Lauren Mayberry is not a born singer. On live recordings of CHVRCHES, her voice often sounds thin and pitchy, and she strains to hit her own vocal melodies. On record, however, it’s got just the right amount of fragility to perfectly contrast the glittering synths and pristinely thumping beats of the Scottish synth-pop trio’s glossy arrangements.
Despite Mayberry’s vocal shortcomings, it’s her singing that makes the band’s second full-length, Every Open Eye, so compelling. She’s gorgeously imploring and is capable of selling even vague or trite lyrics. On the vividly twinkling opener “Never Ending Circles,” she sings, “If you want another, say you need another.” A few songs later, the sweepingly cinematic “Make Them Gold” contains the titular line, “We will take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold.” In the late-album highlight “Playing Dead,” she asks, “If I give more than enough ground will you claim it?” Written down, those lines don’t especially stand out, but Mayberry’s emotive delivery and faint Scottish inflection makes them heart-tugging standouts.
Only one of Every Open Eye’s 11 tracks doesn’t feature Mayberry’s voice, as synth player Martin Doherty handles the singing on “High Enough to Carry You Over.” This song’s purpose is clear: to show that CHVRCHES is a fully collaborative band and not simply a vanity project for a female singer. Doherty recently told The Guardian, “We could have sold 200,000 more albums if we’d hidden Iain [Cook] and I from view and put Lauren on the cover of every magazine.” This stance is admirable, particularly given Mayberry’s outspoken stance against music industry misogyny. Still, without her on the microphone, it’s hard not to see “High Enough to Carry You Over” as anything but an opportunity for a bathroom break at future concerts.
The tone on Every Open Eye is so yearning that it becomes a little exhausting over the course of 11 tracks, and the album could use a couple more carefree bangers to lighten the mood a little. The glimmering thump of “Empty Threat” helps somewhat, but even on this upbeat anthem, lines like “I was better off when I was on your side” sound like the stuff of tear-stained journals rather than fodder for joyful singalongs.
Still, it’s hard to fault CHVRCHES for sticking within their wheelhouse, and the fact the musicians self-produced these glitzy songs (rather than tapping an outside pop producer) is a testament to their studio prowess. Every Open Eye is a reminder that, with the right singer, even the most processed-sounding electronic dance pop can be delicate and human.
Review by Alex Hudson