A ‘Colgate minty fresh, early morning shower with unperfumed soap’ kind of clean and smooth runs through Every Open Eye, the sophomore full-length by Scottish electro/synthpoppers Chvrches. We’re clearly in an era where we’re so far removed from the nauseating clichés of the 1980s that synth-driven music isn’t as much stinky blue cheese as it is an exotic unscented vegan variant. Eighties revival has been legitimised, in part thanks to the infectious battery assault by Daft Punk or bass monsters like Justice and the likes; then there’s improved production values and musicians approaching the synth not with the narrow mindset of nailing that cock-rock wail of the time, fashioning it, instead, for an individualistic idiom. It’s become part of a modern vocabulary and, while the aesthetic may not appeal to everyone, the kind of music does offer scope for exploration.
Chvrches fall into a somewhat similar realm, with Lauren Mayberry’s stylised vocals sitting atop disco beats and arpeggiated synth lines that tend to revolve and cascade perpetually. A dancey quality dominates Every Open Eye, what with the constant shuffling of the music settling comfortably behind Mayberry’s voice. It’s a fairly breezy listen, with a certain amount of substance to it in the simplistic but solid structuring of the songs… plus, the music doesn’t seem fickle as such. The absence of dynamism can be a problem, and it can all be much of a muchness at times, but for someone who appreciates the sound a little more than this writer, that’s a minor concern.
What confuses me about Chvrches is something else entirely. There’s a strong strain of “pop music” running through their sound — not in a hollow, airhead way but aesthetics-wise. It’s all very catchy and not all that difficult to absorb — the songs tend to build up to these big, poppy, revelatory sections, but too often, they don’t quite get there. Sure, songs like Leave a Trace or Playing Dead do have that giddy quality to them. But too many times the melodies don’t quite resolve the way you would want — or expect — them to. That’s not a criticism, since it means the music requires deeper introspection, but I can’t quite decide whether it’s a deliberate approach or a failure to reach those heights on the part of the band.