Back in September—before I got emotionally sucker punched by Pale Waves’ My Mind Makes Noises —I was regularly listening to CHVRCHES’ Screen Violence. This is the band’s 4th album, and though it’s still new and it’s only natural to be excited by that, I think I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s my favorite of the bunch.
It’s already been 8 years (!) since the bright synths, dark beats, and fantastic eye makeup of The Bones of What You Believe came out, and CHVRCHES have covered a lot of ground. Many of my favorite songs are on different albums, but I still think Screen Violence is their best body of work on the whole. Maybe it’s the singular spooky/horror theme running front to back, but this album is strong.
Robert Smith’s presence on “How Not To Drown” kind of demands an album that writes very specific love notes to the 80s music that the band so often references as inspiration. “Nightmares” almost sounds like it could be a Cure dirge in a parallel, Mixed Up era universe. And I’m absolutely chuffed to hear the guitars come more to the foreground. Those sparkly synths are still there, but there’s also a lot more moody, organic texture raked all over a lot of these songs.
Vocalist Lauren Mayberry never misses, throwing plenty of pointed jabs throughout. I don’t think she has ever acknowledged this about “He Said She Said”, but I take the song as an indictment of the impossible expectations that society puts upon women: “Get drunk, but don’t be a mess.” and “You need to be fed / But keep an eye on your waistline.” are just a couple gems. The tightrope that women are asked to walk to avoid judgement is unreal. No wonder the chorus is “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
There are more personal revelations, too. “Violent Delights” describes nightmares Lauren had on tour, possibly brought on by touring itself. “How Not To Drown” explores the feeling of being pulled down even while enjoying success—or what looks successful to other people. “Final Girl” contains maybe some of the saddest lyrics: “And it feels like the weight is too much to carry / I should quit, maybe go get married […] And I wonder if I should’ve changed my accent / Tried to make myself more attractive.” I mean, what kind of messed-up world would make a beautiful soul feel like this? It’s hard to fathom.
But, in the end, there’s survival. She’s the Final Girl, and gets to kill the things that are chasing her.
For me, “California” is the standout track. Subverting expectations is nothing new, but “No on ever warns ya / You’ll die in California” is a delightfully brooding lyric, casting a real Lost Boys shadow onto those West Coast clichés of sunny beaches and palm trees.
Not long ago, the band played a show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (appropriate!) and played a lot of good songs, including “California”. Enjoy!