Best New Albums 2013: #3 – CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011′s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010′s list, click here.

#3: CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

The more I think about it, the more CHVRCHES seems like a garage rock band that happens to play in a computer lab, if you know what I mean. Let me try to explain.

I sometimes wonder what pick up bands will sound like in the future. Will kids in highschool still buy cheap guitars, beat up drums and a used P-bass and play rough Pink Floyd covers? (Maybe I’m projecting my high school years a bit) Or, as laptops and tablets become more ubiquitous, will bands be formed by kids who own drum machines, Fruity Loops and Audacity? For every HAIM, will there be a Grimes?

Or is there a middle ground?

Enter CHVRCHES. They’ve come out of Scotland fully formed as a pop-rock band, but they’ve got no need for the usual instruments. Live, they play banks of machines: keyboards, synths, even a laptop. There’s nary a guitar here, let alone a full drum kit. And they sound as great as anything I’ve heard this year, or any other year.

Sure, with all the synths and drum machines, their music can sound all sparkly and dancey at first. But the brightness of their keyboards, the dry and inhuman handclaps and staccato drum riffs add an edge to the music, especially when you start to think about the pointed, charged lyrics that Lauren Mayberry is shouting out. On “Gun”, my favourite cut on this LP, she sounds downright menacing: “I will be a gun and it’s you I’ll come for.” Some other good cuts: Lies, The Mother We Share, Recover.

I almost find it hard to believe CHVRCHES has only been around since 2011: their music is polished and well-crafted. But the band has an interesting backstory: Iain Cook played with Aereogramme and is part of The Unwinding Hours; Martin Doherty used to tour with The Twilight Sad.

With Mayberry at the microphone, they’ve released some of the best synthpop I’ve heard in a while. Probably since Crystal Castles’ second album, anyway. I’ve often heard them compared to Purity Ring, but that’s misleading; musically, they don’t have much in common other than a female singer and bleep-bloop sounds. Their music’s a lot chunkier, more driving, more organic. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Purity Ring; I can imagine Gun being played by a twin-guitar rock band.

They’re a pretty good covers band too: in the above video, they cover East 17 and their cover of HAIM’s Falling is worth a listen, too. It’s also worth noting that Mayberry’s intelligent, outspoken and completely right on the money, too.  For my money, it’s the best debut record of 2013. Can’t wait to see where they go next.

Below: a full set for Seattle’s KEXP




%d bloggers like this: