CHVRCHES: Screen Violence review: the year sucked, but they got a great album out of it

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CHVRCHES  ( )
CHVRCHES ( )

The output of plenty of musicians during the pandemic has either tried to continue partying as though it isn’t happening (Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga, and in a quieter way, Lorde) or to veer towards fiction and start writing about characters instead of mining their own feelings (The Killers, Taylor Swift). It’s been less common for artists to write new songs expressing the opinion that actually, the past year has sucked rather a lot.

The Scottish trio CHVRCHES were forced to make most of this fourth album remotely, with Martin Doherty and frontwoman Lauren Mayberry in LA while Iain Cook was back in Glasgow. Rather than that frustration coming out literally, they’ve mined the imagery of their mutual love of horror films. So while the title Screen Violence refers to that desire we’ve all had to hurl the laptop out the window if we have to endure one more Zoom meeting, it also allows them to explore the gothier end of their synthpop sound and have some scary fun in their videos, with Mayberry dyeing her hair scream queen blonde. The song Good Girls (“Good girls don’t die/Good girls stay alive”) has been remixed by Halloween director John Carpenter, while How Not to Drown heads deep into the darkness with guest singer Robert Smith of The Cure.

Another song title, Violent Delights, suggests a tricky ambivalence towards all those screens. They can thank the internet for their success, watching early songs become popular online before they began touring, but Mayberry’s vocal opinions on toxic online discourse have also made her a target for trolls. He Said She Said sees her listing the “requirements” for being a woman today and concluding: “I feel like I’m losing my mind.” Before making this album she had a spell away from everything, with bandmates and wider team forbidden from emailing her. On Final Girl, she likens herself to the last girl left alive at the end of the movie, somehow surviving being hunted relentlessly.

That’s not to say her high, sweet voice doesn’t carry some lovely melodies here, but there’s a less obvious poppiness than there was on their last album, Love is Dead, which was largely made with A-list producer Greg Kurstin. Guitars are more prominent, especially on the emotional closing track, Better If You Don’t, and Nightmares, which rumbles along on an ominously low riff. For anyone who isn’t in the mood for escapism, here’s a great way to wallow in the bad stuff.

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