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CD of The Week

Week of 8/30/21

    CHVRCHES - Screen Violence (Glassnote)

    For all of the ebullience and bombast of their sound, the best CHVRCHES songs have always concealed a hint of darkness underneath, like the mythical razor blade in a candied apple. Think back to the righteous vengeance that pierced through "Gun" or the doubt and desperation that riddled "Keep You On My Side." Sure, this was a band that could and would make you dance, but that catharsis was always to ward off forces that threatened to consume and destroy you. Well, let's face it. All that dancing didn't work. We know it and CHVRCHES know it. And like many of their musical forebearers, they've decided that the best way out of the hell of the past several years is a straight line through it.

    Screen Violence joins a very strong lineage of albums that stare down into an abyss of chaos and negativity and dare it to blink first, from Depeche Mode's Black Celebration to Curve's Cuckoo to... Blackout by Britney Spears. Indeed, pop music's most persecuted Not That Innocent is echoed excellently in the chorus of lead single "He Said She Said." Lauren Mayberry's recited advice to "be fed, but keep an eye on your waistline" is as depressingly relevant and relatable as "She's too big, now she's too thin" in Spears's "Piece of Me.” Where that song specified one woman's experience in the public eye, Mayberry barely has to do anything to render the sentiment universal, as there's nary a woman on the planet who's had to endure similar sexist scrutiny in public or private. Thanks, Twitter!

    Elsewhere, Mayberry hints that those external voices of judgment are now in chorus with her own internal ones. A year and a half in lockdown will do that to a person. In subsequent single "Good Girls" and the churning "Nightmares", she seems to question the public's perception of her, how it's become a pattern, and how well that gels with how she wants to see herself. "It's been giving me nightmares again," she laments, "and they don't end."

    However, while the darkness within and beyond may persist, so too does this band's defiance in the face of it. "I guess I have to try. It's the art of getting by," Mayberry insists in opener "Asking For a Friend", a patient and propulsive stunner in the vein of early live favorite "Tether." What's interesting this time is that while the feelings of hopelessness feel more universal, the resolve in the face of it has become more personal for Lauren. On instant career highlight "Violent Delights", one of many songs this time that strengthen this band's ties to the aforementioned Curve with its crisp breakbeat shuffle, she acknowledges that while the public may only ever know one angle of her story, she also knows that angle alone won't define her. Another Curve parallel comes through in their fandom of original Grand Marshall of Gloom Robert Smith of The Cure, which is one-upped and crystallized via his torch-passing contribution to “How Not to Drown.”

    The most moving statement of all though may come in closer "Better If You Don't." Here, Mayberry lays it all on the table, setting the example for listeners that it's both okay to not be okay and to not feel like you have to share everything with everyone all the time, which in some ways is the greatest and most insidious screen violence one can commit. "I mumble when I speak," she insists, "but I mean it when I do.” It's an important lesson to take to heart. As long as you can speak to yourself and a select, deserving few with confidence and conviction, no other voices matter.

    CHVRCHES are slated to perform at Franklin Music Hall on December 3rd.

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    Review by Rob Huff

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