I bet if you told anyone catching one of the many showcases that CHVRCHES performed at SXSW that they were looking at one of the members of the perennially introspective soundscapey The Twilight Sad, they’d likely look at you as if, finally, someone had reached the physical limit of Lone Star consumption. But hey, that guy up there behind synths, Martin Doherty, just so happened to be a live member of the acclaimed Scottish group. Now if you said that Lauren Mayberry has a four-year law degree and a masters in journalism, and an award winner at that for discussing hygiene and body piercings in an essay, people would probably dismiss you faster than a shabby freshly transplanted hipster dismisses any life experience as subpar.
But those are the surprises you find as Recover, the first EP from CHVRCHES, is the culmination of years spent in and around various bands in the musically rich city of Glasgow. Lauren spent time in Blue Sky Archives, previously a drummer herself, while Iain Cook on synths and vocals spent time with Aereogramme. United by synths and vocals, the trio is the latest in a burgeoning batch of synthpop groups that gained traction with “The Mother We Share,” a glittering gem that took 48 hours to make that tugs the early 90s into today, complete with its highlighters and multi-ink colored pens. Think if Passion Pit did a guest appearance on Saved by the Bell.
“Recover” opens the EP, an impressive statement right off the bat that, given the previous singles “The Mother We Share” and “Lies,” had strong potential to overwhelm the rest of the EP as with early Icona Pop and even to a certain extent Purity Ring. It’s an enrapturing pop jewel, the kind of sound you know certain major pop producers will be salivating over. The chorus, “And you take what you need, and you know you don’t need me,” balances back and forth between punctuated urgency and sweeping beauty in Lauren’s singing. It’s easily her voice that, on first impression, is the keystone of CHVRCHES, until the EP continues into “Zvvl.”
Outside of concerts, “Zvvl” is progression out of the gate. Lauren steps back, giving way to Iain and Martin, showing much more room to develop and grow than Purity Ring or typical Neon Gold pop artists. The male vocals call forth The xx to mind, serving as a weight while the track is notoriously darker. A surprisingly darker side of synths that channels the group away from immediately pigeon holing them as a one shot. “Now Is Not The Time” draws the trio back into what they’ve introduced us to with their 80s pop, now complete with a makeshift roller rink video below. It doesn’t slow the EP down, but takes the foot off the hype accelerator. Perfect for a dance floor, it’s a midtempo track that strategically dips back, tugging memories to early years of MTV and hair spray.
The Glasgow trio chose CHVRCHES to echo that “big and bold” nature of a church (then confided that maybe it was because “You could tell your mom what it was and not feel really embarrassed.”). Recover isn’t as brash as Passion Pit’s Chunk of Change was in 2008, but serves as a superb bridge into whatever the upcoming debut album may sound like. If it’s more vocals from Martin & Iain, it’ll be less shocking now that it’s been established. The Scottish trio has something interesting churning around Glasgow, and given their buzz in Austin and this EP on Glassnote, don’t expect it to fade or let up any time soon.