Any question about whether Chvrches will be able to adequately follow up the arresting pop from their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, is eradicated within the first seconds of the Swedish band’s sophomore release. Every Open Eye doesn’t roar to life or even explode into being. Instead, album opener “Never Ending Circles” simply is from the very beginning, as if a needle had been dropped square in the middle of a eternal pop epic. The track builds its extended chorus on a fantastic hook, but it feels deliriously as if it’s all hook, indeed hooks overlapping other hooks until it becomes a steely, swirling chain fashioned out of repurposed disco balls, preferably by a metallurgist in strobing platform heels. Great as the peaks of their prior album were, there was a sense that Chvrches was of the moment, unlikely to duplicate, much less build on their artistic success. On the evidence of Every Open Eye, those doubts can be shaken off like so much sweat after a riotous hour or two on the dance floor.
As before, Chvrches draws upon the history of pop music from about the time synthesizers and other electronics started to usurp the iron throne guitars rested comfortably atop. The disco of the nineteen-seventies flows into the new wave of the eighties and that burbling eddy is met by spidery tributaries of house and trip hop and just about any other subgenre reflexively filed into the “Dance” section of the record store. The resulting body of sound is jubilant and bright, though its often marked by lyrics that hold more complicated emotions, such as the confident stroll of “Leave a Trace,” which concedes, “You took far too much/ For someone so unkind/ I will wipe the salt off from my skin/ And I’ll admit that I got it wrong/ And there is grey between the lines.” Lead singer Lauren Mayberry has one of the great voices in current pop, in part because she slinks up rather than bulldozes in, the layers of emotion emerging in an almost novelistic fashion. She helps the songs tell a different story than is immediately apparent.
There are times when one preceding era becomes a little more prominent, as on “High Enough to Carry You Over,” which moves with a little more on an eighties feel thanks in large part to Mayberry yielding lead vocal duties to Martin Doherty, his thin, emotive tenor placing it on level ground with any number of quasi-anonymous Brit bands that moved in and out of MTV rotation in the decade that it defined music. That’s not a bad thing. Many of those songs that flashed into temporary prominence were amazing. More often, though, the songs sound like they were crafted by someone whose psyche was shaped by a ride in a racing time machine. The charging “Keep You On My Side” has a periodic twinkly, cascading keyboard line that Giorgio Moroder might have dropped onto a single thirty years ago, but it also has the pounding insistence of the sort of dance music that only emerged a decade or two after that. Weirdly, thrillingly, this loose, lucid amalgamation of sonic signatures make the whole album simultaneously come across as sweetly timeless and fiercely modern.
I adore the bounding “Empty Threat,” the churning triumphalism of “Playing Dead” (“You can tell me to move and I won’t go/ You can tell me to try and I won’t go”), and the sugar-laced sadness of “Afterglow.” More important than the affection I feel for the individual pieces, I appreciate that they fit together on the same album, distinctive enough and yet clearly manifestations of the same musical vision. Every Open Eye is precisely the sort of outing I hope to encounter from a band in their beginning stages: one that signals purpose and, just maybe, permanence. And, by God, you can dance to it.