The Best Albums of 2015, #6

band016. CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye (Glassnote)

Scottish trio CHVRCHES came along in 2012 and wowed me, becoming an obsession throughout the following year. Personally it was the most appealing new music imaginable: edgy but minimal synthpop with a striking female voice who provided wickedly smart lyrics amidst all the hooks. As phenomenal a debut as The Bones of What You Believe was, though, there was still loads of room for improvement. Early on singer Lauren Mayberry sounded hesitant and shy, but as charming as that was on record, it didn’t quite click when she sang live. However, what really impressed me in the wake of the album’s release was just how hard this band toured. They were on the go for the better part of two years, and by the time I saw them in the summer of 2014, Mayberry had evolved greatly. She was an endearing presence onstage, and sounded far less fragile. You could see her becoming a far more confident frontwoman, and offstage that confidence was showing itself as well. Mayberry’s feminist editorials showed just how strong, smart, and articulate this young woman is, a far more articulate role model for young girls than, say, Taylor Swift, whose own personality is so carefully honed that it feels like it came from a board room rather than a young 25 year-old. Anyway, as busy as the band has been – it seems they never left the public eye – they quickly put out a follow-up, and what’s so pleasing about Every Open Eye is just how much that growing confidence has translated onto the new record. The formula has not changed one bit, but everything is so much more assured, from top to bottom. The arrangements are huge, with many songs taking on a dance element, to the point where you can easily hear house, EDM, and hard trance elements creeping in. But as trite and empty as EDM is, the personality and smarts are still present in CHVRCHES’ music. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty both do a fantastic job creating arrangements that ebb and flow dynamically, with the pulsating “Clearest Blue” sounding anthemic in the way it builds and builds to a euphoric climax. When it comes to this band, its face and voice is Mayberry, and she catapults this album into the stratosphere with a commanding vocal performance, not to mention some wickedly clever lyrics. She’s capable of some of the best kiss-off lines in pop music today, but as fun as it is to hear her tell her guy to go to hell, there’s a sense of optimism creeping into her lyrics, which you can hear in a track like “Empty Threat”, which is the happiest song the band has ever written. Melancholy’s nice, but it’s okay to smile every once in a while, and that willingness to explore different emotions than sadness has made CHVRCHES an even better band. (Spotify) (YouTube)