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