After a stab at the mainstream with their previous album Love Is Dead, CHVRCHES began their journey to Oz. However, the yellow brick road didn’t bring them what they’d hoped. It was maligned, from critics and fans alike and while its scope and ambition were appreciated, it was as if CHVRCHES had sold their soul.
While the songs were anthemic, everything else was sterile. From the production to the performances and it wound up being their weakest album to date. Despite this, it took CHVRCHES to new heights, but at a price. After the Love Is Dead album cycle came to an end, the pandemic came, giving time for the trio to reflect and dig deep.
With their new album Screen Violence, CHVRCHES have abandoned the yellow brick road, torn up the script and reneged on selling their artistic soul. It’s clear that personal demons and pain has reenergised the trio and in turn produced their best album to date.
In the lead up to the album’s release, the trio released three singles, “He Said She Said”, “Good Girls” and “How Not to Drown”. While the three singles were indicative of the album’s sound, they’re for the most part quintessential CHVRCHES, with the exception being “How Not to Drown”; which is undoubtedly in contention for their best song to date.
After hearing the singles, I was cautiously optimistic and then upon hearing Screen Violence for the first time, I was blown away. Somehow, the strongest songs are deeper cuts and the album itself is a well-rounded pop experience.
It’s opening number “Asking For A Friend” is an emotional gut punch with a glacial, downtempo, and brooding instrumental that explodes into a slice of synthpop goodness. From luscious vocals to poignant lyricism, it’s an act of reclamation as Mayberry further cements herself as a singer/songwriter.
While Mayberry makes her mark early on, so does the production. As the album weaves through the first four tracks, the trio’s bold approach is a sight to behold. The instrumentals shimmer, glisten, and thud with a palpable darkness.
An example of this is “Violent Delights” which solidifies CHVRCHES synth wizardry. Its dense soundscape is backboned by drums that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bicep record, and while they rattle throughout, Mayberry’s reverbed soaked vocals cut through as the synths, drums and vocals collide in a thrilling, cascading fashion.
Lyrically, the track is soul-bearing and there’s a definite sense of depression which brings an emotional weight to the song, adding more fuel to the roaring, musical fire that already burns bright.
“Violent Delights” isn’t the first moment of foreboding tragedy and subtle horror, as the latter is an undercurrent through the album. CHVRCHES took influence from horror films and iconic composers (John Carpenter) as well as 80s post-punk and synthpop.
The tragedy is prevalent from beginning to end, acting as the glue that binds everything together, from lyricism to sound. However, it’s far starker on certain tracks and one in question is “Final Girls”.
“Final Girls” encapsulates the tragedy and horror influences, alongside the 80s sound palette. It’s a smartly constructed amalgamation of these influences that bubble and boil with precision in a cauldron of sound.
The synths are aptly sinister and the guitarwork invokes The Cure, combining to create an atmosphere even Freddy Krueger would shudder at. The atmosphere aligns with the lyricism, which again is a highlight, but the real stand out are the choruses; powerful and thought-provoking moments to sink your teeth into.
There are plenty of highlights as the album continues, and if one thing Screen Violence isn’t short of, it’s stand-out moments. “Nightmares” being another, summing up the album succinctly, as it embodies everything CHVRCHES wanted with this body of work.
It’s virulent, aggressive and an absolute banger. Everything about it works so perfectly, the instrumental is incredibly layered, rhythmic, and loud enough to wake the Devil himself so he to can dance. Mayberry once again delivers a brilliant vocal performance and the song’s instrumental bridge is a menacingly delicious climax that leads to a satisfying close.
Once ‘Screen Violence’ ends it’s hard to not want to press play again as it’s such an arresting experience. On a musical level, it’s rich and offers so much on repeated listens, from rhythms to instrumental textures, and the vocal performances are Mayberry’s finest.
There’s an array of emotions on display and Mayberry’s voice and vocal melodies convey them with such vulnerability and conviction. It’s fair to say that overall, CHVRCHES’ songwriting has improved significantly on their latest effort, and it’s most definitely paid off.
Screen Violence is a spectacularly emotive journey, full of career highs and moments any synthpop fan will salivate over. CHVRCHES have taken their pain and turned it into gold, and it’s worth every second.
CHVRCHES’ Screen Violence album is out now via Glassnote, download and purchase it here and stream it below.
Words by Jake Gould