a combination that is one of the best sounds out there right now.