Chvrches – Love Is Dead: Is it deliverance if you can never change?

Artist: Chvrches
Album: Love Is Dead
Year: 2018
Grade: A-

In Brief: For a band that had such a fully realized synthpop sound from the get-go, it makes sense that change should come only in small increments. Chvrches once again keeps what works for them intact, and while there are a few small surprises in the song structures and instrumentation, the bigger surprise on Love Is Dead is how hard a lot of the lyrics hit. Without being preachy or overtly political, the trio clearly feels a responsibility to address the turbulent times we’re all living in. It’s refreshing and vital, and ultimately that’s what makes this record yet another home run for Chvrches.


Three albums into the Chvrches discography, I’m starting to realize that my expectations of the Scottish synthpop trio might be rather self-contradictory. With each album I find myself wanting them to change, and yet wanting them to stay the same. Their 2013 debut, The Bones of What You Believe, sits in my personal pantheon of “perfect pop albums”, and in about a year and a half when I make a “Best Albums of the 2010s” list, that one’s gonna be a serious contender for the top spot. The band arrived pretty much fully formed in terms of how well they were able to merge computer-generated sounds, thoughtful and provocative lyrics, and meaty song structures where  the verse, pre-chorus and chorus of a song all felt like they had hooks for days. And there was room to try different things – for their lead singer Lauren Mayberry to swap out with one of her male counterparts for a track just to change things up, or for a ballad or two that slowly grew into an earworm rather than immediately hitting you over the head, or for some bits of darker, weirder experimentation. 2015’s Every Open Eye could have been more of the same and I’d have been fine with it, and superficially, it felt like it was at first, but I gradually realized it was a streamlining of their sound – the pop hooks were somehow even more driving, the exploratory asides weren’t as frequent, but the album might have flowed slightly better as a result, even if I liked Bones more song-for-song. The group took pride in what they called “keeping it unreal”, and in not seeking out co-writes or a big-name producer whose coattails they could rise to mainstream stardom, instead confidently letting their in-house creations speak for themselves and earn them a formidable audience. When it came time to record their third album, Love Is Dead, however, I started to see hints of the trio kicking at their own constraints. And I wasn’t sure whether to feel intrigued and hopeful about that, or nervous and suspicious.

As it turned out, I had nothing to fear, because Love Is Dead doesn’t represent a radical shift in sound for Chvrches, even if it was the result of a slight re-calibration in their creative process. This time they were willing to work with an outside producer (in this case Greg Kurstin, whose credits include a lot of pretty mainstream pop and rock acts ranging from Adele to the Foo Fighters), to have a guest vocalist on a track (that wasn’t a remix released after the fact, at least), and to actually incorporate bits of live instrumentation that might seem contrary to their fully synthetic M.O. It was made differently, but it doesn’t sound startlingly different at first glance. At times, the songs on Love Is Dead are vintage Chvrches almost to a fault. The surprises, when they do show up, tend to be minor ones – an ambient instrumental break here, a subversion of the expected song structure there, a repetitive chorus that seems like the group might be dumbing it down a bit, only for the lyrics leading up to it to give its bluntness a reason for being. I didn’t love this album at first like I did with Every Open Eye, and it wasn’t the fascinating invitation into a new-yet-old sonic world that Bones was, but my “like” has gradually morphed into “love” as I’ve picked apart the individual songs and realized how most of them turned out to be worthy and vital additions to the Chvrches catalogue, in ways that only the tumultuous events of 2016-2018 could have made possible.

You see, while there are a great number of indisputable classic songs on Chvrches first two albums, I’m actually hard-pressed to tell you what a great deal of them are about, beyond perhaps a lot of relationship angst, or the need to rise up and overcome adversity, or maybe a bit of sinister role-playing. Lauren Mayberry and her bandmates have always been outspoken in interviews when it comes to issues like feminism and fair treatment of artists in the music industry, but if this subject matter has shown up in their music, it’s been pretty well veiled in lyrics that lend themselves to a lot of different interpretations. Love Is Dead has its handful of songs that fit this pattern as well, but it seems to be a bit clearer when the songs have arisen from the group’s frustration with political upheaval in Europe and America, with the role religion plays in contemporary society, with the expectation placed upon high-profile musicians and other celebrities to speak up about these issues, or with the nasty things we say to each other when disagreements about these issues flare up and bridges get burned as a result. It’s a tricky line to walk, because I wouldn’t label the majority of these songs as blatantly political. Chvrches songs tend to be more about the emotional aftermath of these exhausting conflicts, than they are about trying to convince you what side of the conflict to be on. And more than I have on any of their other albums, I find myself relating to the personal wars being waged here.

The downside of this album, if I have to admit to one, is that a lot of the hooks that are going to reach out and grab you most immediately revolve around very repetitive lyrics. It’s almost by design that the group released several of the songs from this album with the most redundant chorus hooks in advance. “Line A, Repeat Line A, Line B, Repeat Line A” is a common chorus structure here. It almost threatens to be an albatross dragging the record down at times, because I was already getting slightly diminished returns from a few songs that did this on Every Open Eye, and my superficial reaction upon first hearing the album was that it felt like there were a bunch more of those. In particular, the group seems obsessed with the words “never” and “ever” on several tracks, leading me to wonder what happened to the more verbose, but still insanely catchy, refrains found on old songs like “Gun” and “Lies”, or even something like “Clearest Blue” that worked its way up to a repetitive hook, but took a really interesting journey to get there. In pretty much every case where this occurs on Love Is Dead, I feel that the verse and/or pre-chorus leading into it is more than strong enough to justify going easy on the chorus. But since the intro hook and the chorus of a song tend to be the things that will most easily stick with a listener hearing them for the first time, the odd result is that the catchiest songs on this album can be the ones that take the longest to grow on you. They almost feel like they’re trying too hard to sell their goods, but then you listen to how intricately the synths and drum programming and little bits of live drums, bass, and occasionally guitar are arranged, and you realize it’s all still decadent enough to warrant the blatant sugar rush. Admittedly, I’m not sure how much longer Chvrches can keep up that particular recipe without it becoming tiresome. So while I’ve given them the coveted “A” grade for a three-album streak now, I kind of hope that if they tweak their process again for album #4, they’ll realize that not every chorus has to be instantly singable in order for a song to be its best self.

INDIVIDUAL TRACKS:

1. Graffiti
If the distorted, stuttering vocal sample at the beginning of this opening track sounds naggingly familiar to you, you’re not alone. It’s been the band’s go-to tactic for album openers since the beginning. “The Mother We Share” is a now-iconic example of it, while “Never Ending Circles” downplayed it slightly in favor of a humongous synth hook, but it was still present. Relying on that same basic tactic to open up this song might seem a bit old hat at this point, and truth be told I was tempted to downgrade the song a bit for it at first, but I came to realize that this is far from all the song has going for it – Lauren’s vocals really soar on the chorus, and lyrically she’s got a bit more to work with on that chorus than in some of the other ones on this album. So I see this track, musically at least, as an example of Chvrches picking up more or less where they last left off, having left off in a really good place. Lyrically, this song wins me over because it makes me think about stuff that a Chvrches song has never made me think about before. Lauren is reminiscing about the old days, playing small-time shows in dodgy pubs with graffiti scrawled in the bathroom stalls and stuff, and recalling that she used to think there’d be some point in the future where they would “grow up” and leave the haphazard lifestyle of their youth behind. It’s sort of implied, even if it’s not explicitly stated, that while the band has an increased audience and they’re playing much larger venues now, that whole lifestyle hasn’t really gone away, leaving that notion of being a grown-up as a goal still not fully attained. For those of us who aren’t touring musicians, I feel like this song still resonates because it’s very easy for us to delude ourselves into thinking we’re “all grown up now” when maturing is a lifelong process – we look at other adults our age who seem to have it together and wonder why we feel like such impostors at the whole “adulting” thing. The point of it isn’t so much about wanting to go back and be young again, or go forward and leave the trappings of your youth entirely behind – it’s more of a realization that “growing up” is a constant journey with no fixed destination.
Grade: A-

2. Get Out
The first single from the album, which was dropped in early 2018, made itself immediately known with two larger-than-life elements – its loud, buzzing synth intro (which was apparently the first thing the band’s collaboration with Kurstin yielded in the studio), and its insanely repetitive chorus – “Can we get out, get out/Get, get, get, out/Get, get, get out of here”. Wow, Lauren, that’s a lot of “get”s. I was really skeptical about this one at first, until I realized it was a lot of fun to sing, and there was plenty to puzzle over in the verses, which seem to describe the push/pull of a relationship in which she’s unclear about whether she wants to escape from the person or escape her current surroundings with the person. Perhaps the most interesting lyrical tidbit comes in the bridge – “So do you want to turn it around?/And do you want to show me how?/You are a kaleidoscope.” I’m not entirely clear on what it means for someone to be a kaleidoscope, but the lyric is just dripping with interesting possibilities, and that’s the sort of creative spin I appreciate in a well-written song. If for some reason this single was the first one you ever heard from Chvrches, and you found the chorus to be annoying or thought it was trying to hard, then as a huge fan of the band I can definitely say I hear your complaint. But there’s a lot to love here if you can look past that one flaw. (I also think it’s worth checking out the Spotify Singles version of this track, which is completely stripped down to just piano, acoustic guitar, and vocals – and which ends up being one of the loveliest performances I’ve ever heard from the band, entirely outside of their usual genre trappings. I wouldn’t have minded that one as a bonus track to bookend the album, actually.)
Grade: A-

3. Deliverance
I feel like my favorite track on the album could be a bit of a dark horse pick, seeing as it’s sandwiched in between the first two singles and, this late in the game, doesn’t seem to be a likely candidate for a follow-up single, since it’s hooks aren’t quite as massive as the singles already released might have led us to expect. It’s still up-tempo and super catchy, though, as the vast majority of Chvrches’ songs tend to be – but I’d have to classify its melody and especially Lauren’s vocal performance as less chirpy than her usual, and more confrontational. That’s not at all a bad thing, as this song seems to be taking on a judgmental religious person who needs to be told to back off. It seems weird to say that I can’t recall this band ever specifically discussing religion in the past – their name is a deliberate misspelling of the word “churches”, after all. But if ever there was a time to put dogmatic loudmouths in their place, now would certainly be that time. What’s interesting is that this isn’t a wholesale condemnation of religion, so much as it is a dare for that person to really put their money where their mouth is – by saying “You better hold on to what you love” and “You better give up on giving up”, she’s noting that they’ve dug their feet in and doubled down on their rhetoric so hard that there’s really no turning back at this point. They’d better turn out to be right, or all of the conflict they’ve caused will have been a colossal waste of time. The chorus is a bit of a quirky one, chopping up the title of the song by repeating a few of its syllables, and even having the audacity to rhyme a word with itself: “Is it deliver-iver-iverance/If you can never, never change?/Is it deliver-iver-iverance/If you hurt me in exchange?” It’s not gonna be for every one, but for me, this is one of the most fun  sing-along moments on the album. And I feel like this highlights the difference between religious convictions that shackle people to mindless dogma, and the ones that set a person free. When expressing your beliefs, are you adamant that your way is the only way and that God has imparted the truths of the universe uniquely to your own little sect? Or are you humble, willing to take the other side seriously in a debate, willing to admit where you might not have thought things through, and allow your faith to be an organic thing that changes over time as you discard the parts of it that cause more suffering than healing? These might be deeper questions than Chvrches realized they would be prompting when they wrote these words, but basically this song helps me to verbalize how I can still consider myself a Christian and yet feel such a massive amount of frustration with the damage that the conservative Evangelical brand of Christianity has done here in America.
Grade: A

4. My Enemy
The second single really threw me for a loop at first, because it’s a slower song and it prominently features an outside vocalist. I believe both of those things are firsts for Chvrches, at least in terms of their single releases. Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National, subs in for the spot where you’d usually expect a Martin Doherty lead vocal – which is usually the sort of thing that comes later in a Chvrches album to begin with. So while I don’t think the end result is as amazing as it could have been, this was still a pretty bold move for the band. The beat’s a little murkier and the synths a little chillier as this song slowly comes to life, with Matt singing rather bitterly about how he’s got no more time to listen to someone whose only goal  seems to be to create more and more strife between them, instead of making even the most feeble attempt to be gracious or understanding. When Lauren takes over for the chorus, it plays out as a bit of a conversation between two people who have clearly come to a breaking point in their relationship, and she lays out the ultimatum: “And you could be my enemy/And you could be my judge/If you could start remembering/All the time that you used up/And you could be my remedy/If you could show me love/If I could stop remembering/All the time that you used up.” It actually took me a while to realize that she was singing “time that you used up”, since she slurs the words a bit and it sounds more like “time that you stop” or “time that you suck” – admittedly it’s not her strongest delivery, but I can still feel the pain behind her words and the slight tinge of hope that just maybe this person will go the “remedy/love” route. I actually thing this song packs more of a punch when heard after “Deliverance” than it does as a stand-alone, and it’s reassuring to be reminded that while Chvrches could easily get away with cranking out one high-octane synthpop song after another and not caring too much about the flow of things beyond that, they’re still putting careful thought into making sure their albums are sequenced in a way that maximizes the impact of each song on the listener. I do find myself wishing for a bit of a stronger finish than this song’s bridge and outro provide – they’re mostly filled with repetitions of vocal and synth samples heard earlier in the song, rather than going for a big climax like “Tether” did back in the day. (Ballads on a Chvrches record are a rare enough event that I’m pretty much always going to compare them to “Tether”, which for me remains their gold standard, and also probably a style/sound that they’re trying to be deliberately about not duplicating too closely.)
Grade: B

5. Forever
Kicking things back into high gear is this song – another album track that I think is incredibly catchy, but that is sandwiched in between two attention-grabbing singles and might get overlooked as a result. It’s clear from the lyrics that the relationship described in the last two songs has been severed, and Lauren’s been struggling to let go of the pain and resentment. This is a pretty typical subject for a relationship-oriented song, but what really sets it apart (apart from the all-around amazing synth and drum programming, of course) is the lines leading into the chorus: “And you will never see my side/And I will always think I’m right/But I always regret the night/I told you I would hate you ’til forever.” She doesn’t seem to regret the relationship ending, but she does seem to regret treating the person harshly and being unwilling to see their point of view. That’s a mature analysis, right there. You never know the future, how a person could change, how you might change, or how new light being shed on facts you didn’t completely understand before might change your assessment of a situation where you could have sworn you were right. Maybe it’s still not a good idea for these two people to be together, but she’s grown weary of holding a grudge and she wishes she hadn’t said stuff that she didn’t mean. Given her aggressive takedown of the self-righteous jerk in “Deliverance” who was so dug in that they were completely unwilling to admit where they might be wrong, I’m glad that she’s willing to apply that same metric to her own treatment of others. Have I mentioned that the actual chorus of this song is mostly just the word “Forever” re-sampled and bouncing off of the walls in time with the high-energy beat? It almost seems like an afterthought due to how strong the build-up from the verse and pre-chorus is before it. That’s what makes a song like this work, even while it’s subverting the expectation that the chorus should be the most memorable part that delivers the lyrical punchline. Also… is that an actual guitar solo in the bridge? It’s pretty distorted, and it could be a synth for all I know, but by golly, it actually sounds like they unapologetically dropped a bit of live instrumentation in there.
Grade: A

6. Never Say Die
Now here’s a song that, if repetitive choruses bother you, is gonna drive you absolutely friggin’ bonkers. I honestly didn’t know what to do with it at first, because the forceful stuttering of the words “Never, never, never, ever/Never, ever, ever say die” almost comes across as an involuntary tic, or an instance of a record skipping when you just want it to move on to some new words already. Even the fact that the chorus has that A/A/B/A structure I mentioned earlier doesn’t help much when the “B” line is “Never, never, never, ever/Never, ever, ever stop”. That’s the toughest part of the song to get your head around if that sort of thing bugs you. The rest of the song though, as far as I’m concerned, is pure gold, from the sweet opening verse that finds Lauren sadly singing about broken promises that things were going to change in a relationship and two people were going to start over with complete honesty and affection for each other. The pre-chorus, once again, is where the true revelation comes in, as she realizes the person’s intentions weren’t pure – they just wanted to maintain control over the situation. “All you want is to play at playing god.” Ouch. As in “Get Out”, the synths get downright mean and dirty at a few points in this song, though it happens during the build-up to the chorus rather than right at the beginning. (The fake handclaps come in at this point just to ratchet up the energy level, sort of like they did in “Recover”.) I had noted in my review of Every Open Eye that I wanted to hear more vocal interplay between Lauren and Martin, and his little interjections of “Didn’t you say that” here actually do spice the song up for me quite a bit. I have to say I’m surprised at how my opinion of this song pretty rapidly changed from “God, what an irritating earworm” to “Huh, I can’t seem to get this thing out of my head, and I can’t say that I mind so much.” It’s an acquired taste. If you like everything else you’ve heard on this record so far, you’ll probably get there. I personally wouldn’t have put it out there as a single to potentially be some new listener’s first taste of the band, but I figure if you love them at their most eloquent, you can at least learn to like them at their most never-ever-ever.
Grade: B+

7. Miracle
This track – the fourth and thus far latest single – was a bit of a latecomer to the album, having been produced with Steve Mac after the bulk of their work with Kurstin was already in the can. It has a bit of a different flavor than the usual Chvrches song, taking a slower but more streetwise approach to the rhythm, at least in the chorus. I can’t recall another Chvrches song that has had more of an “urban” flair to its beat – maybe “Lungs”, but there was more of an 80s feel to that one, while this one feels more modern and anthemic, almost like the big “drop” leading into the chorus was intended to get bodies grinding on the dance floor. I almost don’t want to taint your opinion of the song by saying that the big “Whoa”s in the chorus are kind of Imagine Dragons-y, because I think that would be selling Chvrches a bit short, but there are probably some common influences. Lauren’s transformation from meek to powerful is really notable in this song, as she’s once again backing off from hardcore idealism and just wanting a workable solution to a seemingly unworkable situation: “And I need you to know, I’m not asking for a miracle/But if love is enough, could you let it show?/If you feel it, could you let me know?” I love her use of the idiom “Ask me no questions, I will tell you no lies” and the visual imagery of the line “We’re looking for angels in the darkest of skies”. As in “My Enemy”, once the song’s reached the chorus and its strongest hooks have all been heard, I don’t feel like there’s as much left for it to do in terms of a climax, but the production gives the synths melodies and the stuttering vocal manipulation a chance to shine, so it’s a highly enjoyable listen all the way through even if it’s not doing anything mind-blowing.
Grade: B+

8. Graves
This is the one track where I’d say things get more explicitly political. As explicit as Chvrches songs get, at least – it’s not like the song names specific people or issues, but it’s pretty clear from the lyrics that someone in a position of power is making life difficult and even downright deadly for the masses: “Do you really believe that you can never be sure?/They’re leaving bodies in stairwells, washing up on the shore.” That’s a pretty vivid lyric to lead off a song with. But there’s more to it than just saying this awful thing is happening – the song seems to specifically be addressing a person in a privileged position who could be doing something about it, but isn’t. “Do you really expect us to care what you’re waiting for?/When you’re high in your castle, keeping an eye on the door.” So rather than just taking down their expected political enemies, they seem more intent on galvanizing those who appear to be resistors in name only, paying lip service to the cause but being too comfortable in their ivory towers to truly face the harsh injustices they claim opposition to. “Oh baby, you can look away while they’re dancing on our graves”. I love that the song specifically refers to the audacity someone would need to have to actually dance on a person’s grave – this not only communicates a grotesque and inhumane display of raw power, but it also, in a twisted way, justifies the use of upbeat dance-pop music to communicate this message.
Grade: B+

9. Heaven/Hell
I’d say that this next chunk of songs is the most introverted part of the album. If you’re looking for bangers here, you’re gonna come up a short, but if you’re looking for thought-provoking material and don’t mind the music not being as immediate and flashy, there’s a fair amount to dig into here. This track is the album’s longest at just over five minutes – so far only “Down Side of Me” and “You Caught the Light” have exceeded this length in terms of their album cuts, but those were both quite obviously ballads, where as this song falls somewhere in between ballad and banger territory. The beat is reasonably driving once it comes in, but it’s on the softer, moodier side up until that point, and the band leaves a bit more space in the arrangement to highlight the lyrics. Lauren seems to be wrestling with the question of whether she’s doing more harm than good in her role as a celebrity – is she just another pretty face/voice for fans to fawn over? Is she selling them a message that she herself doesn’t truly believe in? Because she’s making music for people’s entertainment, is it OK for her to present the things she wants to communicate in a catchy and easily digestible package, and is there some impact being lost in doing so? All of these questions seem to swirl about in the background as she prods her own intentions from the point of view of a hypothetical listener: “Is this heaven or is this hell?/Through a silver screen/You’re saying what you mean/But I can’t tell.” I go back and forth between really enjoying this song for its vulnerability and its questions that aren’t easily answered, and coming up a bit on the empty side where the music is concerned. Nothing here sounds particularly off-base compared to the usual Chvrches sound – there’s even a nice little synth breakdown in the bridge section. But it seems like a compromise between a slower arrangement that would have been a more intriguing change of pace for the band, and the sort of synthpop number they could churn out in their sleep at this point, so it’s not one that gets me as excited musically as most of the surrounding tracks do.
Grade: B

10. God’s Plan
It’s interesting to me that the band waited until track 10 to let Martin take over lead vocals for a song. On the last two Chvrches albums I was used to him showing up on track 6, right at the end of Side A (and also closing out Side B in the case of their first album). Perhaps they felt it necessary to offset his lead vocal a bit more from the Matt Berninger guest vocal on “My Enemy”, what with male lead vocals on Chvrches songs being restricted to one or two tracks per album. I’m fine with it. This is a more exploratory, sinister number, whose darker synths and beats remind me slightly of “Science/Visions” from their first album, but which never quite gets to as intensely dark of a place as that one – at least not musically. At first, Martin seems to be singing around a repetitive melody line without having a discernible chorus to arrive at, which is markedly different from the usual Chvrches arrangement. Midway through the song, the beat really kicks in and things get momentarily more intense, complementing the apparent master plan he’s singing about, where his destiny is bound to intertwine with that of someone he loves, whether she likes it or not: “You confide in me/Shamed and maligned/Shaped and defined by God’s plan”. The lyrics are menacing and possessive, which considering the band’s (and especially Lauren’s) outspoken feminist stance, has to be something Martin did deliberately to make the listener stop and think, rather than an expression the way he actually approaches relationships. (At least, I would hope.) It’s interesting that Lauren only chimes in for all of two words at the climax of the song when Martin sings fatalistically, “You belong with me/Tonight at least we can die in silence.” She’s been silent for the entire song aside from those two words: “In silence”. It makes perfect sense, considering that this is an obsessive love song in which the woman’s point of view isn’t even really being considered – much like a lot of male-centric love stories we’ve been taught to accept as romantic, in which the women are really just prizes to be won, rather than fully fleshed-out characters with their own goals and ambitions. The coda, in which Martin questions, “Tell me, is it worth it now?” seems to indicate some regret, but it’s expressed after it’s too late, because I definitely get an “If I can’t have you, no one can” sort of vibe from this song. I’m guessing it’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever been in a relationship with an overly controlling person who doesn’t seem to value the thoughts and opinions of the one they claim to love. As with the other Martin-fronted tracks on Chvrches records thus far, this certainly won’t be for everyone, and even for the folks who do end up liking it, it’ll probably be a grower. But I enjoy it and think it’s a nice change of pace at a point where, on first listen, I had almost given up on expecting a curveball like this to show up.
Grade: B+

11. Really Gone
Stripping everything down to just keyboards and voice was a tactic used on the Every Open Eye closer, “Afterglow”, but I actually like how they approached it here a great deal more than I did on that track, which to me felt like more of a short epilogue than a full-fledged song. This one uses the synth to create a slow, pulsating rhythm for the song in lieu of any drum programming, and there’s a brighter synth melody overlaid on top of it, but the main attraction here is Lauren’s beautiful, highly vulnerable voice. She’s basically clinging to the ghost of a doomed relationship at this point, trying to tend to the wounds they’ve inflicted upon each other over the years and hoping there’s still something left to salvage, but realizing deep down that it’s probably only a matter of time before it’s over for good. You can hear the conflict in her voice as it soars on the chorus, hanging out all there by its lonesome with the minimal accompaniment: “And I’m holding on, I’m holding on/I’ll wait until you’re really gone/And try to find another way/But I cannot stay.” Coming from most other bands, I would think those lyrics were especially vague, but I can really feel the tension between her more emotional desire to work things out and her resignation that leaving is probably the wiser thing to do, and this is of course informed by a handful of songs earlier in the album that seemed to further flesh out the conflict. I actually would have been OK with this as the closing track – 11 songs is a good run for most pop albums, and that’s where Every Open Eye decided to end it. But I like that instead, this is really the penultimate song, the quiet spotlight number before the full band comes back to close out the show in grand style.
Grade: B+

12. ii
An instrumental track on a Chvrches album is certainly a first. It’s a small, but interesting surprise, providing a short segue between “Really Gone” and the closing track where, over an especially gloomy piano melody, some distorted clips of Lauren speaking can be heard in the background. I can’t make out most of it, but it sounds like she’s leaving a voicemail or having a conversation that we don’t get to hear the other side of, rationalizing that she still loves someone but making it clear in her tone of voice that she’s weary. This was originally intended as an intro to the final song rather than a stand-alone track, which means that we get a rather nice segue into…
Grade: B

13. Wonderland
…a synth melody that picks up right where the piano left off. I love the way that transition worked out, because I can’t think of any other up-tempo Chvrches songs that led off with very slow instrumental openings – this feels like an intriguing way to spice up what could have otherwise struck me as just one more upbeat synthpop number arbitrarily placed at the end of the album. It helps me to understand that Chvrches had a reason for closing with this one rather than a ballad. In addition to the usual programmed elements, I’m hearing quite a bit more live bass (which I’m guessing is Iain Cook‘s doing – I feel bad for not having mentioned the band’s third member up until now, but it’s only because all three of them are so integral to the band’s sound and they overlap on a lot of the synth and programming duties that, aside from vocals, I often can’t tell who’s contributing what). There’s also sampling of more organic percussion sounds here and there. This might be an example of Kurstin nudging them a bit outside of their comfort zone, but again, this isn’t a major game-changer, just a slight course correction to help the stakes feel a little bit higher as the album comes to a close. In keeping with the overarching theme of the album, which has explored various types of conflict and abuse that can slowly kill off a person’s ability to love another person, they choose to end the album by emphasizing the ongoing conflict between idealism (wanting to stay) and realism (wanting to go): “Can’t live forever/With my head in the clouds/Can’t predict the weather/With my feet on the ground.” As with a lot of their song titles, this one’s really about the opposite of what the title signifies – realizing one can’t live in Wonderland any more, rather than expressing an escapist longing for a place (or more likely, a storybook romance) that doesn’t really exist. This one’s quite beautifully constructed – it may not be the most attention-grabbing of the upbeat songs on this record, but there’s a sense of purpose in how its verse builds into its pre-chorus and its chorus, reminding me once again of how much effort this band puts into all segments of its songs, making sure they feed off of each other instead of just being random snippets of melody that repeat at the expected times. This is the strongest closer on any Chvrches album thus far, and thanks to the intro, it also sounds like the sort of thing they could easily open a concert or begin an encore with, too – it has the sort of arc to it that makes it feel like every bit as much of a beginning as an ending.
Grade: A-

WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Graffiti $1.50
Get Out $1.50
Deliverance $1.75
My Enemy $1
Forever $1.75
Never Say Die $1.25
Miracle $1.25
Graves $1.25
Heaven/Hell $1
God’s Plan $1.25
Really Gone $1.25
ii / Wonderland $1.75
TOTAL: $16.50

BAND MEMBERS:
Lauren Mayberry: Lead vocals, synthesizers, sampling
Iain Cook: Synthesizers, guitar, bass, backing vocals
Martin Doherty: Synthesizers, sampling, backing vocals

LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
https://open.spotify.com/album/5dj2UjtSxuKGlb17Bzu1mL

MORE USEFUL LINKS:
http://chvrch.es/
https://www.facebook.com/CHVRCHES

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