PVRIS — Use Me (8/28/20)

Lynn Gunn fronts this synth-pop-rock band out of Massachusetts. I caught them with their 2014 debut album White Noise. They pushed these massive synth hooks combined with a crunching rock backbone and it made for some huge anthems with songs like “St. Patrick” and “My House.”

2017’s All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell was a little less in-your-face with the huge synth hooks, opting for more a driven alternative edge to the synth-pop structures. “Half” and “What’s Wrong” were the big standouts for me.

“Death of Me,” the lead single that teased what was to come on this latest album, was released all the way back in July of 2019. The thick bass bed of the song and the club-like beat filled up the sound, unlike anything I’d heard from their past. The song ripped into me with its steamrolling hook and it gave me one of the most intense listening experiences of the year; it ended up at number 23 on my top 100 of 2019.

“Death of Me” joined their Hallucinations EP in the Fall of 2019 which included a couple of other songs that would make it on this album. Both “Hallucinations” and “Old Wounds” proved to be very strong pre-release singles. The former split serene verses with another stomping club-anthem of a hook, while the latter took a more down-tempo approach and delivered a romantically sinister chorus.

There’s a lot to dance to on this album. The music is unabashedly club-pop but it has a real sharp edge to it and an underlying rock influence. I still look at Lynn Gunn as more of a rockstar than a pop star at this point. She shows some softer deliveries at points but continues to display that sort of teeth-clenching angst in the album’s more heavy-handed deliveries.

It’s not all to my liking. We were given a couple more singles ahead of the release with “Dead Weight” and “Gimme a Minute,” both of which I find to be much less impactful than the EP singles. The latter opens the album on a really sour note with its repetitive hook, though it does redeem itself slightly with some groovy, kind of Nothing But Thieves-style rock guitar in its final half.

“Dead Weight” is the album’s second song and it improves on the last with a much more easy-to-enjoy melodic hook, a playful post-chorus breakdown, and a strong vocal performance. It’s a jam, just not one that’s pulling me back much.

“Feels good to be alive, but I hate my life,” Gunn sings on the early standout “Good to Be Alive.” The rather subdued song is far less synth-heavy than most, opting for a more organic guitar-led sound. It allows me to feel a bit more connected to Gunn when she’s not up against all the heavy production elements of the album. The chorus has a unique pull to it and her issues with substance use to “lift my demons” is entirely relatable.

You get the most subdued arrangement though with the acoustic “Loveless.” It’s really quite a touching soft performance from Gunn but I do find myself waiting for the main refrain. “If this is what love is/Then I guess I’m loveless,” she sings with a tightness to her words. It’s a heavy line, and while I’m not absolutely gripped with emotion, the gentle melody is enough to stir up some feelings.

“January Rain” is a massive standout. It’s a great balance between the big synth hooks and the more subdued melodies featured on the album. It follows an upbeat pace with a frantic and tight drum beat and blossoms into a driven and angelic hook, creating some of the album’s strongest feeling.

The title track featuring 070 Shake is just so okay. I appreciate its chill and brooding atmosphere and I can’t say it’s annoying like the early throwaway “Stay Gold,” but it is just not my type of song. Way too slow and way too flat for my tastes.

“Wish You Well” works as a decent close to the album with a message that seems to have Gunn laying to rest any leftover resentment for a past love. The standard clap-beat in the hook provides enough juice to get you moving and there’s a slick groove felt with the bass. Overall though, it’s pretty basic and doesn’t pack much weight in feeling.

This is the first full-length release for PVRIS under a major label, Warner Records, and you can feel a bit of that major label sound in the final product. There’s certainly enjoyment to be found in some of these but its ultimately a little too clean of a package that doesn’t supply enough excitement to make these songs stand the test of time. I’m kind of already bracing myself for a real letdown of a fourth album…or maybe we’ll get the magnum opus I feel we still haven’t seen from PVRIS.

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