One can almost be forgiven for thinking Chvrches are merely a vehicle for singer Lauren Mayberry’s dulcet voice and cutting, emotional lyrics. To an extent, that’s true: The group’s monolithic, austere synth compositions are almost 100% mechanical, and without Mayberry’s earnest delivery veering between defiant resolve and quivering desperation, Chvrches would sound almost inhuman. But on Every Open Eye, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty coyly play to their singer’s strengths, whether they’re repurposing samples of her voice to serve as a backing chorus or simply not stepping on the toes of a stunning, clarion chorus. They’re gracious band members, supporting Mayberry not only musically, but even in her highly publicized war against Internet misogynists.
That sort of supportive, us-against-the-world camaraderie bleeds through into Mayberry’s lyrics. Rather than a cynical, self-referential sophomore effort that bears the weight of fraying band relationships and a growing weariness with the music industry, these songs skew personal and positive. There are the expected moments of romantic incongruency, from the hip-hop-inflected chorus of kiss-off ballad “Leave a Trace” (“Take care to bury all that you can/Take care to leave a trace of a man”) to the pent-up emotional spillover on the industrial-tinged “Playing Dead” (“If I give more than enough ground, will you claim it?/I will take it all in one breath and hold it down”). But there are moments of self-help sloganeering too. “Make Them Gold” is Chvrches at their most uplifting, bombastic drum accents and chattering pads lending credence to a hook that would come off as tawdry if it weren’t delivered with such power: “We will take the best parts of ourselves/And make them gold!”
In a recent interview for the Andy Greenwald Podcast, Mayberry, following an admission to a teenage obsession with Jimmy Eat World, jokingly pointed out that Chvrches’ sound is merely a combination of electronic textures and emo melodrama. It’s an apt description, as every feeling conjured is stadium-sized, worthy of a synthetic symphony. Mayberry’s lyrics are vulnerable and welcoming; what they lack in specificity they make up in an inhabitable yearning, whether it’s for release or independence or simply something better. “Clearest Blue,” a call to compromise and mutual support, is the album’s finest example of this, riding a percussive buildup reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” to a momentous climax that serves as a euphoric ode to a relationship’s mutually beneficial give and take.
In the wake of online rape threats Mayberry receives with alarming regularity, it’s easy to read Every Open Eye as a defiant statement of self-reliance, rising above the bullshit of criticism to live an unfettered life. That’s part of it (“Bury it and rise above,” Mayberry sings on the standout “Bury It”), but it’s also an affirmation that Chvrches’ original sound needed refinement, not an overhaul. Rather than shy away from the populism of The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches double down with strong melodies and production flourishes, from gooey disco synths on “Empty Threat” to wobbly bass drops on “Never Ending Circles,” that could legitimately have the band snagging radio play.
Every Open Eye is pop music with sharp edges and high stakes. With its immense drums, metallic-sheen synths, and a singer whose voice lends humanity to a totemic sound, it’s irresistibly endearing music that empowers the most vulnerable of sentiments.