“Two years gone / Came back as some bones and so cynical”
The opening lines of “What’s Wrong”, an early single from PVRIS’ sophomore album All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, provide a quick and distressing synopsis. By all accounts, this album should mark a joyous occasion for the fast-rising electropop trio, but vocalist Lynn Gunn shies away from celebration, choosing to bare her broken heart instead.
That heavy honesty, coupled with the band’s refined execution, has resulted in something that somehow manages to surpass the immense hype that preceded it.
PVRIS took the scene by storm in 2014 with the release of White Noise – an absurdly fantastic debut that set the bar high for such a young band. From the moment those songs went on the road and the trio’s fan base ballooned, it was clear that PVRIS were never ours to keep. This was music that deserved to be heard on the biggest of stages.
I don’t know if All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell is the album that will take them there, but it succeeds in nearly every way as an improved version of PVRIS. Surprisingly, All We Know doesn’t stray completely from guitars, drums and rock influence, even as the songs themselves have appropriately evolved toward a more fully realized pop sound. It’s just good music, plain and simple.
That richly melodic background creates a haunting palate for Gunn to create contrast as she reflects on the pressure and confusion that comes with nearly immediate fame and exposure. During the second verse of “What’s Wrong”, she continues her descent, singing, “When did I get so pitiful? / Just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold / You got my back against the wall / Now I can’t ever get comfortable”. And later, she distressingly declares, “I don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable”.
Like many others in the revived genre, Gunn uses the jubilant glow of synthpop to explore dark themes, but the naïve ambiguity of White Noise fades away here. Instead, Gunn opts for a straightforward approach with some clever turns of phrase thrown in. On what could easily have become a late summer dance anthem, Gunn uses the billowing chorus of “Same Soul” to inject hollow regret into a famous Gotye line, belting, “I’m just a body that you used to know”.
Themes of shame, remorse and confusion permeate All We Know, spanning across a soundscape of synthesizers and drums that elevate tracks like “Heaven” and “Anyone Else”, building on the foundation laid during the band’s debut. Even so, aggressive elements remain – “No Mercy” is the heaviest song the band has written and closer “Nola 1” floats atop a slick guitar lick and deep, pulsing bass from Alex Babinski and Brian McDonald. It’s a delicate balancing act that never seems to tip the scales in one direction across the album’s 10 tracks.
On White Noise, Gunn was a firecracker, letting her vocals bubble over into a growl during the crescendo of nearly every track. On this sophomore release, she’s found her voice, usurping expected restraint with commanding vocals that make use of her range and power without spilling into yells or screams. During the chorus of “Winter”, Gunn harkens to old bangers like “Smoke” and “Fire” as she sings, “Can you burn a fire into my flesh / Cause your love’s so cold I see my breath” with a powerful and controlled delivery. It’s that kind of rapid progression and growth that makes the future of PVRIS increasingly exciting.
During the opening moments of “Half”, Gunn sings, “Some days I feel everything / Others are numbing / Can never find the in-between / It’s all or nothing”. Her personal battle speaks volumes about her character. Gunn is brave to share her struggle and wise to ponder the fleeting fulfillment of fame. As she does, PVRIS have come even closer to crossing the mainstream threshold. When their rise reaches its peak, which could very well be sooner than later, it would seem that they’ll be prepared.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.