It’s a tale as old as time: band breaks out with a stellar debut album, band wants to resist being defined by said debut, band returns with second album that scraps nearly everything that led to the success of the first. Chvrches is not that band. For Every Open Eye, out Friday on Universal, the band of Scots returned to the basement that captured the magic of their debut, with no intention of falling victim to this, or any, version of sophomore slump.
Keyboardist and occasional vocalist Martin Doherty indicated as much in an interview with Pitchfork’s Laura Snapes this summer. “After making one record that people really like, some bands reject the things that everyone liked about them and make some really deep, thoughtful, dark record,” Doherty said. “But I wanted to avoid making a ‘mature’ album.”
The air quotes are important; the Glaswegian trio comprised of Doherty, Iain Cook, and lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry has never sounded immature. The Bones of What You Believe was widely recognized as one of the strongest debuts of 2013 for good reason. Of all the many, many ’80s-tinged indie pop acts of the 2010s, Chvrches sounded the most fully formed — possibly because even though Chvrches was only founded in 2011, its members have several decades’ worth of prior experience in the local scene between them.
So for their sophomore outing, the group hasn’t bothered with the pretense of revamping themselves. Every Open Eye keeps what earned Chvrches its devoted fanbase (and in Mayberry’s case, some unwelcome attention from 4chan trolls) very much intact. The album may have a slightly different, and more expansive, emotional tenor than its predecessor, but it’s communicated with the same precision-engineered synth pop that serves as Chvrches’ sonic calling card.
Case in point: lead singles “Never Ending Circles” and “Leave a Trace,” which also serve as Every Open Eye’s first two tracks. Both are celebrations of long-overdue breakups, the former coming right out the gate with the kind of hyper-catchy synth line that leads to involuntary headbanging, not to mention instant signatures like Bones’ “Lies.” “Leave a Trace,” meanwhile, has Mayberry alternating vicious put-downs (“You talk far too much/For someone so unkind”) with humane self-awareness (“I will wipe the salt off of my skin/And I’ll admit that I got it wrong/And there is grey between the lines”) in the spirit of previous tracks like “Lungs.”
The similarities between Bones and Every Open Eye make sense given the group’s commitment to preserving their meticulous, closed-loop creative process. Since Chvrches’ inception, its members have consistently portrayed themselves as a cohesive unit, avoiding singling out any individual in either photos or interviews. The PR strategy was meant partly to combat the sexist assumption Mayberry has paraphrased as “two producer guys and a girl that sings the songs” and partly to emphasize the highly collaborative, consensus-driven nature of their songwriting.
Because Chvrches sees said collaboration as intrinsic to its identity as a band, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they opted to record Every Open Eye in the same Glasgow basement that’s served as their base of operations since 2011 — albeit with some upgraded equipment purchased with their first advance. Ditto for Mayberry, Cook, and Doherty’s decision to forgo working with any outsiders. (Here’s how Doherty explained it to Snapes: “We’re open to it, but not at the moment. I’m over this whole fucking co-write thing that’s going on right now. Is no one making records for themselves anymore? Is it not about a band anymore? It’s only about putting a voice in a room with the hottest writer. As we were making this album, a bunch of people offered to write with us, but we wanted to be an actual band.”)
As recognizable as Open Every Eye may be, however, it’s not without innovation. Doherty makes his sole appearance on “High Enough to Carry You Over,” playing the mournful rejected (“I never would have given you up/If you only hadn’t given me up”) where Mayberry assumes the role of rejector; “Make Them Gold is downright anthemic, temporarily abandoning cryptic references to personal trials in favor of soaring collectivism (“We are made of our longest days, we are falling but not alone/We will take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold”). And album closer “Afterglow” is Chvrches’ most stripped-down song to date, building a single crescendo as Mayberry anticipates “a lifeline to highs and lows, to seeing the bright side” after a trauma—only to pull back as she whispers the surprisingly morbid final line, “I’ve given up all I can.”
Throughout the album, however, Mayberry’s vocals retain their distinctive combination of frailty and ferociousness, backed by compositions that are simultaneously feather-light and razor-sharp. Far from suggesting that Chvrches have begun to go stale, though, Every Open Eye promises a longevity that’s eluded some of their peers. By resisting the temptation to rethink their formula, the band is evolving in a way that feels natural, rather than forced.