Sound — 8
Though being praised by many as one of the best breakthrough music acts of recent day, the three members of CHVRCHES have all traveled winding musical roads prior to coming together. While frontwoman Lauren Mayberry was busy fronting her previous indie rock band, Blue Sky Archives (most notably, doing an odd acoustic folk rendition of Rage Against The Machine's "Killing in the Name"), keyboardist/guitarist Iain Cook was playing guitar in the post-rock band Aereogramme, and keyboardist/co-vocalist Martin Doherty was a part of The Twilight Sad as a touring member (he also joined Aereogramme shortly before the group disbanded).
Considering these previous endeavors being with bands that were more wistful in disposition, one would expect a musical project by these three members bearing a downcast emotion three-fold. But instead, the small project with Cook, Doherty and Mayberry bloomed into a sparkly synthpop powerhouse that garnered hype early after their formation. Captivating both listeners and critics at a time where over-compressed, hyper-aggro EDM was not only dominating the charts, but also being shoehorned relentlessly into other genres of music, CHVRCHES' appeal to modular wholesomeness was refreshing, and resulted in their debut album, "The Bones of What You Believe," being a runaway success.
Promptly continuing to ride the momentum, CHVRCHES' second album, "Every Open Eye," expectedly delivers another flowery bundle of synthpop, from the constant-pulsing uptempo "Clearest Blue" and the metallic midtempo "Never Ending Circles," to the Doherty-led "High Enough to Carry You Over," which sits adjacent to the indietronica likes of The M Machine or Porter Robinson. Though at face value, it may seem like nothing has changed, the album shows a noteworthy reorganizing of sonic priority. They all but entirely rid of other band instruments (no guitar parts appear on the album, and only "Make Them Gold" and "Playing Dead" contain organic basslines), and arpeggiated synth leads that always took the limelight in their previous album are much less frenetic this time around (even the more active arpeggio melodies in "Keep You on My Side" and "Empty Threat" are noticeably more contained).
This reprioritization is all in the interest of keeping the spotlight on Mayberry's vocals, making her the key element driving the emotion in songs - from her assertiveness in the uplifting "Keep You on My Side" and her fits of falsetto found in the cheery choruses of "Leave a Trace," to her gentle-but-peppy delivery in the bridge of "Empty Threat" (which has her sounding a bit like Ellie Goulding) and her melancholic performance in the outro ballad of "Afterglow." Along with this, less vocal sample loops are used, and extra vocal elements are instead used to boost Mayberry's dominant position, heard in the layering of "Make Them Gold," the intertwining vocal tracks in the bridge of "Down Side of Me," and the harmonies in the end of "Clearest Blue" that vaguely have a Cranberries feel to them.
Lyrics — 7
Like her lyrics in "The Bones of What You Believe," Mayberry's lyrics in "Every Open Eye" continue to air out a number of relationship grievances. But though she still bears her fangs in the staunch breakup songs of "Never Ending Circle," "Playing Dead" and "Bury It," Mayberry aims to be less confrontational and to be more constructive and positive this time around. Along with "Make Them Gold" being a glass-half-full declaration for the sake of coping through rough times ("We are made of our longest days / We are falling but not alone / We will take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold"), Mayberry also takes more moments to stop pointing fingers and look within herself, addressing that some of these rocky moments were her fault. From admitting her habit of pushing away those that care in "Clearest Blue," to owning up to the surreptitious and unfair wrath of her dark side in "Down Side of Me," Mayberry shows an effort to find peace in past wreckages and grow in light of recognizing any flaws that she can correct herself.
Overall Impression — 7
A breakthrough debut album may be what every new band dreams of, but it also comes with the tough position of figuring out how to follow it up properly. Surprisingly, CHVRCHES don't try to make "Every Open Eye" sonically outgun their previous album by a brash "harder, better, faster, stronger" approach, but instead, slim down their elements to create a more pinpoint focus for the album's sound. While still keeping the cheery appeal of the band intact, this nuanced changeup in a music genre that's so prone to sounding identical is commendable, and though "Every Open Eye" doesn't one-up the impact that their debut album made, it does a good job continuing the strong streak of CHVRCHES.