There’s something deeply satisfying about the simplicity of Chvrches. It’s rare to find a pop group ‒ let alone an indie-pop group ‒ that takes pride in its output without stumbling into narcissism, that experiments without resorting to self-gratifyingly long songs, that, in short, just does what it does well without too much thought about it. As keyboardist Martin Doherty and guitarist Iain Cook recently noted, they were by no means an easy act to sell. It would have, Doherty mused, been easier if they’d just let their lead singer Lauren Mayberry go it solo. While there’s no doubt that Mayberry is a big reason for the band’s success, it’s this casual disdain for the trappings of the modern music industry that makes the band so easy to love.
Not much has changed since their fantastic 2013 debut, and that’s a good thing. Their music is still, in a word, dynamic. Masters of making even relatively slow BPMs seem to crackle with life, Chvrches open boldly and don’t let up. The opening single “Leave A Trace” set the precedent, as driving synth and drum pads are punctuated by samples and crisp toms. It’s all held together, of course, by Mayberry’s breathless vocals. Eschewing the echoing, ethereal performances of her many synth pop peers, Mayberry trades in strong, punchy choruses that do the most to highlight her voice’s directness. Sagas of mistrust and broken promises are whittled down to the essentials in “Never Ending Circles”, the refrain of, “if you want another, say you want another”, turning from a mere plea to a statement of self affirmation. There are certainly the occasional clunkers, such as the overwrought, “Save your neck/ And I will try to find my feet and go”, but overall it’s Mayberry’s balance of bold confidence and cautious optimism that endears.
There are even shades of Taylor Swift in the uplifting guitar of “Empty Threat”, as Mayberry sings of having “Nothing to regret and nothing to prove”. That said, it’s hard to imagine the current queen of pop writing a 1000 word article on the disgusting culture of objectification that female artists face on the Internet every day, as Mayberry did in 2013. Ultimately it’s telling that the album’s final line is the darkly escapist, “I’ve given up all I can”. In this unforgiving reality, even Chvrches uncomplicated music is an essential distraction.
Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
It’s Elizabeth Grant’s purest statement yet, and also the hardest to swallow. With barely a drum kit in sight for the album’s entire hour-long run time, the tales of bad men and shallow women are given enough room to thoroughly unsettle the listener. Whilst it may have been easier when we could pretend we were talking about “Video Games”, the vision Grant paints of the LA high society is as transfixing as it is repulsive.
Natasha Kmeto – Inevitable
Gliding seamlessly from the headphones to the dance floor, Kmeto’s grown-up take on electronic music is grounded by her earthy voice, which brings much needed emotion to the sparse arrangements of her contemporaries. Adventurous but accessible.
Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Recent research suggests listening to metal actually makes you happier than listening to pop. I’ll admit I know nothing about metal, but if you stop and just take in the sweeping magnum opus that is “Luna”, the New Bermuda’s stunningly crafted centrepiece, as it morphs from mere thrashing, to U2-esque solos, to quiet folk instrumental, it’s hard not to feel a little awed.