There’s not much to dislike about CHVRCHES’ debut album of unblemished, grandiose, subtly morose synth pop, which is remarkably engineered for a first record. In just a year, the Glaswegian internet phenoms have crafted something that recalls the moody, cohesive, dreamy pop of M83’s 2011 hit, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, an album that came a full decade into that band’s career. But though The Bones of What You Believe benefits from youthful confidence and an industry eager to capitalize on the next big buzz band, it suffers from having no real identity. The individual songs often hint at something deeper, primarily through the use of contrast—specifically, the way Lauren Mayberry sings of yearning and menace in a wide-eyed, girl-next-door trill. “I’ll be a thorn in your side ’til you die,” she coos on “We Sink” over chugging, kaleidoscopic techno-inspired production.
Those Taylor Swift–ian vocals compete for attention with the wall-of-synth patchwork programmed by bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. The three create synth-based pastiches—vocal triggers, ricocheting drum machines, snare-clap patches—that manage to simultaneously sound like Robyn, Passion Pit, Young Galaxy, and Arcade Fire.
This is music for the kind of person who prefaces a band endorsement with, “I don’t really like synth pop, but….” Don’t misunderstand—that accessibility works, particularly on the chirrupy doom and gloom of “By the Throat.” But TBWYB sorely lacks both something to call its very own and a clear indication of the band’s future potential. This is an album of stadium-calibrated digi-pop that’s very relevant to 2013—and that’s all. On the glossy, well-produced surface, CHVRCHES sound like they have it all figured out, but they’ve still got work to do.