All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, PVRIS’s second album, is perhaps my favorite new album this year. While it feels less emo-core and more electronic than White Noise, PVRIS still delivers hard-hitting music with even more piercing lyrics.
This was exemplified when I saw them at 9:30 Club in DC two weeks ago. The reverberations of their drums and guitars thrummed in my chest as I was mesmerized by the light show. (The below video is not from the concert I saw, but damn, Lyndsey Gunnulfsen’s voice.)
“Heaven” opens as a soft ballad that quickly expands with Lynn Gunn’s breathtaking vocals. Just what this song and album expand into is hard to pin down.
What is clear is that All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell is tonally just as dark and unapologetic as White Noise, even if the composition has evolved.
Right away the protagonist is conflicted over a relationship she knows is toxic, but can’t pull away from. “And didn’t you ever wonder / About the dread on my tongue / The blood on my lungs”
“I think we were cursed from the start”
Chris Kamrada’s energetic drums ground what feels like a softer musical sound from PVRIS. His heart-pounding refrain in “Heaven” and splashy intro in “Half” punctuate the ephemeral layers of Lynn Gunn’s voice and Alex Babinski’s and Brian MacDonald’s guitars.
But softer does not do justice to the emotionally-charged nature of this album. The distortion may have been turned down, but PVRIS’s edge remains, particularly in Lyndsey’s voice.
The relationship pulling the protagonist back morphs into. a kind of spell: “Oh, my blood / once was my own but with one touch / you made it yours”. “Anyone Else” then builds from a muted verse into an ear-shattering crescendo as the protagonist makes her stand: “I don’t belong to anyone else!”
“No I never sold my soul”
The heavy beat of “What’s Wrong” drives a self-deprecating song that seems to thematically and literally hearken back to PVRIS’s first album: “Two years gone / Came back as some bones, and so cynical”. Quick references to the mirror that forces the protagonist to look at herself. Does she despise who she was or whom she’s become?
The album takes a turn when the protagonist begins to pull away from her relationship. “Walk Alone” also demonstrates the musical dichotomies which pervade All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. Beginning like swaying breeze, “Walk Alone” quickly picks up relentless rhythm that perfectly accents Lynn Gunn’s doubts: “Do we have bad blood? / Do you feel the burn from my touch?”
“Same Soul” flips the script again, as the protagonist wonders at all of the previous lives in which they must have loved each other.
For me, personally, this song’s meaning is especially poignant, because Lyndsey Gunnulfsen explained her thinking behind it at their show. She recently encountered the spiritual idea of past lives, and wondered what her own past lives may have been. And yet, “Same Soul” does not convey the warm optimism of lovers’ lives being lived again and again.
Instead, their eternal search for each other feels isolating: “I think we’ve loved a thousand lives / I try to find you every time / Searching for those same wide eyes / That locked me in, in my first life.”
“You feel to little and I feel too much”
That isolation turns to a feeling of being fed up in “Winter”. The protagonist now needs more from the lackluster love she is feeling: “Can you burn a fire in my flesh / ‘Cause your love’s so cold I see my breath.”
While there is no explicit reference to a relationship in “No Mercy”, we’re going to stick with that narrative. Our protagonist screams at the world to show her no mercy in the pain that it brings. At this point, the pain may be all she has left to feel: “There’s blood in the water, but it tastes so sweet / The sky is on fire, let it rain on me.”
“Separate” finally brings the two lovers back together, but the imagery is more haunting than hopeful: “Little mirrors at your bedside just my size / Place them back behind my eyes, give them life.”
“Nola 1” sounds like a more digitized song in its intro to breaks into a more “conventional” chorus — whatever convention for PVRIS might mean. That’s the one of the most fascinating aspects of PVRIS’s music; they don’t really fit any particular convention except their own. From Lynn Gunn’s sweet-then-growling vocals, to Kamrada’s furious drums, to Babinski’s and MacDonald’s ambient guitars and keys, PVRIS feels right at home towing the line between pop, rock, electronic, and something entirely unique.
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.
Lyrics taken from AZLyrics.com