CHVRCHES is in session


Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry of the Scottish electronic band CHVRCHES, sings during their set on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 9. The group performed a free show in honor of homecoming week. (The Daily Iowan/Brooklynn Kascel)


By Girindra Selleck
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It was a big Homecoming weekend in Iowa City. The Oct. 10 win over Illinois brought Hawkeye football to a best-in-years national ranking of No. 17 in the AP poll, an historic, long-overdue Cubs-Cardinals postseason meeting divides the city, and Sunday brought wins to two of the city’s most beloved NFL teams, Chicago and Green Bay. 

But before all this, on a cool evening on Oct. 9, people were packed together on the Pentacrest lawn for another reason: to welcome one of the world’s hottest indie bands. The hype began months ago, when SCOPE announced it had landed CHVRCHES, the Glasgow-based synth-pop band, as the Homecoming headliner.

By Saturday morning, after everyone’s ears had stopped ringing, it became clear SCOPE had hit a home run. The night kicked off with a good-enough but somewhat monotonous performance by opener Mansionair, but the show really started when CHVRCHES’ bandmembers and producers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty came out, took their stations at the twin synthesizers, and a monstrous garbled bass and synths rang out across the eager crowd of flannel- and beanie-clad fans. It was only moments before lead singer Lauren Mayberry came bouncing out onto stage in a cropped perfecto jacket, rattling off effortless trills and soaring high notes to contrast the menacing instrumentals. In this juxtaposition, CHVRCHES’ music is the most interesting.

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The band first rose to prominence in 2013 with the release of its début album, The Bones of What You Believe, which stunned critics with its expert synthesis of the genre’s conventions and aspects of more hard-core techno or house music. Today, CHVRCHES has cemented itself as one of the genre’s pioneers and is hot on the release of its second album, Every Open Eye. On its sophomore effort, the membes attempt to push the genre even further than on the first album by putting even more of an emphasis on the “synth” in synth-pop.

The astonishing thing about CHVRCHES is if you remove Mayberry’s angelic vocals, the bare bones of many tracks would almost pass as appropriate in the famously gritty Berlin techno scene. This is most evident in such tracks as The Bones of What You Believe In’s “We Sink,” a charging, relentless opus that pushes the genre’s “pop” title as far as it can bend without breaking. This makes the band’s success as an indie crossover all that much more of an accomplishment, as even in the post-dubstep, EDM-dominated music scene, making monotonous, rattling synths palatable to the masses is quite a feat.

If the Oct. 9 slam-dunk concert is any indicator of the future for CHVRCHES, we should all keep an open eye fixed on the group’s career in the years to come.

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