In terms of mildly gothic, female-fronted indietronica, we are living in an unprecedented Golden Age. In a historical sense, it probably all started with The Knife, the early 2000’s duo from Sweden whose 2003 single, “Heartbeats” echoes through a lot of alternative electronic music of the past decade. Despite a bit of chart success in continental Europe, The Knife were never championed by the indie elite and consequently haven’t received the accolades or recognition they probably deserve.
In a historical, theoretical sort of way, it was The Knife, but in a cultural, zeitgeist-y way, it’s hard to argue against Crystal Castles. With Ethan Kath providing both cute melodies and demonic glitches worthy of some kind of LSD Gameboy fever-dream and Alice Glass punctuating her sweet nothings with staccato shrieks, it’s not surprising that they were swallowed up wholesale by the internet hype machine. Despite some growing pains and reasonably high-profile performing scandals (Glastonbury 2008 comes to mind), Kath and Glass became the poster children for the chaotic, sweet-then-scary indie electro music that has grown every year.
There’s Purity Ring, a duo following the successful formula of a female vocalist paired with a male instrumentalist. There’s Charli XCX, a British singer-songwriter who recorded her first album (albeit an unreleased one) at 14 and has only improved since then. Now, there’s CHVRCHES (don’t let that “v” fool you, it’s pronounced “churches”), a Scottish trio whose first album, The Bones of What You Believe, is set to be released in September.
With the market flooded with good, female-fronted electro, one might wonder what sets CHVRCHES apart, or at least makes them worth a listen. Musically, CHVRCHES inches closer to pop than some purists may like, with the synth lines of Martin Doherty and Iain Cook having more in common with M83 than Crystal Castles or The Knife. Still, it’s self-produced and charming in its accessibility. Early singles “The Mother We Share” and “Recover” are downright bouncy, with their unashamedly cheesy drum machines providing an upbeat lift to the songs.
However, it’s vocalist Lauren Mayberry who sets CHVRCHES apart from their contemporaries. She has an intelligibility and dynamism that’s hard to find in modern electro. She practically whispers her way through intimate verses, only to deliver bombastic, soaring choruses. She’s also a master of the subtle and subversive, playing up her charm and the upbeat nature of the music to mask the surprisingly dark lyrics.
CHVRCHES have been good about releasing music in the lead-up to The Bones of What You Believe, with 4 singles from the album already floating around the indie blogosphere and radio waves, as well as an EP for “Recover” that features two additional songs and two remixes. They’ve also been active with special performances and projects, with Prince and Haim covers coming from radio performances, as well as making remixes for St. Lucia, MS MR, and Ultraista. Still, none of it substitutes for a proper album and I’ll only be properly satisfied when The Bones of What You Believe drops on September 23rd.
Watch the CHVRCHES music video for “Gun” below!