Our music reviews seek to trace the narratives that weave between songs and albums. Check out our Rhythmic Fiction tag for other stories told through music.
I was fortuitously introduced to PVRIS when Jessie sent me a two-volume mixed CD, all the way from Denver. I had been desperate to hear some new music for a few weeks, and of the myriad of bands I found on those CDs, PVRIS (pronounced ‘Paris’) stuck out.
Just a couple of weeks later I bought their debut LP, 2015’s White Noise. They’re not touring near me any time soon, but I already have an eye out.
PVRIS’s music seamlessly blends ambient electronic effects and vocal layovers with heavier instrumentals. Lead singer Lyndsey Gunnulfsen parallels this pattern with an elusive falsetto that quickly rises to an throat-cutting wail.
“You and I” is a soft opener that quickly builds into a heartbeat rhythm with a powerful refrain that sets the emotional tone for the album. In the chorus the protagonist asks her lover to understand that they can be together “when all the stars align” — she doesn’t believe it’s possible, but for just this night, she will try.
“And if you and I can keep our love alive, we’ll find”
“Empty”‘s angelic vocals layer two verses in which our protagonist questions the changes she thought she had undergone. / I thought you’d complete me … Now you see, that didn’t change a thing /
But we are left only with her increasing sense of isolation: / What do you want from me? … I’m empty /
This internal conflict only heightens in “Smoke”, where our protagonist feels herself burning from the inside, but wants to stay with her lover anyway: / You make your way into my veins, / Course right through my limbs and dig your way into my brain /
“I know it’s chemicals that make me cling to you”
The twisted love letter to her “St. Patrick” shows us what her conflict might really be: / You give me something to talk about … You give me something to think about … That’s not the shit in my head /
Once again, Gunnulfsen almost seems to give us two separate voices: the sweet and airy versus the anguished cry.
Our protagonist finally decides to take a stand when her lover becomes like a specter haunting her emotional house. / I caught you walking straight through my walls / Guess it was all my fault / I think I let you in /
Now, she only wants to exorcise the presence she allowed in.
“I heard you down the hall, but it’s vacant when I’m looking in”
“Holy” calls out the false soulfulness her (presumably former) lover builds up out of fear. And this is where the protagonist’s strength comes through, because even through her own inner turmoil, she does not fear who she is, and she will not hide it:
/ So I sit here and listen to your tongue and cheek, / I know that when you sit and pray you’re only praying for keeps. /
The inner conflict returns, however, in “White Noise”. She is now “sick of the lack of signal, sick of the lack of sound” from her former lover, even as they have seemed to move on.
“Fire” has been my early favorite on this album. Its bleeding energy is driven by heavy drums and a dark synth that adds a sense of urgency to the accusing lyrics: / You can’t rewind, / When you’re choking on your own dirt begging for your life. /
We now seeing the fallout of anger and hatred that comes with pushing others away.
“While I’m dreaming I feel you leaving”
The lullaby-like quality of “Eyelids” belies the resigned sadness of saying goodbye after a final night together. / Our eyes fighting the light, but I’m not ready to say ‘good night’ /
Her longing morphs into desperation as our protagonist tries to summon the specter of her former lover: / I just wanna see a trace or an outline. / Say your name into a mirror three times /
A heavy synth effect adds a creepy vibe to this song that pulsates the lyrics like the flickering lights of a haunted attic.
In “Ghosts”, she admits to pushing her lover away and apologizes for “pushing you away … Now you’re up against the ghosts in my head.”
Musically, “Ghosts” is the closest this album comes to pure pop, giving a glimpse of what this group might sound like without the heavy percussion and haunting effects of their other songs. (If I heard this song on the radio with no context, I’d probably assume it was Paramore.)
In the closing song, “Let Them In,” our protagonist pounds her fist and demands to feel anything besides the haunting presence of her former lover. But she ultimately caves and lets them back in:
I wanna feel something
That’s not the touch of your breath on my neck
I wanna feel something
That’s not the weight of your world in my head
And all the walls are caving in
And I feel you entering
I shouldn’t give in, but I let you win
I let you in
“You struck a match and left me to burn”
Gunnulfsen masterfully carries the contradictory sounds of this album; both the soothing atmospheric longing and the gut-smashing anger. Fortunately, her powerful vocals are backed by electronic effects and hard rock-reminiscent rhythms to match.
Wikipedia describes PVRIS’s style as post-hardcore, which seems a little off to me; they’re not as close to punk as that moniker implies. But they’re not really straight pop or electronic either.
PVRIS’s music on the surface seems conflicted. But just like our protagonist, this band knows exactly who they are, and they’re not afraid to show us the emotional beauty they’re capable of if we just stop and listen.
Food for thought: is the “ghost” we keep encountering throughout this album literal? Let me know what you think!