The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was said to have described his work as a journey from darkness into light. The same could be said for Chvrches’ energetic sophomore album Every Open Eye. Both darkness and light are recurring lyrical motifs within many of the empowering songs on the new record. Additionally, the aforementioned symbolic journey can be applied to the Glaswegian trio’s transition from the somber, more dramatic moments of their 2013 debut The Bones of What You Believe to the more mainstream-friendly, anthemic optimism of Every Open Eye.
Unlike Chvrches’ first album, the songs on Every Open Eye sound more fully formed, as if they were composed on analog instruments in an intimate setting rather than on a computer in a studio. It’s not hard to imagine each of these new tracks being performed with only Lauren Mayberry’s dynamic vocals and an acoustic guitar without losing an ounce of their emotional resonance. Don’t let this description lead you to believe Chvrches have traded their signature synthpop sound for placid indie folk. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Every Open Eye is an album built for the dance floor.
In just under four minutes, the album’s strong opener, “Never Ending Circles”, with its digitally treated oohs and ahs, rat-a-tat-tat synthetic drum breaks, and soaring chorus simultaneously reintroduces Chvrches to their fans while demonstrating the band’s strengths to the as yet uninitiated. Other first half highlights include: the tension build and release of “Keep You on My Side”, and the galloping “Clearest Blue”, which two minutes in explodes into a stunning dance beat and keyboard riff reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”.
It’s at the album’s halfway mark that Mayberry steps aside and lets one of the boys have a turn at the mic for the song “High Enough to Carry You Over”. At first the vocalist changeup is a bit jarring to the ear, sounding for a moment as if Every Open Eye has been suddenly replaced by an entirely different album. However, once the track’s R&B-esque chorus arrives it’s hard to resist getting pulled back in by what surprisingly turns out to be one of the record’s finest moments.
Highlights included on the second half of Every Open Eye include: the first of the album’s two ballads “Down Side of Me”, which features charming, echoing, overlapping vocals, “Playing Dead”, a song that may be the edgiest moment on the record as well as the only one featuring what sounds like a distorted electric guitar, and the album’s percussion-less closer, a ballad called “Afterglow”, which works as a beautiful finale, finding Mayberry conclusively repeating, “I’ve given up all I can,” over lovely, cascading synth-washes.
Moving away from the darker, more subversive elements that accounted for some of the tracks on The Bones of What You Believe in exchange for the upbeat, hopeful lyrics and music that make up the majority of songs on Every Open Eye was a brave and risky gamble. Fortunately, Chvrches managed to successfully create a more mainstream sounding album that opens the door to a wider audience without abandoning the core aesthetics that won them praise and devotees two years ago.