CHVRCHES: Screen Violence – album review

CHVRCHES Screen ViolenceCHVRCHES: Screen Violence
EMI
Out Now
Vinyl/CD/DL

The anticipation has been rising for the arrival of CHVRCHES fourth album, Screen Violence since the release of the lead single, the defiance in the face of an abusive relationship that was He Said She Said in April this year. The wait has been worth it with the trio marking their return with perhaps the darkest of their albums to date. Dark and moody it may be but the huge majesty that is the watermark of the band’s sound, and what first attracted me to the band from the moment I heard Lies way back when, is there in bucketloads. In all, making this album an emotionally uplifting listen. Even as the addictively moody synth rhythms perform a virtual trepanation on your skull and lodge themselves firmly in your cerebral cortex.

Dark wave/gothic tendencies were demonstrated by their magnificent collaboration with Robert Smith on the monumental single How Not to Drown, one of the highlights of, not only this album, but of their entire output. Recently they cemented these propensities in their sympathetic cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon. A brave choice given its status, Mac oft quoted as having said it wasn’t only their best song, but the best song ever written.

Sweeping and Cinematic

Death and depression are topics repeated throughout the album. The sweeping cinematic opening of Asking for a Friend touching on the topic right from the off. “I don’t wanna say that I’m afraid to die, I’m no good at goodbyes”. The introductory verse really sinking in as Lauren Mayberry resigns herself: “It’s the art of getting by” before the song starts to open adding synth layering to take it to a blissful crescendo in the repeated chorus of “you still matter”.

Screen Violence

The album’s title track perhaps serves several purposes. A reference to a life lived vicariously via the now omnipresent devices that are permanently grafted on to the hands of so many of the population, and for the last 18 months often our only form of communication with loved ones? The soaring melodies on the song and the repeated refrain: “I’ll never sleep alone again” also serving a dual purpose? Being able to be with loved ones again after a year of isolation, or the fear of sleeping alone?

Screens are explored again in the darkly dramatic Final Girl. Musically a more conventional brooding alt-rock anthem, and another exploration of death. Linked this time to movie screen violence and old horror cliches, “In the final cut, in the final scene, there’s a final girl and you know she should be screaming” before reflecting that you “don’t want to find your daughter in a body bag”. Rightfully and justifiably unapologetic, Mayberry continues to refuse to comply on Good Girls.

The prevalence of screens, whether they be cinema, TV or phones also give instant access to all sorts of content. Both stultifying in its innocuousness and hideous in its unfettered gruesomeness. The two of these are juxtapositioned so that viewers ultimately become unaffected and impervious to it. This juxtaposition is reflected in the positioning of Lullabies and Nightmares together as the album reaches its conclusion.

Contemplative and Melancholic

As a Glasgow based reviewer, I can’t not bring up the nod to the band’s Scottish roots. The song closing the album in reflective mood is the melancholic Better That You Don’t. The contemplative tone of the lyrics is echoed in the plaintive blend of guitar and synth, almost Mogwai-esque. “Tinseltown was always in the rain” sings Mayberry in tribute to the Blue Nile classic, before she considers “I drink and I think too much, I should quit one of the two”, the air of regret finally repeated boldly in the closing couplet, “I won’t follow you……again”.

A triumphant return, both powerful in its music and its messages and as dark and moody as it may be, it demonstrates a tremendous vitality and spirit in the face of adversity. An essential listen.

CHVRCHES

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All words by Neil Hodge. More writing by Neil on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can also find Neil online at his blog thegingerquiff.

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