It is quite rare for a pop artist to be expected to produce interesting music with each new release due simply to the high calibre of their previous discography. Chvrches is definitely one of these artists however, straddling the fine line between respectable indie band and commercially successful pop trio like few artists manage to do. Their fourth album Screen Violence does nothing to tarnish this venerable reputation.
Asking For a Friend starts the album off with sustained synth chords and machine-like vocals. Additions to the arrangement form a multi-layered track but even after this is noticed, the song kicks into another much higher gear with a lot more energy. This energy however makes the line uttered when the song is brought right down even more disarming than it already is; ‘yeah, I’m afraid to die’.
These two aspects of high-octane music and dark lyrics form the main takeaways from the album. The electronic drums and layered synth work breed an inebriating synth wave sonic landscape, while the many a morbid lyric heard give a hint to the perspective from which this album was approached. The morbidity ranges from that heard in California, which although features more poppy vocals, perfectly depicts the Californian experience with the line ‘dying in a dream’, to the suggestion of suicidal tendencies in How Not To Drown and even its explicit description in Lullabies.
As well as the dark lyrics in How Not To Drown, such as opening line ‘I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown’, the live drums generate a feeling of edginess to the song. However, in the case of this track, the gloominess makes perfect sense to the listener when they hear the legendary Robert Smith, frontman of The Cure’s vocals come into the mix!
Among the darkness, something else is heard buried within track 7 Good Girls. This song based around a resentment of the indoctrination of society to expect ‘good girls’ to adopt and embody a certain lifestyle includes the either empowering or pitifully sad line ‘I don’t need to be desired’.
The negativity expressed in the album haunts the dreams of its narrator, as explained during penultimate number Nightmares, whose truly exploding chorus feels almost like a catharsis of this negative energy. Final song Better If You Don’t begins with more clear-sounding and conventional electric guitar and thus being more relaxed, works as a nice closing song to the album, although it is still supported by a solid drum beat.
Screen Violence, with its retro and synth wave music is an album you can definitely dance to, but you may just find yourself deep in dark thought when you do.