chvrches have always made it a point to exceed expectations. their strong early offerings landed them both consistent critical acclaim and a record deal with a major label subsidiary, and the glaswegian trio embarked on an ostensibly exhausting world tour following the rave reviews of the bones of what you believe.
lauren mayberry sang pristine hooks over equally-pristine synth arrangements, songs swelled to pre-chorus heights before exploding into the mind-boggling refrain itself, and despite this meticulous attention to detail and production, most of bones retained a raw, emotive component not readily available on the surface of most synth-pop albums. chvrches spent six months writing and recording every open eye earlier this year, an ambitious follow-up that chases the highs of its predecessor.
it’s a sensible practice to emulate a previous success, but chvrches toe the surprisingly fine line between emulation and replication. “never ending circles” opens forcefully and soon crests to a chorus as titanic as the trio has ever penned, though the track reads as a slight misdirection. the strength of “leave a trace” tides the album over for a bit longer, but every open eye eventually wavers dangerously close to mediocrity, a territory previously foreign to chvrches.
nevermind that “make them gold” has a title that seems to exclusively pander to this generation’s optimistic hashtag users; the song’s delivery is flawed, its vocal pacing sophomoric, and the refrain’s melodic contour – arguably the most crucial component of a chvrches song – is painful, a glaring misstep that somehow survived the cutting-room floor. “make them gold” joins “empty threat” as the chief byproducts of a recording period that was a bit rushed and ultimately suffered from bouts of tunnel vision. the anthems that dotted bones were almost accidental in magnitude, and chvrches certainly don’t bat a thousand when trying to capitalize on their arena-caliber potential this time around.
it’s a shame that those blemishes are placed at very strategically poor points on the album, because every open eye does host some of chvrches’ finest work to date. “clearest blue” is the sprawling centerpiece that bones decidedly lacked, and martin doherty’s lead vocal on “high enough to carry you over” makes it one of the album’s most compelling components. the final third of every open eye is more indicative of the pop anthems chvrches are now capable of constructing, and both “playing dead” and “bury it” tweak the trio’s tried and true songwriting blueprint to refreshing results.
by the time “afterglow” hits, chvrches have completed another victory lap, albeit one less smooth than previously experienced. every open eye avoids the sophomore slump and provides chvrches with sufficient material for an even more massive tour, but it also suggests that the band should tread lightly and spend considerably more time on their subsequent output. luck won’t always be on their side.