Screen Violence

It’s been written several times over the course of music history that an artist’s most important album is their current one, since it has the potential to make or break their career depending on the commercial and fan reaction to their product. In a lot of ways, a band usually makes their next album as a reaction to the one that came before it, and that rings very true on Screen Violence. CHVRCHES released their third record, Love is Dead, to a mixed bag of reviews with some reviewers claiming it was a step back from their early magic found. I personally didn’t see Love Is Dead as a step back, but after hearing the major step forward on Screen Violence, I can at least see where some of those reviewers were coming from. Screen Violence is a direct reaction to society’s obsession with others reactions to social media posts, how the media portrays major news events, as well as keeping our own mental health balanced through all of the distractions that exist in our world. With so much “noise” in today’s world, it was only a matter of time before this band made one of their boldest artistic statements to date on their fourth full-length record that shatters even the highest of expectations for where they could take their sound.

Screen Violence opens cautiously with vulnerable lyrics from Lauren Mayberry as she sings, “I don’t want to say that I’m afraid to die / I’m no good at goodbyes, I can’t apologize / And if I don’t stop now will it follow me down? / I guess I have to try, it’s the art of getting by,” and it becomes clear that the band and Mayberry are well-aware of the pressure placed on them to deliver a quality record. The lyric of “I guess I have to try, it’s the art of getting by” rings as powerful as ever in the context of living through a pandemic and the uncertainty of what tomorrow brings. The music surrounding Mayberry’s trademark powerful vocals is well-constructed by Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, and packs plenty of punch as much as it does purpose.

Lead single “He Said, She Said” is a good barometer of the style the band went for on Screen Violence, yet a curious choice of an opening single to this era of CHVRCHES. I found it to be one of the weaker songs on the record, yet with so much brilliance found on this album, it’s not a detractor from my love for Screen Violence. Mayberry does a great job of showing the contrast in today’s social commentary in the second verse as she sings, “He said, ‘You need to be fed’ / ‘But keep an eye on your waistline’ and / ‘Look good, but don’t be obsessed’ / Keep thinkin’ over, over / I try / But it’s hard to know what’s right / When I feel like I’m borrowin’ all of my time / And it’s hard to hit rewind.” It’s easy to make the connections to what she is singing about with so much “fake” pressure being placed on us with making the all-too-human mistake of comparing ourselves to others.

”California” is one of the better songs that is found in this set, and is reminiscent of the style the band was going for on Every Open Eye, but with more of the polished songwriting poise we’ve come to expect from the artist. “Violent Delights” is another one of those gripping songs that enthralls from the first listen, and never really lets up. The dark lyrics mention a dream about a friend’s loved one passing away, and the rest of the song is a reaction to the aftermath of waking up in an uncertain reality. The chorus of, “These violent delights, keep creeping into my nights / And they’re reading my rites / And I’ll never sleep alone again / And these violent delights, keep bleeding into the light / And I’ll never be right / But they’ll never sleep alone again when I’m gone, when I’m gone,” examines mortality in general and making the best of every day to make sure we accomplish as much as we hope to in life.

”How Not to Drown” follows in the sequencing, with the only collaboration in the set of songs with the perfect use of The Cure’s Robert Smith to bring even more rich contrast to the darker-toned material found on Screen Violence. Smith’s verse of, “I’m writing a chapter on what to do after they dig you up / On what to do after you grew to hate what you used to love / That was the first time I knew / They were out for blood / And they would have your guts,” is morbid, yet beautifully tragic as he uses the macabre of death to describe the aftermath of one’s lived life. The harmonies Smith and Mayberry share on the subsequent choruses remain hauntingly beautiful as the band rallies around their shouts into the darkness.

As dark as the first half of the album is, there is still a beating heart of purpose and a glimmer of hope found in the back half. It all begins with “Final Girl,” as Mayberry ponders her future as she sings, “And it feels like the weight is too much to carry / I should quit, maybe go get married / Only time will tell / And I wonder if I should’ve changed my accent / Tried to make myself more attractive / Only time will tell.” The continuation of finding contrast in her lyrics remains a powerful writing tool in exploring the depth to these songs, and the song ended up being one my favorites on the record.

The third single, “Good Girls” is as close as we get to the early material from CHVRCHES, and yet it still hits its intended target with fresh ears. Mayberry continues to question society as she mentions, “Is it easier when you don’t have to count to ten? / When you don’t have to pretend? / I want to know that feeling / Is it easier when you don’t have to start again? / When you don’t want to make amends? / I want to know that feeling.” The longing for acceptance in society and with the people we want to be with the most is pure human nature, even if it can feel unattainable.

”Lullabies” is another example of Mayberry and her band exploring the feeling of not being the ones calling the shots in their lives, and just how fragile life is in general. Her vocal delivery is especially powerful and vulnerable on the chorus as she sings about the unknown. The rich contrasts in the songs and lyrical material continue brilliantly on “Nightmares,” as the band explore darker-toned sounds in order to confront their demons head-on. It’s a great connection to see first-hand as CHVRCHES take brave new steps in plenty of exciting directions, even if they end up taking them to the darkest of corners.

Album closer, “Better If You Don’t” is a curious way of ending a fantastic album, since it sounds so much different than the rest of the material on Screen Violence. The song largely relies on an acoustic guitar throughout as Mayberry continues to sing into the darkest of voids in hopes of discovering a purpose to her journey. Screen Violence’s contrast of bringing to light the darkest of thoughts that we have in our life is a bold exploration on what makes us human in today’s society that feels like it has a pulse of its own, and we look for connections through technology to make us feel a little less “alone.” CHVRCHES recognize these stark contrasts immediately, and bring forth their strongest artistic statement to date.