Words by Tilly O’Connor (@tilly_oconnor)
On their third LP, Scottish synth pop trio Chvrches enlisted the help of producers Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran, Little Mix, Shakira) and Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Katy Perry, Sia). Where the group have held onto elements of their indie pop beginnings in the past, this record seems to be a bold attempt to enter the mainstream. Despite their international success, Chvrches are yet to secure a top ten hit.
On Love Is Dead, they tackle topics broader than the inner workings of a relationship, with track Graves taking the refugee crisis head on, and My Enemy featuring the National’s Matt Berninger looking at the nature of modern political discourse online. Singer Lauren Mayberry has been vocal on matters such as feminism and online abuse, so it’s interesting to find these themes in her music.
Opening track Graffiti is classic Chvrches. They have always sat just ahead of the curve when it came to the direction indie pop is heading, however this is closer to their older work. It’s electrifying as it builds, with Mayberry’s vocal melodies crashing in unexpected and delightful ways. It sounds like that intangible hazy memory of youth, or maybe even just last summer. On the refrain she coos that “we never will” grow old, as synths buzz behind her like the fizz of a cola bottle. It’s a stunning opener, and sets out ideas of abandonment and joy, tinged with melancholy and realism.
Second track Get Out opens with harsh, hard synths, the likes of which probably not heard since… Well since the last Chvrches record. Its a slow burning pop song, which I suppose is quite en vogue. It has such a naughties vibe, reminiscent of Avril Lavigne when it comes to melodies and lyrics. Sometimes this is exciting, sometimes it verges on cheesy, particularly on the refrain “Do you wanna show me how you are a kaleidoscope”.
Deliverance is the first on a few tracks on the album that take on external topics. It’s a pointed take down of religious bigotry over a tropical pop song. It’s probably the strongest of their “political” songs, as it sticks ~religiously~ to traditional Christian metaphors, creating a pretty whole piece. The little layers of angelic voice synths at the end are a nice touch. It doesn’t reach a peak musically, which isn’t a necessity (look at some of the delicate tracks on Lorde’s Melodrama), but it does feel like it’s picking up, just to drop you right back down again. It would be surprising if this wasn’t a single at some point, as it has radio potential.
Graves opens with a Survive (the group behind the Stranger Things theme) synth which falls away into something much faster. It’s sickeningly upbeat for a song about the death of Syrian refugees. It is advocating for change, which you have to assume is genuine given the singers vocal online presence on the matter, but it does come across slightly shallow. It’s worth noting that it’s very hard to appear any different when talking about complex subjects in just over three minutes. Production wise it has something of a 2013 Katy Perry song about it.
My Enemy features Matt Berninger of the National. It‘s a cold duet about vicious words with a big hint towards online discourse. It’s moody and interesting but really doesn’t go anywhere. The lyrics are monotonous with some really overused rhyming schemes, primarily “enemy/remedy”.There’s no real pay off moment with the two singers voices coming together. It’s pretty flat as songs go but this does suit the themes that it explores.
A track like Forever stands out on the album purely for how upbeat it is in a sea of chainsmoker-esque slow beat heavy tunes. It builds very well and each layer plays well with the other. It’s a moment of introspection with some telling one liners from Mayberry – “maybe I am just too much for you”. The synthy guitar dances sweetly around her vocals. Towards the end it all swirls like a big pool of noise being sucked down the hole in the sink.
Miracle is sonically the “biggest” song on Love Is Dead. It‘s an explicit grasp at Radio One listeners, that probably leaves most Chvrches fans confused. Is this an Imagine Dragons cover? It feels so unusual for them to take a song in this direction. Everything about it from the effects on Mayberry’s voice in the chorus, down to the backing vocals in the chorus (a classic “ooh ohh ohh”) is very far removed from their classic work. The only sign that this is definitely a Chvrches song is the steely synth hovering above it all throughout.
The build on God’s Plan is probably the most satisfying on the album. It’s gloomy and atmospheric in a way that the group haven’t really tried anywhere else on the album. The top end synth seems a little busy but it works if you look at the album as a whole.
Love Is Dead is a bold statement. The album however is not as bold. It’s a very competent pop record but it’s not anywhere as daring as some of Chvrches earlier work. The most exciting moments are when there are unexpected turns in the track, like the melody in graffiti. For the most part however, the record appears to be following trends instead of setting them this time around.