CHVRCHES Find New Vitality in Analyzing Modern Society's 'Screen Violence'
Published Aug 24, 2021Screen Violence, CHVRCHES' fourth album, seems haunted by uncertainty: with choices made, with the world at large, and with (as its title suggests) the modern ways we share experiences. What are the consequences of filtering everything — from intimate relationships to world-on-fire doomscrolling — through the same personal device?
As a band who rose to prominence through the internet, CHVRCHES feel particularly attuned to probe those ideas. Recorded while split due to the pandemic between Glasgow and Los Angeles, Screen Violence also ranks among their best work; CHVRCHES seem refreshed, if tinged a few shades darker. The trio's familiar synth-pop elements are all present: Lauren Mayberry's soaring delivery of incisive lyrics over emotive waves of programming, instrumentals, and beats from Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. But they've found new vitality in exploring a loose theme of, well, violence experienced on, by and through screens — examining big present-day questions through their more personal, disquieting impacts.
"Asking for a Friend" is a bent-not-broken anthem of affirming digital hooks and bittersweet sentiments, while "He Said She Said" finds Mayberry taking stock of toxic things she's been told by men. World-weariness gathers like a storm over "California", where Mayberry sings, "God bless this mess that we made for ourselves / pull me into the screen at the end."
Cook and Doherty's sonics feel lively and responsive to the mood, pushing their palette in new directions without sacrificing cinematic scale: "Violent Delights" rides a skittering beat to underline how "these violent delights / keep creeping into my nights." Heavy piano chords rain down over the excellent goth-pop of "How Not to Drown", featuring a kismet guest spot from the Cure's Robert Smith, while "Final Girl" borrows horror movie iconography as Mayberry surveys her own self-doubts with the path she's on: "Don't want to find your daughter in a body bag / So I need to get out now while most of me is still intact."
Closer "Better If You Don't" cuts most of the band's usual electronics away, winnowing its focus to a solitary guitar line and Mayberry's voice, as it turns personal history into an endless screen-scroll all its own: "I've been gone and notice every change."
It's to CHVRCHES' credit that Screen Violence doesn't suggest any shallow, put-down-your-phone answers to the questions it raises. Instead, the album makes an unflinching appraisal of present-day anxieties to summon the vitality needed to keep going, in spite of what keeps coming through the screen. (Glassnote)