CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

Stick “Lauren Mayberry” into Google and hit the space key. The next word you see is “height.” Well there you fucking go. And the rest of Google’s helpful auto-complete algorithms are equally, predictably depressing. Lauren Mayberry could be 4′ 10″. Or 5′ 6″. Who knows and who cares? But, on the back of continuing online abuse, two years after she wrote an op-ed piece on the subject for The Guardian (“So bring it on, motherfuckers. Let’s see who blinks first.”),  she spoke to Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News just last month about her ongoing stance. “I don’t want young girls who follow our band to feel isolated,” she said. “I don’t want them to feel it’s just happening to them.” An impassioned campaigner, her stature grows at a pace beyond the abuse. “Height”? She looks down on Robert Wadlow. The vile and desperate ants who go after her online: she crushes them with the heel of her shoe.

And crucially, she returns with a second album expertly equipped for expanding her band’s following: a middle finger response to tiresome “push the girl to the front” marketing that will, over the course of the next year or so, see Lauren Mayberry jump from public figure to mainstream star. That noise? The sound of the bedroom cowards quietly weeping onto their keyboards, knowing that they’ve lost. It’s not enough, of course. But it’s something.

Every Open Eye is not an album of defiance. It’s not Mayberry giving voice to her inner ragings or even a manifesto of response. It’s smarter than that; it goes deeper than that. And, though their fan base doesn’t need the nudge, it reminds the casual observer that CHVRCHES are A Band. In how it presents a lyrical savvy that traces the complexities of human relationship, the challenges of interpreting past events as they begin to blur with time, the incalculable anxieties of modern living, it emerges as a fascinating and hugely relatable document. But in how it seizes the synth pop blueprint of their debut and advances it, via beats and a fuller production and more detailed arrangements, towards a more dance-oriented aesthetic, Every Open Eye confirms Iain Cook and Martin Docherty as as critical to CHVRCHES’ success as their singer and lyricist.

That musical shift is subtle but it colours and shapes the whole. Opener ‘Never Ending Circles’ bridges the stylistic gap between albums though it’s opening lines (“Throw me no more bones and I will tell you no more lies”) seem more inclined to cut the cord. The staccato snap of its verse, samples of Mayberry’s voice flitting around the mix, how the chorus bursts and blooms: like a re-modelled ‘Recover’, we’ve been here before. “Here’s to taking what you came for / And here’s to running off the pain”: Mayberry confronts that old devil called heartbreak.  ‘Leave A Trace’ matches it for after-the-fact precision: “You think I’ll apologise for things I left behind / But you got it wrong and I’m as sane as I ever was.” And a warning too, or maybe just friendly advice: “Take care to tell it just as it was” is the hook inside its twisting chorus.

The pace quickens with ‘Keep You On My Side’, and its throbbing beats set the scene for much of what follows. ‘Make Them Gold’ is a grandiose swirl, all spiralling synth and deep, squelching beats. “We’ll take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold” is a welcome and subtle shift in tone, a stirring uplift. Picture Georgio Moroder remixing the first John Foxx album and you’re perhaps halfway there. ‘Clearest Blue’ builds and builds and by the time it detonates (picture the strobes when they play it live, picture the crowd as they succumb to its trance pull) part way through, Every Open Eye is off the leash. If it didn’t so smartly keep sneaking back to the tool box of classic Brit electro (‘Bury It’ is a dead ringer for early Depeche Mode), you’d finger it as CHVRCHES’ 1989. As it is, in how they so smartly straddle forty years of 1’s and 0’s, but in particular how they appropriate much of the legacy of one particular decade, it’s more like their 1982.

The singles/lead tracks fire the album’s first half but the gold is in the second. Martin Docherty was a sidelong distraction on their debut – here he nabs Every Open Eye’s best song. He’s so good on ‘High Enough To Carry You Over’, you don’t recognise him at first. Club pop at its finest, it’s like someone at the label heard Daft Punk’s ‘Instant Crush’ and wondered if, um, they couldn’t just knock out something similar..? Oof! Here ya go. Easy. Its epic “Never would have given you up if only you hadn’t given me up” hook is surely the force that will propel sales after the initial rush. ‘Playing Dead’, a huge and thrusting stomper in the mould of ‘The Mother We Share’, almost matches it for radio appeal. Both are nailed-on future fan favourites.

There are just two ballads. ‘The Down Side Of Me’ is fragile and beautiful – watch out for its extended middle eight as it becomes a mantra (“If I could keep you away from the down side of me…”) and then greedily lobs in a sequenced synth line that would have John Carpenter turning green. But it’s the closing ‘Afterglow’ that will do for most hearts: a delicate elegy played out against minimal backing, it’s Mayberry at her most exposed. A clear-sighted rumination, an emptying of the heart: “All of the black and white, all of the contours / Are laid out before me now.” You’d buy the “I’ll find my own way back to the light” line it wasn’t for a haunting coda in which she sings “I’ve given up all that I’ve got…” over and over as the backing slowly fades.

A pop album in the truest, most classic sense, heightened production values aside, this is a set of tunes so dripping with song craft, you could play them on a didgeridoo and they’d still soar. CHVRCHES – though their innate modesty would balk at the idea – re-emerge hungry for the world. They’ll finish touring this one in arenas – the songs demand it. So whether you opt to gorge on its sweet beats and irregular melodics, or choose instead immersion in its lyrical intrigues (and for someone so resolute in conversation, Mayberry’s lyrics feel more like exploration and halting self-assessment – always questioning, not always in possession of an answer), Every Open Eye is a fulfilling and ambitious work. A substantial leap beyond their debut, CHVRCHES come out fighting, standing tall. Bring it on.

About Gary Kaill (25 Articles)
Feature Writer at Words & Guitars. Manchester based.
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