8. CHVRCHES, Love is Dead (Glassnote)
The reigning tastemaker in synth-pop for three albums now, CHVRCHES have always straddled the line between mainstream pop and “alternative”/“indie” with extraordinary skill, and you could imagine record label execs wishing the Scottish trio would pull out all the stops in an attempt at mainstream superstardom. Instead the band followed the guidance of Eurythmics great Dave Stewart, who urged CHVRCHES to embrace their musical malleability. Of course, that’s not what a lot of cooler-than-thou publications felt, because the very second that an indie band moves from “quaint” to “flirting with sounding just a little bit bigger” is deemed an act of betrayal. And man, it felt like the knives were out upon the release of this album, but once the hipsters forgot about it and started obsessing over the next ridiculous trend, the rest of us settled in and let the record grow on us as the year went on. Produced by hit-maker Greg Kurstin, Love is Dead reflects the band’s confidence: yes, it sporadically leans towards bigger, pop-friendly hooks (“Graffiti”, “Get Out”, “Miracle”) but it never loses touch with what has made CHVRCHES so endearing from the very beginning. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty create a shimmering, sparkling backdrop for singer Lauren Mayberry, who returns the favor with a bravura vocal performance. And in the end, it’s Mayberry who makes this album such a resounding success, whether on her heartfelt duet with Matt Berninger on “My Enemy”, showcasing her newfound vocal strength on “Heaven/Hell”, or dominating the pulsating “Graves”. A singular act, CHVRCHES are in full command of their art. Just ignore what the cool kids say.