No matter what musical direction they take, Chvrches go all in. On Love Is Dead, they leaned into pure pop, working with A-list producers like Greg Kurstin to polish their music to perfection. As much as they committed to that choice, it only focused on one aspect of their music. With the self-produced Screen Violence, however, they tap into everything that makes them so special among the legions of bands reinventing synth pop in the 2020s. At the top of that list would be Lauren Mayberry’s voice. She sounds as bright and emotive as ever, and her youthful clarity contrasts satisfyingly with the maturity of her lyrics. Mayberry remains brilliant at expressing complex emotions with eloquently simple words, and every song on Screen Violence feels like a showdown with the Big Bad. Sometimes, it’s herself; “I wish I had been more kind,” she laments over “Lullabies”’ gleaming guitars. Sometimes, it’s a complicated relationship; she’s an expert at saying goodbye even when she doesn’t want to, and on the beautiful failure of “California,” listeners hang on her every word as she captures how hard it is to leave the past behind and how good it feels to leave it there. More often, though, Mayberry confronts the existential horror of being a woman in the 21st century. The feminist synth pop anthem “Good Girls,” is quintessential Chvrches, from its choppy intro melody to its defiant mood (“Killing your idols is a chore/And it’s such a fucking bore” is immediately one of the group’s classic first lines). On “He Said, She Said,” Mayberry responds to the contradicting messages women and female-presenting people hear from the media, marketing, and those close to them (“Look good/But don’t be obsessed”) with a frustrated voice and a breaking heart echoed by the song’s fractured, juddering beats. And on “Final Girl,” she ponders marriage and changing her accent to “make herself more attractive” as the music behind her flickers between hopeful and haunting. Chvrches weave horror movie imagery deftly throughout the album, especially on “How Not to Drown,” where Mayberry and Robert Smith trade notes on self-preservation over music that’s dramatic and gloomy enough to honor the legacies of everyone involved. Later, “Nightmares” folds ‘90s alt-metal into its doom-laden stomp. Screen Violence may not be positioned as a breakthrough album, but it sounds bigger than ever, with plenty of climaxes, codas, and of course, synths. On “Asking for a Friend,” circular arpeggios magnify Mayberry’s heartache before leading into the track’s gigantic choruses. Not only is Screen Violence Chvrches’ finest work since The Bones of What You Believe, it’s also their most purposeful. It feels like they took stock of who they want to be and what they want to say, and these epic songs about letting go but holding onto the ability to feel make for a stunning creative rebirth.
Screen Violence Review
by Heather Phares