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Review: Chvrches, 'Every Open Eye'

Note: NPR's Audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Cover art for <em>Every Open Eye</em>.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Cover art for Every Open Eye.

Even before Lauren Mayberry first took a stand against misogynist trolls, Chvrches' synth-pop already felt like realist emotional armor, forged in the glint of a shield. Where the band's fellow '80s pop scholars use the decade's velveteen tones to play up the decadence of isolation, the Glaswegian trio's debut The Bones Of What You Believe mined starker British sounds — the brittle strafe of Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys' airy erudition — to underscore the cold truth of failing relationships. "With teeth we've come this far / I'll take this thing by the throat and walk away," Mayberry sang, her piercing accent conveying equal parts defiance and vulnerability. She offered second chances, but when her trust turned out to be misplaced, she plotted bloody retribution.

Chvrches' second record, Every Open Eye, occupies similar emotional terrain, but this time, Mayberry isn't interested in the spoils of revenge. Instead, she's trying to live fully, without regret. "Hold up my demands with my heart uncrossed," she sings in "Keep You On My Side." Chvrches' members often describe themselves as a band made on the Internet, and their online fans are unusually fervent, looking to the trio as guiding lights. Whether or not they play to that, there are any number of powerful affirmations here, not least in "Playing Dead": "I am chasing the skyline much more than you ever will," Mayberry sings coolly, undaunted by her own ambition. Whatever strength she's summoning, she shares, too: "We are made of our longest days / We are falling but not alone," she sings in the glitzy empowerment anthem "Make Them Gold," which underlines the way knowing yourself is crucial to strong partnerships.

Iain Cook and Martin Docherty follow suit, and the band's combined directness is thrilling. Every Open Eye sounds very much like a sister record to Bones, though it forsakes the debut's twilit atmosphere in favor of a diamond-lathed sound to match Mayberry's negotiation of these sharp edges. It fizzes with the jolting electricity that it takes to jump-start a lifeless situation, and wields more razzle-dazzle than Chvrches' debut dared to attempt — delicious camp and Cyndi Lauper brass pops up alongside quieter moments that only make the stakes seem higher. The band has always played around expertly with the drama of post-EDM pop, queering the genre's rote drop dynamic, and "Clearest Blue" drops its biggest confetti bomb yet: Mayberry sings about a panic attack's insidious encroach, but as she reaches the peak of anxiety, the song bursts into a sugary arcade riot. It makes a mockery of fear, and of any notion that, as Glaswegian indie-rock lifers, Mayberry and company should for some reason resist populism. Every Open Eye offers no apologies, no caveats, no halfway measures. Chvrches' disco ball is tiled with galvanized steel.

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