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The Bones of What You Believe Alex Niven , September 30th, 2013 06:54

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One of the better developments of 2013 has been the gathering feeling that the future might not be a lost cause after all. After decades of self-reflexive irony and endless retromania, pop culture finally seems to be rediscovering its futurist leanings. Even a couple of years ago it was possible to turn on the radio and experience a moment of genuine existential confusion about what historical era it was. But this year there have been signs that a new, of-the-moment pop aesthetic might just be stammering into life. Whatever can be said about the breakbeat-filled, Vevo-slaying work of Rudimental, Avicii, and Naughty Boy, there’s no doubt that mainstream pop is sounding fresher and more progressive than it has done for years. Let’s just hope and pray that the days of tastefully executed Jeff Buckley covers and BRIT School retro cabaret are now firmly behind us.

Even more encouragingly, this year has seen the emergence of a bona fide progressive British pop band – Glasgow trio Chvrches, whose debut album The Bones of What You Believe is a rather glorious crystallisation of 2013’s change-is-in-the-air mood. While the pop charts seemed to spring to life this summer with a run of actually quite decent number ones, Chvrches’ 'Gun' was the real runaway heatwave anthem, a dazzling baroque pop masterpiece worthy of a Human League or a Madonna that deserves to top every end-of-year poll going. From the iridescent opening synth riff to the rhotic purr of lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s vocal, 'Gun' is a lesson in how contemporary pop can be made to sound affirmative and vital without sacrificing intelligence or nuance.

Sure, there’s more than a whiff of the 1980s about both Gun and the debut album that contains it. M83’s John Hughes nostalgia project is clearly one of the main blueprints for many of the tracks on The Bones of What You Believe, from the burpy cut-up backing vocals in the excellent 'Mother We Share', to the cod-gothic Cocteau-Twins morass of 'Tether'. 'We Sink' glances at Giorgio Moroder, while 'Night Sky' veers dangerously close to the sort of Kate-Bush-lite 80s revivalism Bat For Lashes has occasionally been guilty of.

But overall Bones feels like it was created by a band determined to synthesise the better music of recent times in order to create something timely and soulful. Like the neo-synthpop bands they are so often lumped together with – Purity Ring, Aluna George – Chvrches combine their interest in the 80s with unselfconscious nods at the pop continuum of the 90s and 00s. 'Tether''s monolithic outro recalls a Gatecrasher trance breakdown or even the happy hardcore of DJ Hixxy, while the spirit of 00s Scando-pop (Robyn, Royksopp, The Knife) underlies some of the more overtly hooky moments.

Again, it would be easy, given these parallels, to dismiss Chvrches as yet another example of hipster pop eating itself, but I genuinely think they’re engaged in a much subtler project. While the more arch, more avant-garde wing of 2010s pop (vaporwave, hypnagogic) falls over itself to find ever more ingenious ways of responding to end-of-history angst, Chvrches use their influences as a foil for a folky brand of perfect-pop (folkwave, anyone?) that values melody and – shoot me if you like – sincerity over and above pastiche and irony. It might not represent a radical new kind of futurism, but at its yearning, technicolor best The Bones of What You Believe captures the sound of pop music working out how to use the recent past to move slowly but surely again into the future.

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Sep 30, 2013 12:56pm

the albums not bad, like trailers for the newest adam sandler comedy, the singles that have already been run into the ground are the best parts tho...

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Sep 30, 2013 1:41pm

Really digging this album at the minute. They combine the more melodic parts of The Knife and early Depeche Mode quite well whilst seemingly doing their own thing too.

Not too much mention of the tracks where Mayberry's vocals aren't front and centre, which are actually pretty ace. Particularly the last track 'You Caught The Light' coming across like a lost Cure tune.

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Sarah Peters
Sep 30, 2013 3:10pm

Great review - I could not agree more!

Check out my review, too :)

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Peregrine Worsthorne
Sep 30, 2013 5:48pm

OK I quite like this lot and am not criticising the review per se but what exactly is future-facing about some stuff that is also very heavily referential to 80s touchstones? Is it the production and those little effects they have on the vocals (which is pretty Knife-ish)? It's a nice little pop record, 's'all.

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Sep 30, 2013 10:26pm

It's crap, purity Ron ripoff.

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Oct 1, 2013 1:30am

In reply to Peregrine Worsthorne:

It makes sense when you consider that the concept of what is "futurist" or forward-thinking is pretty much stuck in the 80's.

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Peregrine Worsthorne
Oct 1, 2013 2:10am

That's a good point S D, there does seem to be this prevalent idea that synths + technology = future (with the attendant idea that guitars = retrograde) but as I said, it's a nice review of a nice record. I like Mayberry's voice, more regional accents in pop music please.

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Oct 1, 2013 3:55am

ok drove with this to skore a bag of reef, pretty gooder but when the guy sings its death... can we refer to our "lessons learned from sneaker pimps" missal please? page 45, it starts "we threw out the only reason anyone gave a shit about us.."

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Oct 1, 2013 9:53am

Got to agree with the comments that this plays out more like 80's futurism than 'the future' (and the accent). But on the whole, the album hasn't really grabbed me.
On a side note, the album artwork is quite similar to the Factory Floor album - bright background colour, three triangles - just a coincidence? While the trend for using a font on a cover where one or two letters are unconventionally depicted continues unabated...

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Oct 1, 2013 10:05am

I think I might be on my own in thinking this but I really think this band sounds a little like a happier, poppier, synthy version of The Unwinding Hours. There's just something about the atmosphere of this record that reminds me of Iain's other bands. Maybe the vocal harmonies.

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Moonee Ponds
Oct 1, 2013 11:23am

Chvrches are merely a throwback to a throwback. Everything about them reminds me of something else, & their lack of any truly GREAT songs has left me utterly underwhelmed by them.

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Oct 7, 2013 3:51pm

What an absolute belter of an album this is. It's so hard to pull of synth pop of this calibre. It feels both tough and vulnerable, melodic and punchy. A real achievement and straight into my top 3 albums of the year now (along with Disclosure and David Bowie).

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Oct 21, 2013 9:46am

I do like this album, but I've pretty much liked everything else Iain Cook has put out under his other projects:
The Unwinding Hours (First album is brilliant - the closing track is oppressively brilliant, second album feels a little too electro) and the mighty and very sadly missed Aereogramme.

Before people dismiss Chvrches as sounding like X, Y and Z it's important to see the progress that Cook has been making for the last ten years with these bands and to realise he's one of the trailblazers that all these other bands have been looking up to.

The review does touch upon my own thoughts that we appear to be pulling ourselves out from under the various corpses of Stock, Aiken and Waterman, the various X-Factor rubbish and Oasis-chavlike and it's various Britpop intellectually murdering indie crap.

Hooray for great pop!

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