How to Build a Chvrch: The Bones of What You Believe
By Alex Rice
Dogma. Devotion. Enlightenment. All themes the three members of this Chvrch aim to conjure with their irreverent moniker. Inevitably, big concepts like these form the skeleton of their dazzling debut, 2013’s The Bones of What You Believe. Its sparkling melodies shine through a sinister soundscape that imagines Chvrches’ post-punk forebears as having emerged from the digital age.
Take “The Mother We Share,” which packs all of the emotional heft of a Greek tragedy into a three-minute pop song. The prodigious opening number paints Lauren Mayberry as a master of melodicism far beyond her years and her bandmates, the synth tag-team of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, as wizards worshipping at the twin altars of the grandiose choruses of ‘80s dance music and the understated aesthetics of Aughts pop. The lyrics find Mayberry diametrically opposed to a metaphorical sibling, and when she gently sings a line like the bridge’s “Into the night for once, we’re the only ones left,” it’s easy to envision her and the subject floating in some sort of cosmic womb at the beginning of the universe. Pride, honesty and time may conspire to tear them apart, but there’s a tether keeping them inextricably linked.
The first single acts as something of a thesis, positioning Mayberry as emotionally exposed yet completely in control of the situation. One of the most stunning qualities of Chvrches’ starry-eyed introduction to the world at large, then is how immediately convincing Mayberry is in the leading role. In a 2013 NME feature, Cook remembers the frontwoman, a professional writer with a four-year law degree, as “incredibly shy” during their first sessions. She had sung and played keyboards on tunes like “Cosplay the Hard Way” and “Dear Middle Aged Ponytail” in Glasgow’s Blue Sky Archives before branching off into a new religion, but that project never required such a commanding presence at the forefront. “Lies” suggests that she was born to preach to the unconverted, though: “I can sell you lies / You can’t get enough / Make a true believer of anyone.” The EDM-lite of The Bones of What You Believe assembled quite a faithful following during that genre’s commercial apex, hitting the Top 10 in three countries and appearing on year-end best-of lists by noted publications like Billboard, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
In fact, Mayberry’s voice is so powerful that it transcends words. It’s a cliché to say that the vocals are but another instrument in the mix, but they truly are for Cook and Doherty. The two instrumentalists incorporate samples of her singing into the mix all across The Bones of What You Believe so seamlessly that they function as just another effect on their sequencers. This tactic is one of Chvrches’ most potent weapons, as the breathy “Night Sky,” the breezy “Lungs” and the existential “Mother We Share” attest. Later, the glistening bass drop in “By the Throat” underscores the duality of Mayberry’s first sermon. “All that's golden is never real,” she vulnerably sings in the chorus, before issuing a vicious warning. “I’ll take this thing by the throat and walk away.” Appropriately, the claw marks of Chvrches’ thrilling debut are now indelibly etched into the indie-pop universe. Just like a sister’s firm grasp of her sibling.
Alex Rice is the founder of Bandbox. His writing has appeared in the Denver Post, Guitar World and Minneapolis's City Pages.