This past summer, pop radio beat listeners to death with Daft Punk’s return from Studio 54, Robin Thicke’s perceived predatory tendencies, and Miley Cyrus’ problematic appropriation of black culture. But the heavy radio rotation of the aforementioned songs seemed to reveal that these were summer simmers rather than jams; a few mild tracks rather than ones that brought any real heat. Yet, in the background, three buzzworthy trios released hits that are the lead ins to their highly anticipated September debuts. CHVRCHES, London Grammar, and HAIM all have different pop stylistic approaches that use a semblance of electronic instrumentation to get there.
CHVRCHES is comprised of Scotland’s Lauren Mayberry (vocals, synthesizers), Iain Cook (synthesizers, guitar, bass, and vocals), and Martin Doherty (synthesizers, samplers, and vocals). Out of all the aforementioned groups, CHVRCHES relies the heaviest on a synthesized sound that you would think was broadcasted from a spaceship hovering over the United Kingdom. Their songs can leave you feeling vulnerable (“Recover”) or in command (“Lies”) which stems from Mayberry’s ability to contort the sweet innocence of her voice to the production of Cook and Doherty.
The group released their EP, Recover, in March 2013 which showcased a group whose specialty seemed to be a damaged emotional psyche. In July 2013, they released “Gun” which, like “Lies”, was the antithesis of the affected lover persona that Mayberry flexed on most of the EP. Here, that hurt lover is now vengeful, vindictive, and is waiting for you in your worst nightmares. You quickly learn going through their catalog that CHVRCHES has more in common with those living on Elysium rather than the ruins of Earth beneath.
While Doherty, Cook, and Mayberry are able to fluctuate between devastated and amoral, London Grammar puts you in a stranglehold and never lets go. They are a heart aching Anaconda that slowly squeezes you until your final gasp emits into a cold night. The music is sparse and sweeping; utilizing only one synthesizer that seems to create space rather than fill it. The bulk of their music is picked up by the heavy lifting of vocalist, Hannah Reid. Her voice is strong and has the physicality of a gut punch on songs like “Wasting My Young Years”, “Strong”, and “Hey Now”. It’s reminiscent of Florence Welch if she were able to achieve the cinematic, THX quality that Reid pulls off almost effortlessly.
London Grammar’s backing core, guitarist Dan Rothman and multi-instrumentalist producer Dot Major, create these blank widescreen canvas through slow building chords, patterned drums, and tons of reverb. The deeply affected vocals of Reid drive home the intensely saddened subject matter of broken ties and the frustration of growing old. But the group’s biggest credit this summer came in the form of a feature on UK garage duo Disclosure’s debut album, Settle. Here, “Help Me Lose My Mind” is searching for a partner rather than searching for an answer to why a partner left. It’s a groove that has shot up their stock and adds to an already impressive collection of songs for the young band.
While CHVRCHES searches for an effective way to ruin your mental state and London Grammar is busy crooning about a lost connection, the Haim sisters (Este, Danielle, and Alana) are across the pond soaking in sunshine and endless power pop records from the late-70s. The sisters, collectively known as HAIM, revel in fun and playfulness; something their quirky music videos put at the forefront. They look like they stepped out of a time traveling Trans-Am with music that suggests they could be from that era if it weren’t for the fact that it was executed on digital instruments.
The Fleetwood Mac comparisons are exhaustingly endless but not without warrant. The sisters seem to have a knack for knowing how the group would’ve sounded in the current pop music mold. The song structures follow suit to some of Fleetwood Mac’s biggest pop hits but so far they’ve managed to avoid the more serious tone of “Gold Dust Woman” and “Rhiannon”. Instead, they opt for more harmless songs like “Forever” and “Falling” that strike you with lush similarities to “Everywhere”. Their July release, “The Wire”, is a break up diddy that ends a summer fling with little to no after thought. It’s resemblance to The Eagles’ ‘here goes nothing’ attitude of “Heartache Tonight” is uncanny. It’s a perfect, hurried way to say goodbye to a summer filled with blockbuster let downs.
While the three trios could have found success in a season without a unified anthem, I think each has reason to look forward to owning the fall. It’s open season as many of pop music’s major players have already dropped albums or have become too concerned with their own image to branch out musically. With only one release date varying from the September 30th date (CHVRCHES on Sept. 24th), the rule of three may ring true for these acts.