For all the careful egalitarianism of Chvrches’ 2013 debut, the Glasgow three-piece’s second full-length shows their synth-pop becoming braver and brighter, owing in no small part to the growing charisma of lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry.
From the stumbling, sparkling opener Never Ending Circles to Keep You On My Side’s galloping Eurodance throb, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty’s electronics are more sweeping than ever, giving greater support to Mayberry’s soaring voice. Never one to give over to Swiftian princess platitudes or over-aggression, Mayberry remains a warm and dignified pop lyricist, whether cutting an ex down powerfully in the skyscraping Leave A Trace or leading the empowering call of Make Them Gold in its anthemic 80s pomp.
The greatest example of Chvrches’ growing strength is the thrilling slow-build of Clearest Blue, Mayberry urging romantic compromise as Cook and Doherty’s synths whirl around her, before shouting, ‘Will you meet me more than halfway, yeah!’ and giving way to a barking, skidding four-to-the-floor beat that races the song to its conclusion.
Split by the haunting Italo-disco flecked outlier High Enough to Carry You Over, Doherty’s stint on lead vocal highlights that despite Chvrches’ admirable equality, it is rightly Mayberry who leads the way. The album’s second half shows the band continuing to build on the foundations laid by The Bones of What You Believe, Doherty returning to backing duty in the towering Empty Threat and Bury It. ‘I believe in telling myself to think forward,’ Mayberry aches in Down Side of Me’s RnB-inflected thump, before she’s left to go it alone on sombre closer Afterglow. Paired only with a swelling swathe of organ, she finds herself coming to terms with the outlines of love after it is gone. ‘I’ve given up all I can,’ she concludes, in resignation or relief. Rest assured Chvrches are keeping those expectant eyes in sight.