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CD of The Week

Week of 5/28/18

    CHVRCHES - Love Is Dead (Glassnote)

    When CHVRCHES debuted in 2013, they seemed to simultaneously capture and crystallize a magical moment in music. Like instant indie sensations The xx, The Rapture, and The Strokes before them, they arrived fully formed with an epochal debut album that perfected the cocktail of sounds swirling about at the time, in this case, the formerly strange bedfellows of confessional bedroom rock and synth-pop. Said debut managed to both birth countless new acts in its wake and influence even more existing ones. They also mirrored those aforementioned pioneers in how, after achieving perfection on the first try, they released a sophomore record that couldn't quite best what came before in much of the public's view, even as it deepened their sound in subtle but significant ways. Indeed, Every Open Eye has arguably aged even better than The Bones of What You Believe in its compositional variety as well as its lyrics, which were as comforting as they were confrontational.

    Now, the trio of Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty are poised to finally, fully level up to the mainstream that continues to piggyback on the sound that made them special with Love Is Dead. To achieve this, they welcome outside collaborators into the fold for the first time. In addition to mentorship from Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, the album features production from hitmaker Greg Kurstin and a vocal cameo from The National's Matt Berninger. All of these new cooks in the kitchen, combined with the band's assertion that they'd be entering more "introspective and angry" territory, ostensibly signal a drastic shift in sound, but that's not quite what's happening here.

    One of the most compelling elements of CHVRCHES' past singles was always the sense of tension between their shimmering sonics and stormy subject matter. Now, tension exists, but in a more meta sense between singles that sound too much like what came before and not quite enough. If anything, the single that strays farthest from the band's past peaks, "Miracle", is their weakest, teetering dangerously close to Imagine Dragons territory. On the other hand, "Get Out" just sounds like a lost, lesser remix of "The Mother We Share."

    Fortunately, the rest of the album fares much better, playing like a more natural extension of the signature CHVRCHES sound. "Deliverance" is an early keeper that glimmers and glowers like Carly Rae Jepsen covering "Blasphemous Rumours", while the feverish "Forever" conjures the same motivational majesty that M83 achieved when Anthony Gonzalez started emanating the eighties. Elsewhere, brooding back to back bangers "Heaven/Hell" and "God's Plan" finally pick up where underrated Bones highlight "Science/Visions" left off five years ago. The latter song continues the tradition of one Doherty vocal per album, and it makes you wonder why he and Mayberry haven't recorded a full-fledged duet yet.

    These highlights are more than enough to make Love Is Dead worthwhile, even if it's not a wall to wall winner like its predecessors were. The band's confidence and conviction remain palpable, and Mayberry's lyricism is as cunningly nuanced as ever. All of the components are in place for CHVRCHES to break big with this transitional, if not exactly transcendent, effort. They're still taking the best parts of themselves and making them gold. Now here's hoping they can go platinum and use that clout to make something even better next time.
    Review by Rob Huff

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