For a lot of bands, self-producing an album is something that comes as their career progresses and builds, a kind of reward for success. At their best, self-produced albums enrich the creative landscape by allowing the artists to fully realise their vision, leaving the audience indelibly changed by the experience. At their worst, they are self-indulgent messes which leave the listener wishing someone had been in the studio to tell the artist “no, just no”. In an interesting inversion of the norm, the third album from Glaswegian trio Chvrches, Love Is Dead, is their first record not to be self-produced.
Chvrches have always been known for their clean, synth-pop sound, but with Greg Kurstin sitting in the producer’s chair that sound has been buffed to a dazzling sheen. Graffiti opens Love Is Dead in a declarative fashion, with the luscious clarity and space in the song’s sound demonstrating how the bar has been raised with regards to production values. Lauren Mayberry’s crystalline vocals continue to be enchanting, as with the delicate vibrato featured on Graffiti and the vocal multi-tracking on lead single Get Out, but even with the excellent vocal performance, the latter track is rather unremarkable.
This refined sound of Love Is Dead leaves large swathes of the album feeling featureless and bland. Steve Mac lends a hand on Miracle, but this just adds a dancey tint to the shine. The National’s Matt Berninger appears on My Enemy, and his vocal contribution adds a welcome new texture to the album, contrasting nicely with Mayberry’s voice. Towards the album’s end, God’s Plan offers a pleasing shift in tone and Martin Doherty’s vocals provide Mayberry with a brief reprieve from the spotlight until the melancholic ballad Really Gone. Raising the bar on the production values on Love Is Dead is certainly a step forward, but the characterless sound that predominates feels like two steps back.