CHVRCHES single ‘How Not to Drown’ suffocates under different sound 

Photo of CHRVCHES cover art
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CHVRCHES, the Scottish indie-pop trio known for its glittery and upbeat sound, is back with a single that features a more intimate feel not usually found in its single releases. “How Not to Drown,” released in preparation of the band’s upcoming album Screen Violence and debuting Aug. 27, features Robert Smith of The Cure — making for an awkward pairing and overall disconnected track.

The single, first released on Zane Lowe’s podcast on Apple Music, begins with the lyric, “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown,” alluding to the serious change in pace this single brings. Martin Doherty, a member of the group, posted on social media that the making of the single brought him “equilibrium” in his battle with mental health. The ongoing pandemic has brought a sense of loneliness even to stars such as Doherty, who confesses that the release of the single is confirmation that “even when things seem like they’re at their worst, something good can grow.” 

2018’s Love is Dead, the group’s most recent album, featured hits such as “Miracle” and “Get Out,” which stayed consistent to CHRVCHES’ debut 2013 sound in its breakthrough album, The Bones of What You Believe. The group usually grounds its lyrics with steady enthusiasm, but on “How Not to Drown,” it trades in the optimistic synths and punctuated beats typical to other bands for Smith’s alluring goth-rock sound.   

Smith’s charming vocals appear to complement the single’s overall dark horse energy. Still, it can’t be denied that the melodies throughout the single sound like they would be a better fit for The Cure. CHRVCHES’ lead singer, Lauren Mayberry, usually overpowers whomever is backing her, but the combination of Smith and Mayberry makes for two puzzle pieces that seem like they would fit together perfectly, but just don’t. 

The single has a more serious tone that breaks away from the usual upbeat indie clichés with lyrics such as, “We will never escape this town,” and “It’s better if I make no sound.” While the lyrics would not sound as jarring if bolstered by the group’s familiar, tighter sound, the lyrics’ authenticity is drowned out by the single’s scattered, incoherent guitar-and-bass backing. Mayberry’s usual strength on the song is covered up by everything else going on in the background. Although the single has a patterned, storytelling quality found in the indie-pop genre, Smith’s additions should have been more decisive, and the mixture of the serious lyrics with the discordant sound stands out like a sore thumb.

The single’s uniqueness and feature of Smith definitely adds to the band’s discography, maybe even prefacing a different sound on the upcoming album. Although it is disappointing that the single does not stay between the lines of what is usually found in a CHVRCHES song, the song provides a freshness not yet discovered in the group. The other prereleased single for the album, “He Said She Said,” provides similar synths to usual singles while still leaping over boundaries of what the group has already surpassed. “How Not to Drown” also reaches for something new, but its awkward, disjointed composition prevents it from reaching the same heights. 

Contact Kaitlin Clapinski at [email protected].