ALBUM REVIEW: Chvrches, Screen Violence
In 2013, Chvrches were on top of the world. With the release of their debut The Bones of What You Believe, the group offered a legitimately new sound for indie rock. While Iain Cook and Martin Doherty cooked up the squelching, sci-fi adjacent ‘80s synth wave, Lauren Mayberry’s vocals provided a really interesting counter to all the mumbly indie singers of the time. “Gun” shimmered and grooved so effortlessly, like a good piece of candy it was sweet and consumable. “Science/Visions” showed a darker and more conceptual side of the group, really allowing the producers to cook and build rather than just jump from verse to chorus to verse. And of course, who could forget about “The Mother We Share”, an indie pop anthem like no other that defined that sound of the golden age of music festivals in the mid aughts. Usually when groups like this come out with such a powerful debut, they hit the sophomore slump hard. Surprisingly, the trio’s follow-up Every Open Eye furthered the sound and even made some improvements. I personally enjoyed the New Order-jubilee of tracks like “Clearest Blue” and the immediacy of “Empty Threat”, the future was bright for Chvrches.
Then, they went mainstream. Too many so-so singles, including a collab with the dreaded masked DJ Marshmello really put a bad taste in my mouth. Then there was pandering pop garbage pile Love Is Dead, which I avoid even looking at until this day. It’s sad to watch the cycle of indie bands like them or Two Door Cinema Club, they are destined for pop stardom from the jump but it takes them a while to realize it. Once they do, they make worse pop than the popstars, and then who the fuck is their audience at that point? Shoppers at Forever 21? When I saw that they released a brand new record, a conceptual horror one at that, I was intrigued. The cover kind of looks like the poster for Brian DePalma’s cult classic Body Double, which pointed in a direction that was a little more off the beaten path. I’ll spare you the drama, this album is not the comeback the OG fans should be excited for.
While the opening notes of tracks like “Asking for a Friend” and “He Said She Said” almost had me fooled that this would be a patient or cinematic album, what follows points towards a desperate need to hang onto old songwriting habits. The rushes of synths, the vaguely hip-hop drums, the bursting choruses from Lauren, this just sounds like 2013 Chvrches without compelling choruses. We get a lot of subtle aesthetic shifts, like the breakbeats on “Violent Delights”, that just amounts to putting on a different mask. At the end of the day, these are sugary indie pop tracks without much in the way of vocal range or dynamic production elements. Gone are the days of experimentation of “Science/Visions”, the group is content to just make the same song over and over again, chasing a sound that was refreshing back then but sounds dated now. Not even The Cure’s Robert Smith can save the day on “How Not To Drown”, which sounds like something your mom would recommend after she heard it at your local brewery. This is mom pop 100%.
Maybe I am just jaded on this style of music, but I cannot find a single song to enjoy on this record. Even “Good Girls”, which feels like it’d be up my alley, offers absolutely nothing new for the group or indie music at large. A group that was once largely influential and copied feels at this point like they’re doing the copying. On top of that, the concept is so loose and weak. The songwriting barely references it at all, “I'm lying on the floor/What are we waiting for?/I'm getting tired of trying so hard to be adored/Close the door” are lyrics on “Lullaby” that feel totally meaningless and devoid of creativity. I mean, objectively it’s well produced, sounds pleasant and feels like an album, but it all flows over me without leaving an impression. Even the grand, electro goth of “Nightmares” wants to grip my attention but utterly fails. I think at this point, this group has it’s core fanbase that will eat up whatever they put out, but it’s just simply not me. They are not doing anything that I can’t just go hear on their debut or sophomore record, or on a New Order album, so what is that point?