Chvrches: Screen Violence review – A small step up

Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 05:00

   
 

Album:
Screen Violence

Artist:
Chvrches

Label:
Virgin/EMI

Genre:
Rock

Glaswegian indie-pop trio Chvrches were bang on trend when they  arrived in 2013, all syrupy vocals, colossal hooks and a notable absence of guitars. French electronic outfit M83 had broken through two years prior with Midnight City, Canadian duo Purity Ring had debuted with Shrines a year before, and Grimes was in the process of tearing up the rulebook for electronic producers in pop music.

For their part in the great electrocution of the indie charts, Chvrches released The Bones of What You Believe, a textured, hook-laden gem of a debut that they’ve since failed to match in either style or substance.

That’s not to say there haven’t been great moments – the 2015 single Clearest Blue hit the mark on processed, emotional bangers, playfully ripping off Depeche Mode’s I Just Can’t Get Enough, and landing on a chorus so saccharine that it just about breaks through into greatness. On the other hand, Love Is Dead, their 2018 album, was an over-thought, overblown misstep.

Screen Violence, written and recorded during lockdown – singer Lauren Mayberry in Los Angeles, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook in Glasgow – finds the band trading festival stages for video calls, dialling it back a notch and taking a turn towards the sombre.

Chvrches
Chvrches

Lead single He Said She Said takes aim at the double standards levelled by online trolls, the ire of whom Mayberry has felt through various online harassment campaigns; “be sad but don’t be depressed”; “look good but don’t be obsessed”. Noble truths, if a little self-evident, and the lacklustre chorus never quite lands.

How Not to Drown, a collaboration with The Cure’s Robert Smith, turns up the dial on 1980s goth-synth homage, wondering “what to do after you grew to hate what you used to love”, how “it’s better when the sun goes down,” and how “we will never escape this town”. Who said emo was dead?

On the other hand, California shimmers with melancholy, with Mayberry’s vocal crying “pull me into the screen at the end” sounding beautiful in its desperation. Final Girl lifts similarly sombre lyrics with a noughties-inspired pop chorus underscored by heady synths and – of all things – bright electric guitars. Better If I Don’t also blends the band’s signature synth-pop tenor with grungy guitars; it works to undercut Mayberry’s tone, adding depth and intrigue.

A vast improvement on the over-zealous Love Is Dead, Screen Violence has some great moments, but still lacks the punch that made those early Chvrches records sing.