Review Summary: Oh, hey, they're good again!
It seems rather difficult and unfair to understand Screen Violence
without discussing its predecessor, 2018’s Love Is Dead
. But, frankly, I really don’t want to think about that album more than necessary, so let’s keep it short and simple:
Love Is Dead
was a shallow and poorly written album.
Okay, great, time to dig into Chvrches’ new album: thankfully, it’s an actually interesting body of work. Opener ‘Asking For A Friend’ sets Screen Violence
’s tone brilliantly: it bears all the innocent charm of the band’s previous accomplishments while adding darker, more expansive touches. Lauren Mayberry’s crystal clear vocals cut through bouncy synths; her words carrying the same weight as the impressively organic beats and electronic flourishes. Clocking in at five minutes, ‘Asking For A Friend’ feels delightfully weightless, and, most importantly, effortless. It expertly employs the easily misused stylistic device of repetition to the song’s benefit, tying an uplifting middle section of repeated “You still matter / You still matter
” gorgeously into its closing chants of “Home / Can we go? / Can we go?
”. Chvrches sound like they care again, and as a direct result, the band sound like they matter
Thankfully, this organic feeling is carried throughout most of the album. ‘California’ is a wonderfully breezy track, finding its footing in shimmering synths and effective drum work, solidifying a uniquely grounded type of dream pop. Elsewhere, ‘Nightmares’ showcases an even greater influence of alternative music, blasting through ominous sections guided by the intensity of each easily distinguishable instrument. Enhanced by the rich production, Mayberry’s voice is as demanding as all that surrounds: simultaneously ethereal and energetic, yet entirely urgent and immersive at all times. As such, her vocals single handedly carry Screen Violence
’s weaker moments. While ‘He Said She Said’ isn’t a bad track on its own merits, it feels out of place as it rests too heavily on simplicity. The song’s chorus is condensed and instantly memorable, yet appears to be its only asset: there are no particularly interesting instrumentals or verses to lend ‘He Said She Said’ notable moments. While it works perfectly fine as a single, the song falters in the context of the record.
’s centerpiece may just be the album’s most fully realised track, while simultaneously adding a much needed extra element by way of Robert Smith’s guest vocals (yes, that
Robert Smith). His tones introduce an intriguing component to the already expansive ‘How Not To Drown’, a brooding number that sinks its teeth into an infectious chorus while ensuring longevity through its layered verses and chillingly dreamy outro. It’s a song that succeeds due to Chvrches’ willingness to go the extra mile: it delivers on the promises of its mysterious first notes. As such, the song works as much in Screen Violence
’s favour as it highlights certain issues with the record: while every song is at the very least good
, few are as excellently engaging as they evidently could have been. It makes the album feel somewhat transitional - and I sincerely hope I’m correct here - as it opens up a world of opportunities for the band to explore on future projects.
Nonetheless, Screen Violence
is a very good project. It’s the sound of a band giving a damn about music again, evident in just about every corner of the record. ‘Better If You Don’t’ shows a degree of self awareness the band have only ever hinted at before, with the album’s closing lyrics including poignant yet hazy contemplations of change: “I've been gone and notice every change / And some of them arе not our friends / And some of them arе still our friends but dead
”. The song is an effectively simplistic conclusion to an album that proves Lauren Mayberry and co. have something left to say, and, most importantly, inspires hope and excitement for what’s still to come. At its best, Screen Violence
is punchy, complex and organic; at its worst, it leaves you wondering what the next song - or album - will entail.