It shouldn’t work a second time, and it almost doesn’t, but then it does.
Given the recent revival of American emo and indie rock by bands like The Hotelier, Sorority Noise, and Boston Manor, the work of PVRIS in 2014 debut album White Noise feels out of step just three years on. Taking the wall-of-sound technique and song structures found in chart-bothering dance music, and reapplying those same techniques with rockstar vocals, bombastic drums, and *loud* guitars is an inspired trick and one that worked to their advantage in 2014. It’s also a remarkably obvious one. Produce songs as pleasantly moving as any number of Guettas, Harrises, and Aviciis have made, in the outfits of a fresh rock band? Why didn’t anyone else succeed at that? By its very nature, such a trick could only work once – if musicians were magicians, PVRIS would give away the secrets to the coolest tricks whilst performing them.
Magicians like that tend to get thrown out of whatever exclusive inner circle they’re a part of; that’s not what PVRIS deserve and probably won’t happen. As far as apparent goals for their brand of music go, making it instinctively danceable is a fine one, and here they hit the mark most of the time. However, it’s a limited goal. Where All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell shows signs of the band trying to stretch themselves, it often backfires.
‘ANYONE ELSE’ uses the low-passing bass drum of the first verse to form a natural foundation for the song to build its melodies, giving the quieter first minute consistent rhythm. It also gives Lynn Gunn’s stage-whisper vocals extra intimacy: we feel her heartbeat as she sings longingly “I don’t belong to anyone else” in the refrain. Yet the track eventually realises that it can’t go beyond the 4-minute mark with this structure, resulting in a 40-second long harp solo, sabotaging the release of tension in final -chorus’ ambient-ish dance rock. Since such an instrument only really plays into the song’s bridge, it’s an incongruous decision. It does however, make the song fit in eerie partnership with later track ‘WALK ALONE’; not only is the refrain of “I’ll always walk alone without you” a not-so-subtle thematic continuation of the former’s chorus, the harp again features in the bridge and arpeggiated outro; then, in full twinkling glory, it’s “rocking out” in the musical equivalent of a post-credits sting.
AWKOH,AWNOH only has ten tracks, but it’s in moments like this, where songs take an unnecessarily long time to close out in self-gratifying fashion, that it feels like it’s one full hour long. However, there’s little to no denying that when PVRIS are on their best form, their album work (which always feels like a warm-up for a probably great live show) is gripping. The lyrics of ‘WINTER’ work overtime to push the titular extended metaphor of an entirely surface level, skin-deep relationship with a cold lover, and Lynn Gunn’s vocals offer an additional understanding to the honest ache in lines like “Can you burn a fire in my flesh?/’Cause your love’s so cold I see my breath/But I can’t take another night/Always frozen by your side”. The synth chords and the grungy groove of the bassline also give a fresher sound to the album overall. ‘NO MERCY’ equally, sees Gunn go heavy with her stage-shout in the chorus, with the pounding drums and power chords combining to a scream-worthy moment. It even offers an enormous opening, with bold waves of electro-organ chords, like the band are delivering this sonic sermon from an all too cool Cathedral.
PVRIS have almost done too much on their second album for it to be considered an entirely cynical retread of the first, although there’s still not enough deviation from their formula and awkwardly stage-hogging instincts for it to feel like a stranger, different beast entirely. Nor are they short on energetic performances – whatever your opinion on the style of their music, it doesn’t fit the ‘lacklustre’ label. There’s nothing truly rotten here because there’s not enough flesh on the record’s bones to decay.
All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell is out now via Rise Records