To the casual observer, the criteria for what determines the Next Big Thing in the indie music scene are a little vague. For whatever reason, Chvrches is poised to make the leap to indie super-stardom.
All the critical elements are in place: favorable reviews from the tastemakers of the European scene, appearances at SXSW, blogosphere domination, and of course, an artful disregard for the conventions of English, a phenomenon approaching the popularity and absurdity of the hashtag.
But if you pay attention, you’ll notice that the success of this group, and particularly this album, is painted upon a background of the perilous tedium of synth-pop. The genre is crowded to capacity with acts that appear to have convened in mass to exhume a genre that was engineered in and for a timeless era in pop culture: the 80’s. It’s hard to deny that synth-pop is a tired scene, and for every M83, there is a corresponding Naked and Famous.
To hear the experts dissect the chances of this band, they are at the whims of the strengths and weaknesses of the genre as a whole. If they can somehow manage to shake that association, they’ll succeed.
This is a patently ridiculous argument, and one that is frequently uttered by critics of professional and amateur status. Everybody has said something similar to, “They’re pretty good, for a synth-pop band.” The same thing is said about artists from all genres. But try applying the argument to sports. Would you say that a quarterback is pretty good, for someone who throws a ball? It’s pretty rare for an artist to be measured on the terms of their quality, rather than the dubious performance of their genre-mates.
Could it be that Chvrches is just a band that happens to play synth-pop? The truth is something greater.
Chvrches is a band that shows absolute dominance over the genre, to the point that consideration of style falls away. It’s just damn good music.
Of course, there’s nothing really new here. Song structures and instrumentation are conventional and have certainly been used before. Singer Lauren Mayberry recalls countless synth-pop vocalists. She never ventures beyond the boundaries of her phrasing. Tight melodies play by the rules, just like every other aspect of this record.
On paper, it sounds pretty boring.
On record, it’s positively addicting. Chvrches knows how to exploit the tricks of synth-pop and dance music in the exact time tested ways that threaten to make this record just another record, rather than a sure resident of more than a few Best of lists.
The album starts out with a consistent pace and drive, galloping through some previously released singles, laced together with tunes that are as good or better. Things do slow down toward the end, but there is only one ugly duckling on this record. The last song, “You Caught the Light” is such a departure from the rest of the album that it’s hard to not just call it a day.
Indeed, the rest of the album seems so ready-made to dominate charts and the memorable moments of your next road trip or night on the town as to be genetically engineered for pop success. Without taking any risks, Chvrches is making big waves in the indie world.
Rather than fall on the sword of their genre, as most critics are secretly expecting, they’ve proven just how ordinary and conventional the Next Big Thing really is. Now available on iTunes