San Francisco is once again a proving ground for Chvrches.
The Scottish pop trio Chvrches plays the Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend, on the heels of the release of Every Open Eye, the group's already enormously popular new album which has earned praise from nearly every corner of the music press. Chvrches plays this Sunday in a prized time slot—after indie darlings including Panda Bear, Father John Misty, and Jose Gonzalez; and just before headliner The National.
The TI festival team could easily have relegated the dance-y pop group to its Saturday lineup, where electronic-leaning acts often reside (this year’s Saturday lineup includes Deadmau5, FKA Twigs, STS9). But Every Open Eye doesn’t replicate the hyper-electro vibe of 2013’s The Bones of What You Believe. Rather, it’s a measured, confident step forward in the maturation of one of the world’s most promising pop acts.
To understand Chvrches' absurd momentum, let’s rewind to spring 2013, when music blogs first swooned over a mysterious EP called "Recover," by a band that spelled “churches” oddly. Sugary synth hooks, elastic percussion, and the fearless insistences of lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry built into impossibly addictive choruses. You couldn’t shake the sense that ‘80s-era synthpop had a rightful torchbearer (and that the xx had a cheerier rival).
North America called. Specifically, San Francisco. A line wrapped around the corner outside The Independent, where concertgoers awaited a first glimpse of a band they barely knew existed. It was the band’s first show on American soil.
Validation rarely comes this swiftly, but it did for Chvrches, the rare band that struck a chord on its very first swing.
“It was that night I think we realized we had a chance at making a career of this,” bandmember Martin Doherty told 7x7. “It was a very special reaction for a band that was very, very new to people.”
Days or maybe weeks later, another line wrapped around the famous Fader Fort at SXSW. The music press machine gushed for a straight week afterward.
Fast-forward two years or so, and the band’s trajectory continues its upward ascent: With a second full-length LP under its belt, Chvrches topped Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart last week. The album represents a logical but still-fascinating lunge forward for the band. You can call it a maturation—a realization that not every song needs to be a life-affirming pop anthem. Be dark if that’s what you feel. Be somber. Be hellish. Be understated when that’s what life calls for.
“That was something that carried us throughout the recording process—not trying to write huge every time. Not going for the heads every time. Just letting things come naturally. I think that’s a tendency for a lot of bands, to go bigger on the second album, and things can sound more two-dimensional—formulaic interpretations of their own material. That’s something we tried very hard not to do. [We aimed to] just write leaner and let the music take care of itself.”
The confidence to mix composed, moody jams with signature Chvrches hooks is bold, measured, and smart. The anthems are already plentiful, and there's plenty to stand on.
It’s impossible to place limitations on this kind of pop. Doherty is quick to admit the reaction of fans will determine the band’s future and ceiling as a band with an enormous emotional quotient—after all, tastes change and this business is fickle.
But there’s no mistaking where the band sits on the Treasure Island marquee. Just take a quick glance at some of the other bands that have occupied the festival's same penultimate slot: alt-J (2014); Animal Collective (2013); M83 (2012); and this year’s headliner, The National (2010). So far, all have risen to levels of astounding commercial, critical, and artistic success.
Is Chvrches next?
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