CHVRCHES, “Love Is Dead” (Glassnote Records)
In one of those divine twists, two very different artists are offering songs titled “God’s Plan” this year. You probably know the one by Drake. But there’s also one by the Scottish synth pop group CHVRCHES. It may not top the Billboard Hot 100 but it’s still a great, hypnotic gem.
“God’s Plan” is part of the sonically bright but thematically still gloriously dark “Love Is Dead,” the trio’s third album. Those thick, suffocating blankets of synth from 2013’s “The Bones of What You Believe” have been hacked away, offering a cleaner, lighter and, yes, more commercial sound than even their 2015 breakthrough “Every Open Eye.”
But CHVRCHES have always deceived, offering 1980s-influenced pop with depth. Lyrically, the band is at its best here, exploring man’s inhumanity to man while still making high-energy songs.
Nowhere is that more evident than on the synthesizers-and-drum-fueled “Graves,” with the punch-in-the-gut lyrics: “They’re leaving bodies in stairwells/and washing up on the shore/You can look away, while they’re dancing on our graves.”
CHVRCHES — Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty — have gotten producing help this time, a first. Nine of the 13 tracks were produced by Greg Kurstin, who has worked with everyone from Halsey and Adele to Sia and the Foo Fighters. Many of his songs seem to flirt with bubblegum pop if you’re not paying attention.
The best song on the album is the first single, “Miracle,” the only tune on the album produced by Steve Mac. It begins with Mayberry’s airy, angelic voice — “Careful what you wish for,” she sings — before gradually taking the listener into heavier, distorted terrain.
Other standouts include the throbbing, almost Taylor Swiftian “Get Out” and the gauzy “My Enemy” featuring Matt Berninger of The National, their voices melding nicely.
The album ends with “Wonderland,” a perfect summation of CHVRCHES: a crisp poppy delight with the whiplash lyrics: “We live in a wonderland,” Mayberry sings, before adding: “Like blood isn’t on our hands.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits