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Album Review: PVRIS – Use Me

You know that prickling feeling that creeps down the back of your spine after a particularly miserable day? Perhaps you’ve come to realize something that unsettled you, or disturbed your usual train of thought. Perhaps you looked in the mirror that day and saw only cold indifference staring at you – or maybe it was your own indifference looking back at it? Whatever it was, there comes a point that it drains you to barely being able to meet your own reflection, becoming an exhausted exasperation at simply regarding oneself. And the feeling that creeps down the back of your spine keeps creeping. Keeps eating away. Keeps doubting. Keeps you wondering.

That is how PVRIS’ extraordinarily poignant 2017 offering All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell felt. It struck with the same vivid impact that a peek into a terrible nightmare could carry, all realized spectacularly throughout an album that was doing everything it could possibly do to make you feel something. After all, there’s a reason that lead vocalist Lynn Gunn croons “take the mirror from the wall, so I can’t see myself at all – don’t wanna see another damn inch of my skull.”

Be it originating from a deepest, darkest corner, or simply utilizing a brilliant ability in projecting those corners, an element to PVRIS’ sound that has always been apparent is the band’s excellent use of what lies under the skin. Sure, the more electronic rock orientated White Noise may have packed more punch in the guitars department, and regardless of the preferred genre there is little denying how impeccably infectious the material could be – in all the right (and wrong) ways possible. ‘My House’ and ‘St Patrick’ boasted plenty as fist-pumping anthems to fantastic effect, but it was hearing Gunn’s furious exclamation of “you give me something to think about (that’s not the shit in my head)” that really sticks around.

That, perhaps, is why the Hallucinations EP was somewhat surprising.

Acknowledged as a departure from previous albums, the EP certainly seemed more upbeat in terms of composition. There’s a snappy, pop vibrancy throughout the EP that downplays the more brooding direction of All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. The brighter instrumentation and more prominent use of synthesizer leads sour through the mix, and were certainly something new for the band all things considered. But, what made it even more (pleasantly) surprising was just how PVRIS it all still felt. Contributing to both Hallucinations and Use Me, ‘Hallucinations’ and ‘Death of Me’ both feel appropriate as stylistic middle points between the preceding album and what would come to follow – different, yet undoubtedly still familiar.

So, honestly, it’s no surprise that Use Me ends up being as exquisite as it is.

Picking up immediately where Hallucinations left off, a glance at the track listing of Use Me reveals the band’s decision to incorporate three songs from the EP: the aforementioned ‘Hallucinations’, ‘Death of Me’ and ‘Old Wounds’. Truthfully, it’s easy to immediately question the absence of ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Things Are Better’, but after actually listening through the album in its entirety the decision feels the right one. Indeed, as soon as the dissonant bass warbles of ‘Gimme A Minute’ enter the picture, Use Me immediately feels promised to be every bit as captivating a PVRIS album as should be expected – that is, with a new coat of paint here and there to freshen things up. After all, why go back when you can move forward?

‘Gimme A Minute’, utilizing an extremely bass-heavy chorus instrumentation that might be more expected from a house/EDM act, explodes in the final stretch with an exhilarating synthesizer/guitar bridge, and once again proves just how exceptionally nimble PVRIS can be in producing infectious melodies. Speaking of which, ‘Dead Weight’ keeps things going with exactly that in mind. Keeping in line with the indicated direction of Hallucinations, ‘Dead Weight’ establishes itself as another track that blends electronics and synthesizer stabs with hints of guitar arpeggios and acoustic elements brilliantly, whilst Gunn’s chorus is sure to prove another staple of live shows: “I can’t take it, over and over, dead weight hanging off of my shoulder – nothing changes, I’m getting colder.” Things might have changed instrumentally, but it’s still PVRIS in all the right ways.

That being said, perhaps this is where ‘Stay Gold’ reminds the most of something familiar: fitting right in alongside ‘Winter’ or ‘Nola 1’, ‘Stay Gold’s luxurious synthesizers and chirping minimalist guitarwork recalls the more electronically-infused side to All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, whereas ‘Good To Be Alive’ is something else entirely. Immediately more instrumentally akin to a modern hip-hop/R&B track, ‘Good To Be Alive’ stands out as one of the furthest departures from PVRIS’ former material. Deceptively promising one of the most positive lyrical messages of the band’s entire discography, Gunn instead chants a lamented “(it) feels good to be alive, but I hate my life.”

Taking stage during the second act of the album, Hallucinations ‘Death of Me, ‘Hallucinations’ and ‘Old Wounds’ all feel right at home within Use Me, with ‘Old Wounds’ in particular offering some further recollection of All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell through the track’s exquisite use of the harp that was well received on ‘Walk Alone’ and ‘Anyone Else.’ And so, entering the third act of Use Me steps forth ‘Loveless.’ And, quite frankly, it’s a beautiful track.

‘Loveless’, immediately notable as the least electronically driven track of the album, even more notably stands as the first (almost) fully acoustic guitar orientated track of PVRIS’ recent material (if one isn’t counting the acoustic alternative rendition of ‘Hallucinations’, of course). Recalling nostalgic inclinations towards the band’s excellent 2014 Acoustic EP, ‘Loveless’ puts Lynn Gunn center stage to deliver one of her most poignant vocal performances of the band’s entire discography. Through aching croons of “I guess I’m loveless, then I guess I’m loveless,” Gunn’s performance is mesmerizing, and Alex Babinski and Brian MacDonald celebrate the vocalist in the best way possible: letting the performance speak for itself.

Completing the album’s third act, Use Me brings back some of the album’s electronics through ‘January Rain’s shimmering synthesizers and manipulated vocals, but it’s certainly worth noting that the overall punch of the former ‘Hallucinations’, ‘Death Weight’ and ‘Gimme A Minute’ seems to have dissipated – and not in a negative fashion. There’s a deliberate sense of melancholy that persists throughout ‘January Rain’ and ‘Use Me’, both slow burners that fully utilize the glittery electronics afforded to them, alongside another welcome return of the harp during ‘Use Me’. Indeed, this very same sense of melancholy is present in album finale ‘Wish You Well’, but the mid-tempo instrumentals perhaps more likely to appear throughout All We Need of Heaven, All We Need of Hell return to provide a steady bass guitar and percussive backbone. Truthfully, it still remains one of the most reserved tracks of the album, but Gunn’s exhilarating repetitions of “I wish you well, I wish you more than you deserve – I wish you well, I hope the next one doesn’t hurt” are a wonderful closer to the album.

Summarizing PVRIS’ third outing in only a few sentences is something of a challenge: on one hand, it’s entirely undeniable how much the album displays the band’s versatility, on the other, the album seems to have encompassed everything that makes PVRIS… PVRIS. It may have not been the sequel to All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell that some fans wanted, but from the absolutely stunning ‘Gimme A Minute’, the explosive chorus of ‘Hallucinations’ through to the album’s quietest offering ‘Loveless’, Use Me has a moment lovingly dedicated to each and every step of the band’s career. Once again, even in spite of some deliberate changes in style, PVRIS have proven and exceptional act in the delicate art of taking the deepest, darkest corners and turning it into something mesmerizing.

“Nothing changes, I’m getting colder – dead weight hanging off of my shoulders.”

M. Stoneman

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