Scottish synth-pop trio Chvrches’ 2013 debut, The Bones of What You Believe, was one of those rare albums where every song is excellent. It was a whirlwind debut that was infinitely listenable, and a perfect mix between thoughtful lyricism and pop hooks. To me, Bones is a cherished and much loved album. The same can’t be said of Every Open Eye, the trio’s newly released sophomore album. Unlike its predecessor, Every Open Eye had definite highs and lows, whereas Bones maintained an astonishingly consistent high.
Part of Every Open Eye’s failure to live up to Bones is a result of the group deciding to alter their sound, or rather, their tone. Lauren Mayberry’s singing forms a crucial aspect of the group’s style; ‘80s dance-club keyboard washes are twisted, turned, and gain an emotional element with the addition of Mayberry’s vocals. But she shies away from the clever, brash, fearlessly intelligent delivery she demonstrated on Bones in favour of a more introspective, haunted aspect. Every Open Eye, or rather, Chvrches in general, are at their best when Mayberry’s vocals act as an adrenaline shot to the instrumentation of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. And to give them their credit, the first half of the album is definitely Chvrches doing what they do best: dance-tracks chock full of pulsating synths and recklessly played keyboards, all swirling around Mayberry’s voice.
The first five tracks are the superior songs on the record, with “Clearest Blue” featuring the most fantastically simplistic, predictable, loop-assisted instrumental, which is combined into a package with the thoughtfully twisted charisma of Mayberry’s lyrics. Featuring both a tongue-in-cheek title drop of both the track itself and the record as a whole, as well as an impassioned plea to “please say you’ll meet me, meet me halfway,” Mayberry’s lyrics are delivered in her almost patented sugary style.
With this heady combination, “Clearest Blue” rockets upwards and is transformed into Every Open Eye’s runaway best track, coolly stepping ahead of single “Leave a Trace” and “Keep You On My Side.”
Unfortunately, “Clearest Blue” gives way to “High Enough To Carry You Over,” which features Martin Doherty on lead vocals instead of Mayberry. The track isn’t awful, but the austere delivery of Doherty’s lines and the sudden downshift means the song doesn’t coherently follow “Clearest Blue.” Which makes it all the more baffling that the next track would be the most “traditionally pop” song on the album: a sickly-sweet upbeat track, “Empty Threat,” which would be very easy to picture being performed by the likes of Lorde, Taylor Swift, or Elle King.
The final four tracks are forgettable and lack any of the punch or stand-out features that have come to be expected of Chvrches. The synths take on a more weighty, goth-pop feel and Mayberry’s vocals, while still razor-sharp, possess a passionless drawl; a sharp contrast to the early tracks where her singing stretched octaves and carried a fervent sense of emotion.
Every Open Eye is an album with definite moments of quality, and contains several tracks that deserve much acclaim. But if you loved their first album, The Bones Of What You Believe, then you may be slightly (ever so slightly) disappointed in Chvrches’ sophomore album.
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