2020 started off strongly for me in a musical sense. Dozens of my favorite bands were planning to release new music, and exciting tours were going to be making stops in my area. All in all, the year began with a fresh and exciting look toward the future for new music. Unfortunately, the rug was pulled out from underneath all of us and the live event industry disappeared overnight due to the global pandemic. It was devastating to know how many people began to struggle (and continue to struggle) with the loss of their everyday craft when shows were rescheduled for next year or outright canceled.
One of the bands on my list for this year was PVRIS, a synth-pop collective consisting of singer and guitarist Lynn Gunn, guitarist Alex Babinski, and bassist Brian MacDonald. I’ve been following PVRIS since the release of their first full-length album in 2014. At the time, the band was constantly surrounded by the post-hardcore and pop-punk scene, performing on Warped Tour with artists like Pierce The Veil and Bring Me The Horizon. However, I was drawn to them because they didn’t fit like a glove with the bands they often played with. PVRIS constantly walked the line between alternative rock and synth-pop in a very unique and experimental way, designing a form of dark pop music that is as catchy as it is beautiful.
Earlier this year, the band was set to embark on another full United States tour, but this one was making a stop at a small venue very close to where I live. The event was supposed to take place in May but has since been pushed back to April of 2021. Right before the pandemic truly shut down many of our normal lives, PVRIS announced the release of their third studio album Use Me. I was ecstatic for more music, but just as the tour was pushed back, PVRIS decided to delay the release twice: the first time because of the current health crisis, and the second time to allow for more focus toward the Black Lives Matter movement. Regardless, Use Me is finally upon us, and it definitely comes at a great time.
Use Me is the follow-up to the band’s 2019 EP, Hallucinations. Three of the tracks included on the album are from the EP, including the first single, “Death of Me” (the record doesn’t include my favorite track from the EP, “Nightmare”, but oh well, beggars can’t be choosers). As soon as “Death of Me” originally dropped, I got the impression that PVRIS would be shifting toward a more pop-driven direction. The track contains exceptionally heavy bass and a beat that sounds like it would fit comfortably in a club. In addition, the strong layers of synths round out a very full sound that lends itself to the album’s compelling production. “Death of Me” still maintains an element of aggression during the choruses, but it doesn’t give the same punch that might be common on the band’s first two LPs.
For people unfamiliar with PVRIS, you may be shocked to know they began as a post-hardcore band that sounded like Sleeping With Sirens and A Skylit Drive. Although the band shed themselves of that past musical approach, each album tends to include at least one track that reveals their roots in a subtle but interesting way. On Use Me, the explosive opener “Gimme a Minute” gives a look into the heavier side of PVRIS. The song starts softly but quickly grows into a percussive dance track, and soon, “Gimme a Minute” is bursting at the seams with energy. The final chorus includes Gunn’s growled shouts that reveal an edgier side early on the record. However, this song is probably the only one on the album that includes this type of vitality.
“Stay Gold” and “Good to Be Alive” could easily be heard on pop radio stations and no one would bat an eye. Both songs have infectious beats and beautiful vocal melodies from Gunn, as she continues to show off her natural approach to songwriting. “Stay Gold” has my favorite chorus on the album, and it has this immaculate way to force its way into your head and stay with you after the album has ended. On the other hand, “Good to Be Alive” sounds like it could easily fit with the twenty one pilots discography, especially due to the focus on heavy drums rather than the other instrumentation. Both tracks are significantly different from each other, which definitely represents that PVRIS is willing to experiment with their sound over the course of Use Me.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is the acoustic ballad “Loveless”. It is a stripped-back song that truly displays Gunn’s impeccable songwriting talents. It doesn’t rely on synth layers to build intensity but instead captures raw emotion in an incredibly personal and vulnerable way. This is the first time that PVRIS has torn back the curtains and performed a softer song without drums and other domineering effects since their acoustic EP from 2014. To me, it is the most gorgeous song in the band’s catalog, and I honestly hope it gets as much attention as some of the singles.
Use Me is a great addition to the band’s discography, and it certainly showcases the band heading in a much poppier direction. In all honesty, it isn’t my favorite album from them, but I equate that to the fact that I absolutely adore White Noise and All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. Use Me has much cleaner production than the previous releases, but the impact of the new songs don’t hit quite as hard in my opinion. If you ask me, the album needed to add just a touch more rock elements to keep it on the same level as the previous records. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of standout moments and creative songs that prove that PVRIS are a force to be reckoned with, and I know that the band is going to continue to evolve as the years come.