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Chvrches make a poisonous declaration of love

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing

Was there a better description of love in 2013 than “I’ll be a thorn in your side till you die”? That lyric, from Chvrches cacophonously beautiful “We Sink,” the second track on The Bones Of What You Believe, was applied to a self-destructive, codependent relationship dissected in the song’s lyrics, but it might as well apply to any relationship serious enough to leave bruises, a list that includes even the best marriage of all time. That’s the brilliance of “We Sink”: The verses take the short view, two people trapped in a locked room together with no way out, but the chorus looks ahead to the future, where even if one or both escape that room, the experience will always haunt them. 

Art frequently presents love as something perfect and wonderful, a visitation from the heavens that just so happens to alight on two humans at just the right time. And to be sure, there are times and places where that’s exactly the kind of song you want to hear, where all you need is to turn up the radio and sing along to something schmoopy. And there are plenty of songs that take the opposite view, the “fuck you!” songs to former lovers who’ve spurned the singer, meant to assuage pain in the face of a break-up.

Far less common is the genre into which “We Sink” properly fits: the “fuck you for not letting me go” song, a subset of music that includes such classics as Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and The Mountain Goats’ “No Children.” Any relationship will reach a point—even if just for a moment—where both parties are essentially ready to call it quits, but nobody’s ready to pull the pin on the grenade, because staying together is just easier than falling apart. “We Sink” works because it puts this sentiment in the ethereal vocals of Lauren Mayberry, who sounds like she’s floating above the dissolution of her own relationship, not just able to see all the pain it’s causing the two people in it but all of the pain it will cause her and her lover in the future, even if the two of them find their way to a reconciliation or a graceful exit. 

The lyrics are simple to the point of abstraction. Anyone who’s been in love that’s curdled has been in this situation, to the point where all Mayberry needs to say is “I’ve come apart, and you made me” or “We are gonna fall if you lead us,” and the listener knows exactly what she means. Best of all is the bridge, in which chanting background singers repeat “Say, say, say” while Mayberry sings, “Can you not see why/ Love was/ That you see cry,” words that almost form a complete statement but not quite, even as they get across perfectly the endless vortex the singer and her lover are trapped in.

Yet it’s that chorus I keep coming back to. There are scars I still bear from high school girlfriends and memories of vicious nightlong fights with a wife I’ve had a 99.999 percent happy marriage with. We all have thorns, and we are all thorns to someone. Mayberry and her lover might find a way out, but they’ll always be sinking together.