Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe
Scottish band Chvrches is greater than the sum of its parts on its debut full-length. The trio’s airy synth-pop sounds impeccable (if somewhat indistinct) as it takes cues from stompy goth, candy-coated techno and exuberant new wave, along with acts such as Yaz, M83 and Sleigh Bells. Thankfully, frontwoman Lauren Mayberry—an ethereal dynamo with a soaring range and canny interpretive abilities—saves the day, oozing confidence on the battle-ready “Science/Visions,” ’80s radio sugarbomb “By the Throat” and the syncopated sock-hop “Lies.” In fact, Bones is least compelling when she cedes the vocal spotlight to her male bandmates, as on “Under the Tide.” Overall, the record is more mesmerizing than not, justifying Chvrches’ hype.
Lorde, Pure Heroine
On her highly anticipated debut album, 16-year-old New Zealand phenom Lorde doesn’t stray far from the influences and themes that made her smash “Royals” so irresistible. That’s a smart move: The enjoyable Pure Heroine mashes together laid-back hip-hop, Bat for Lashes-style indie quirks and pulsating synth-pop, splashed with brittle piano (“Buzzcut Season”) and dainty ’60s-pop (“White Teeth Teens”). Lyrically, Heroine rings most true when Lorde writes what she knows: grappling with change and growing up (“Ribs”), feeling intimidated and apart from peers (“White Teeth Teens,” who are delightfully characterized like zombies from a horror movie) and driving around boring suburbia with a crush (“400 Lux”). She’s less successful—and sounds more generic—when the album heads more mainstream, as on the Katy Perry-lite “Team” and robust hip-hop “Glory and Gore.”
Icona Pop, This Is… Icona Pop
For its first U.S.-released album, the Swedish duo Icona Pop could have penned multiple variations on massive hit “I Love It” and called it a day. To the band’s credit, it doesn’t; even better, This Is goes a long way to help the band avoid one-hit-wonder status. The record is a riotous celebration of debauchery, friendship and hanging on in tough times, all soundtracked by slick EDM (“Ready for the Weekend,” “All Night”), booming techno (“We Got the World”) and even reggae-influenced pop (“Light Me Up”). This Is goes out of its way to keep things unexpected; for example, there’s a 2Pac lyrical nod on “Girlfriend” and a hushed church choir at the start of “Ready for the Weekend.” It’s easy to love these curveballs—and this catchy album.