Glasgow band Chvrches (the ubiquitous ‘v’ apparently helping them rise to the top of online searches) released their debut album The Bones Of What You Believe in September this year, though with an incredibly assured performance and a venue as busy as I’ve ever seen it, they could easily have been touring their tenth album.
Support came from London’s THUMPERS who were on the whole impressive, and even at their weaker moments still showed enormous potential. They play a brilliantly catchy indie-synthpop crossover, replete with five-part vocal harmonies, handclaps over everything, incredibly upbeat choruses and even a trumpet. Frankly, if they’re not on tour with Screaming Maldini before the year is out then destiny is useless.
It did seem to me that despite some interesting and complex rhythmic work at the core of their music (and their drummer was really very good indeed) each track did progress in a similar fashion. I’d also have loved them to be more adventurous in their sonic palette – for a band relying heavily on synths this is essential. Without even looking to check, I could hear the unmistakable sound of Korg throughout. But that said, they used a selection of interesting samples and triggers and made a significantly better attempt to incorporate electronica into an indie framework than the vast majority of bands that have tried. Their final track, the lead single of this summer’s Unkinder EP is an absolute belter. More like that and they could go a long way.
And so to Chvrches: I’m going to start with a little story – and it really is the only negative thing I have to say about them. I first got into electronic music when I was about 13, Norman Cook awakening in me a desire for beats that Britpop was never going to satisfy. I then spent every lunchtime for about 6 months huddled away with my friends in our school’s music room with an antique Mac running Cubase 1.0 and a battered Roland XP-60 trying desperately, and failingly to turn out a killer house tune. We were useless; startlingly useless – until one fateful day I discovered a button marked ‘arpeggiator’ – and from that moment on, every single thing we did was golden. We could not take a step wrong. At my most critical moment tonight I stepped back and wondered at what point Chvrches discovered this magical button for themselves. They certainly love to arpeggiate. But then I thought, ‘who cares?’, because this was a brilliantly confident and thoroughly enjoyable performance from a band doing a very good job of living up to their hype.
Musically, they sit in a golden triangle, with the brazen synthpop of Depeche Mode as the foremost influence, but also channelling the wide open spaces of M83 and some of darker, more sultry sounds of Goldfrapp, together with shades of hip hop and deep funk. Every track was complex and multilayered, with hidden sounds and textures that only revealed themselves on closer listening. They never seemed to stay too long in one corner, with euphoric moments of pop contrasting with darker and bleaker moments of true intensity – the solitary (though rib-shakingly powerful) kick drum in ‘Tether’, the portentous inner textures of ‘Science and Visions’, through to the celestial chorus of ‘Gun’ were all reference points in their diverse sonic landscape. Yet these contrasts were united through the sheer quality of their songwriting – and that is what I took away more than anything else from this gig: that they are fantastic writers and extremely able musicians. It occurred to me that they could have succeeded in whatever genre they took on – they produce electronica through choice, not necessity.
There’s a substantial weight of expectation on this band, with every magazine I’ve read tipping them to go a long way, yet they seem more than ready for this. They are all alumni of other bands (including, notably, The Twilight Sad) and spent months sequestered in their Glasgow studio preparing before they even played one gig. There’s a careful consideration to every detail in both their music and their performance, though there is nothing cynical about it. They have the air of serious professionals, confident and assured in their abilities, yet still obviously eager to progress and excited about what they have achieved so far. When they played ‘The Mother We Share’ at the very end of the gig, the effect on the audience was palpable – a beautiful unity and sense of collective purpose that only a truly special band can bring about.