Church of Scars
Teleport Records / Island Records · April 20, 2018
Rising indie pop artist Sarah Grace McLaughlin, better known as Bishop Briggs, released her debut album Church of Scars after three years in the making, but you wouldn’t think that from the sound of it. In 2016, when she released ‘River,’ rightfully one of the biggest songs of the summer, it seemed as if McLaughlin had a promising future. But once she finally released her highly anticipated debut album, it was clear that ‘River’ was still the best McLaughlin had to offer. Although the rest of the album isn’t necessarily bad, the other nine tracks are, at best, ‘River’ knock offs. The only time that you see something exciting from McLaughlin is when she lets her vulnerable voice through.
McLaughlin’s style of pop has quickly become something unique to herself. Its darkness is reminiscent of Tove Lo, but with the ethereal qualities of Florence + the Machine. She has one of the most powerful voices in pop today, and this demanding quality is best seen on ‘River.’ The lead single is a strong, driving beat with McLaughlin singing about the tension behind pushing someone to their limit. The confidence behind the song is addicting. But this sound continues on the rest of the album while the lyrics only sometimes reach a special place.
‘Tempt My Trouble’ is basically a lighter, breathier ‘River.’ The beat is almost exactly the same to the point where she could sing ‘Tempt My Trouble’ to the beat of ‘River’ and I would never know the difference. Lyrically, ‘Tempt My Trouble’ is so incredibly vague that they don’t let you in on McLaughlin as an artist at all. If anything, it’s just disappointing to see an artist with such a huge voice not take a risk musically.
On other tracks, McLaughlin just simply fails to create anything memorable. On ‘The Fire’ she continues this trope of letting love go because she’s apparently “the devil.” By never reaching any sort of specific vulnerability, the track (like most of the rest of the album) sounds whiny. Her voice is again center stage, but when nothing interesting is happening in the lyrics, the choice to dim down the production seems almost lazy. On ‘Hallowed Ground,’ I begin to feel as if something could work out for McLaughlin as she strays from the same driving beat found in almost the rest of the record. But once the chorus comes around your left with a cheap beat that sounds like it was made on GarageBand.
Other than ‘River’ and another previously released single ‘White Flag,’ the only other song on Church of Scars that makes me want to keep listening to McLaughlin is ‘Water.’ It’s the only true ballad on the album, and it shows off her strong voice in the best way possible. McLaughlin finally finds her voice on ‘Water.’ She sings about falling for someone like “a stone in your water.” It feels like McLaughlin reaches a resolution after thirty minutes of whining about being bad at love with lines like “bad love hurts, but somehow good love hurts me worse.” The finality of this admittance is refreshing.
So McLaughlin’s debut wasn’t the smashing success she was going for, but nothing can take away the fact that she has an incredible voice. If she begins to take more risks, she will be a force to be reckoned with.