Ever since Chvrches debut, they’ve had this elegant veil that has allowed them to differentiate from other synth-pop bands making music today. They know who they are, as opposed to consistently reworking their image after each album. It shows Chvrches confidence on both ends as frontwoman Lauren Mayberry and bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty have great synergy; more so today with the process behind recording their new album Screen Violence. Despite having to record in different locations, Chvrches envelop the whimsy delivered on their debut.
The synergy within Chvrches is effervescent on every song, even when it doesn’t land smoothly. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty possess an understanding, which allows them to have a similar wavelength for the sound that derives from hearing Lauren Mayberry’s lyrics. It has shown a distinct range in the production style, and one particular case — incorporating Robert Smith from The Cure. “How Not To Drown,” featuring Robert Smith, speaks on a time Lauren sincerely contemplated leaving the band as she felt like she was drowning from the pressure to produce. Fortunately, this didn’t end up being the case.
Like Chvrches’ past albums, the first half comes in strong before teetering into a blend of mediocrity and good. This time around, Chvrches keeps it going for two-thirds as they come with twists and turns on each track, diving deep into the roots of their influence — screen violence through three different perspectives. From “Asking For A Friend” to “Good Girls,” Chvrches come with a clear focus that allows each song to have individuality while fitting into the bigger picture.
Screen Violence’s loose concept takes tones and conventions from horror and noir films, specifically, between the 40s and 90s. The songs on Screen Violence still have the Chvrches DNA, particularly their balance of synths and live instruments, but they incorporate subtle changes to set a platform for them to breathe. However, the big difference comes in the way they direct the music to create a looming sense of fear and loneliness — two big themes. Of the two themes, loneliness speaks more from the context of the songs. One song, for example, “Final Girl,” takes the concept of the final girl trope in horror films and attributes it to Lauren Mayberry’s life, despite a lack of horror elements.
Lauren Mayberry finds herself carrying burdening weight from everything that has culminated until now, as both an artist and female in Los Angeles. She puts herself in a scenario where she is the film’s final girl, going through hurdles of stress and trauma only to find herself at the butt end of a hunt/chase till the final scene. It buoys a double meaning, between having all eyes chasing her due to her status as an artist and as a beautiful female who men deem a sexual object instead of someone with feelings.
Despite a focused concept, it doesn’t bleed into their direction for the production. It is one of the rare cases where Chvrches find themselves less reliant on the loud and operatic synths and instead allowing themselves to free their mind with unique concepts like “California” and “How Not To Drown.” They contain the Chvrches DNA subtle to keep the attention of old and new fans who get hooked by the vibrant melodies.
“California” does so to keep a focus on Lauren’s songwriting and themes — loneliness — it reflects the dark side of our starstruck dreams. We’ve heard songs about the glamour deriving from success; however, Lauren takes a different approach and gives us a glimpse into what it’s like to fail in Los Angeles, especially for someone whose home is MILES away. Chvrches juxtapose the lyrics with colorful percussion and dreamy guitar chords attuning the song to conventions of California Dreaming-like music. The production doesn’t fully encapsulate a sound we’d expect from the band, and instead, they show us the range sometimes hidden for a safer approach.
“How Not To Drown” swims further away from Chvrches DNA, as it nixes an abundance of synths for a nuanced 80s new wave/punk rock sound that elevates Lauren Mayberry’s vocals to match with the incomparable Robert Smith. It is reminiscent of a song made by The Cure with modern tweaks, particularly in the blending of the guitar strings and percussion. It is the definitive highlight on the album, second to “Good Girls.”
On “He Said She Said,” the production goes from the standard synth-pop arrangements to the percussion and chords becoming the focal point. It builds up aggression as the whimsical guitar chords lead us to feel the panic attack nature from the production. It acts as a double entendre to one’s psyche in a time of isolation while implying a similar feeling that derives from gaslighting, which Chvrches have been privy to in the past. These double meanings are the cornerstone of Chvrches’ songwriting, as they find ways to eclipse the story into new territory. They take the known and break it apart to piece with the production, which is why you’ll hear similar melodies and harmonies. However, they embody the calculated nature of Chvrches’ creative process.
It isn’t uncommon for Chvrches to focus on bleak tones and concepts, but unlike some bands, they keep themselves from falling back into past norms that made their sophomore effort feel a bit redundant. It rarely happens in the first seven songs, like on “He Said She Said,” however, it becomes more apparent in the last three songs, which are fine. The first of two alternate between tempos while aligning with past styles done by Chvrches. The songwriting is clever and is the highlight of these songs, particularly “Nightmares,” but lacking the same impact as previous songs.
Screen Violence is Chvrches best album since their debut, The Bones Of What You Believe, offering enough to retain on rotation those days you’re feeling down. The luscious synths, and relative themes, and songwriting bring you closer as you feel the synergy. It is my second favorite album of theirs and a definite recommendation of mine.