Chvrches’ seminal fourth album ‘Screen Violence’ is a mesmerizing record that creates integral layers of thinking on life in the periphery in transfiguring our inner experience.
written by guest writer David M. Buyze
Stream: ‘Screen Violence’ – CHVRCHES
“I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown
And if the words float up to the surface
I’ll keep them down
This is the first time, I know
I don’t want the crown
You can take it now
You promised the world and brought me it hanging from a string”
– “How Not to Drown,” Chvrches & Robert Smith
How often is it when we have promised the world to another person and then failed? The next day, language might seem to fail in the state of an physical or emotional hangover, as words appear ungraspable on the surface of an experience that might appear as intangible. Perhaps the promise was never entirely considered as to what that meant in what you had to give away, or really surrender in your life? The world and what it offers to each of us is so intangible, real and simultaneously unreal – vivid, transparent, and illusory. How do we exist amidst these intangibles that might appear to us as only a string of meaning that is without substance as we attempt to connect with someone in our immediate present, or reconnect with a love or a friendship across the ages of our lives? How do we create meaning within our own precious lives and our lives with others?
When I hear the music of Chvrches, I begin to exist anew and with difference, as they afford an entirely futuristic feeling on what it means to be alive amidst and beyond this pandemic, and in this they offer an existential awakening. They are also immensely indebted to history and the cultural imprints on who they are, as perhaps without Robert Smith and The Cure, they might never have been.
Chvrches’ seminal fourth album Screen Violence is deeply poised as influenced by The Cure and in particular to their landmark genre-defying albums Pornography and Disintegration, as the Chvrches band member Martin Doherty articulated in a recent 2021 session on Apple’s New Music Daily, “Genuinely, I wouldn’t be in a band if it wasn’t for Pornography and Disintegration, those are two of the greatest albums of all time.”
The music of Chvrches is born out of the eclipse of the extraordinary visceral vision of The Cure, and one of the most stunning songs on this LP is “How Not to Drown,” a collaboration between Chvrches and The Cure’s own Robert Smith. In this track there is a synergistic tension that is very evocative in residing on an emotional sense of drowning in a relationship. This particular song is so haunting in demanding the listener to fathom within the fragility of emotional life.
Chvrches reside in creating industrially buoyant synth-pop that is indelibly shaped through the imprints of 1980’s synth Britannia, and this is a dynamic aspect as undoubtedly this was one of the most significant and creative revolutions in music. The sense of buoyancy in their music resides on a crystallized degree of perception that poignantly contemplates existential tensions of darkness that levitate on how one can survive amidst solitude, life, and love. The songs “How Not to Drown” and “Asking For a Friend” evoke these exact sentiments in pondering significant questions about how one is positioned in one’s life in the world. As they articulate in “Asking For a Friend”:
“I don’t want to say
That I’m afraid to die
I’m no good at goodbyes
I can’t apologise
And if I don’t stop now
Will it follow me down?
I guess I have to try
It’s the art of getting by”
The arc and depth of this song only solidifies the utterly unique sense of inquiry and reflection that they are fostering through their music in posing reflections on the meaning of life. Throughout the trajectory of their career, Chvrches have been creating highly innovative music within an extremely defined ear to 80’s synth-pop while being immersed in a vision that resonates on our life and culture today. Their music compels a sense of vibrant comfort in expanding how existential malaise can be contemplated within nuanced interiors of experience and from perspectives that are exterior to the self. Their examination of inner experience can also be reflected to the thinking of the philosopher Georges Bataille who writes in Inner Experience, “‘Oneself’ is not the subject isolating itself from the world, but a place of communication, of fusion of the subject and the object.” (Bataille 9)
In Screen Violence, Chvrches instill us to become aware of how we can live with greater degrees of freedom in our personal relationships and in the world, that also implores awareness on isolation, but more significantly how one is always already communicating between subject and object, or between self and the other, as can be witnessed in their lyrical focus on tensions in human relationships that dwell on vulnerability. This perspective opens up different ways of thinking about the self in highlighting that one is always amidst an other through the vehicle of language in providing perspicacious ways to comprehend how one can reside within the perspective of a person that is outside of one’s immediate experience of self. In turn, this album increases self-understanding in providing alternative manners to contemplate emotional tensions and questions that surround the complexity of life. My immersion in this LP has also enabled me to simultaneously inhabit two worlds or two states of consciousness, one being my contemporary life, and the other that presciently dwells in that of my youth – in this regard, I am able to continually resonate in and deeply unravel feelings and experiences that have remained unresolved in my mind. If one becomes entirely immersed in listening to Chvrches’ Screen Violence in addition to The Cure’s Pornography and Disintegration over the course of days or even weeks in my case, it is possible to shed former psychological barriers of resistance and displacement in more closely understanding patterns of being and behavior.
It is vital to understand that an album such as Chvrches’ Screen Violence exists outside of us as all music does, but if this LP is brought closely within the daily fabric and ordinariness of experience on a continual basis, change within the self and our relations with others is utterly possible. This resonates on the perspective of Jhumpa Lahiri who writes in her marvelous memoir In Other Words, “I believe that what can change our life is always outside us.” (Lahiri 43). The music of Chvrches and undoubtedly The Cure is marginal in that their music is not mainstream, and it is within the margins that the experience of life can be understood from a alternative and highly enhanced vantage point, as Lahiri also illustrates in speaking of the significance of writing in her life, “I write on the margins, just as I’ve always lived on the margins of countries, or cultures. A peripheral zone where it’s impossible for me to feel rooted, but where I’m comfortable. The only zone where I think that, in some way, I belong.” (Lahiri 93). The music of Chvrches is written and created on those kinds of exact margins in that it is culturally peripheral, and in that periphery outside of the mainstream – wonder resides in discovering alternative ways of how one belongs within the self, outside of the self, in relation to others, and in the world.
I reflect on this sense of awakening in my own life through how The Clash’s Sandinista was a crucial turning point in my own consciousness that enabled my vision to shift outside of my self, and my experience of Chvrches’ Screen Violence brings me back to that time as a mirror of intense self-transcendence in coming to realize how I could only exist on the margins of quotidian life.
I remember the exact day I purchased the dual cassette of The Clash’s Sandanista for my Walkman, as I sat on a team bus that was to transport me to yet another swimming competition. I was already being ridiculed for bringing such a weird album on board the bus, and as peers saw the images of the cover art, they could not comprehend this type of music in any manner. They had no ability to process what the images meant, this strange band that was invoking social change, and even much less so, the music. Any sense of rebellion, of being different, had not infiltrated their soul or their understanding of life as they were really only concerned with being a part of the status quo. At that time in the 80’s, being a punk, an outsider, and even more so, being a child of immigrants was just seen as not being a part of society. Even though Canada and the U.S. were and are countries of immigrants, there was still a status quo that rejected the most recent immigrants, a phenomenon that continually perpetuates itself today.
Within this fabric of society, I felt on the margins of what was perceived as normalcy, and this beginning slowly perpetuated itself throughout my life experience as I began to only inhabit this marginal space as there I found like-minded individuals, communities, theories, philosophies, and music. In this manner, I immensely resonate with Jhumpa Lahiri’s insights on the margin or periphery, as this is as well the only place where I can find comfort, and also hope, resilience, and inspiration — the music of Chvrches entirely inhabits these feelings. Through this LP they also propel cultural vitality in music in illuminating a musical vision that can lead us to live greater lives, as we are indeed witnessing a new generation that is enabling us to live with a sublime sense of depth in how to imagine and live otherwise in thinking through and beyond the repetition of life. Chvrches expand our thinking on life in the margins, and at the indelible nexus of simply existing to becoming something of more significance than our own self. The voice of Lauren Mayberry via Chvrches propels us to greater stratospheres of self-reckoning in providing us with the ability to examine life anew, and in opening forms of comfort and inspiration in the resiliency of her voice.
In many ways, Chvrches expose an emotional rawness that is akin to one’s first exposure to intensely inhabiting the music of such ’80s artists as The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Kate Bush — and indeed, one can sense imprints of these artists throughout Chvrches’ discography, in particular to the aforementioned albums by The Cure, and most certainly Echo and Bunnymen’s Porcupine, Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration, and Kate Bush’s The Dreaming.
The marvelous aspect about Chvrches is that they have created their own original sound that is shaped through the lens of contemporary experience in their generation.
Screen Violence is an album that scintillates my soul and continually raises my own thinking and consciousness and through repetitive listening, I can more closely dwell within the emotions and depths of human experience that they are exploring in this LP.
It is also crucial to consider that when we think about music and this particular album that does indeed speak to the depths of my being in listening to it over a glass of wine in a dark candlelight room — in turn, the impact of the songs and the album exist everyday, in making itself manifest on the surfaces of my daily experience in the sunlight. What is considered as the depths of existence and being, also exist repetitively on our quotidian surfaces of experience. Screen Violence exists at this continual tension and interplay between depth and surface, dream and reality, darkness and light, self and other & life and death.
As I think about this album and how I inhabit the margin or periphery on a daily basis, the person that embodies my listening to Screen Violence is Isabel as she is someone that has solely inhabited marginality. From the moment that I met her in the twilight in a strange town and in a new country, I knew that our fate was sealed. She had walked into my party on a coastal town in a beaten flat, and from that instance our gaze was locked on each other — I knew that life would never be the same. We drifted across the room to each other as if in a trance, and as we sat beside each other and drank our drinks, it was if we had always been there, sitting there amidst the echoes of our former selves and waiting for each other to make a union of difference through two people from the most unlikely backgrounds and experiences. Amidst the utter cacophony that surrounded that exact moment in the party, everyone melted into the distance and I was transfixed in her presence. We became heavily enraptured with one another over the next months as we inhabited each other’s lives, and we quickly found that despite our different and distinct backgrounds, our inner experience was remarkably similar in our existential dispositions. We bled into each other in remarkable ways as we integrally felt that we could support our seemingly combined consciousness, and Chvrches are trying to interrogate this sustainable, unattainable, or utopian realm.
There are experiences in life that bring two people together through the most improbable circumstances, and we would remain entirely inseparable for a year, and in many ways we are still emotionally connected. It was a lifetime ago, and in this time she is most unfortunately only a ghost in my life, yet in my memory I remain intimately involved with her and the imprints that she still carries within the weight of my conscious and unconscious life are of the utmost meaning in my life. Relations with others have that capacity to still transform our thinking and life even years after the fact, and this remains as a perpetual bittersweet feeling.
The song “Violent Delights” resides on an intimate bittersweet emotional realm that is also entwined with forms of trauma in exploring the indetermination between conscious and unconscious life and how our lives are always immersed in forms of loss:
“Had a dream your father died
I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t cry
The second night, I dreamt you drowned
You couldn’t fight, you were not found
These violent delights
Keep creeping into my nights
And they’re reading my rites
And I’ll never sleep alone again
And these violent delights
Keep bleeding into the light
And I’ll never be right
But they’ll never sleep alone again when I’m gone
When I’m gone”
As I sit here, the deaths of my father and mother weigh upon my consciousness, and at times when within late night half-sleep or the breaking dawn, the grasp of their lives and wondrous beings fills my dream-like state that continually keeps “bleeding into the light,” as I remain dwelling within shards of memory.
A feeling of loss, impermanence, and the dissonance of vulnerability permeate what has been created in this work of art.
Chvrches’ Screen Violence is a mesmerizing album that is very psychologically impactful in enabling one to think with enhanced degrees of clarity in reflecting on the tensions of existence, and in providing ideas and perspectives that create integral layers of thinking on life in the periphery in transfiguring our inner experience. This Scottish band is life altering as they continue to build on the force and veracity of their musical vision through every album, and in this work they have created a subtle, empowering, and unnerving portal on the human experience.
Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience, Trans. Lesley Anne Boldt, SUNY Press, 1988.
Lahiri, Jhumpa, In Other Words, Trans. Ann Goldstein, Vintage Books, 2017.
David M. Buyze is a writer and professor on music and culture, in addition to writing and teaching on various humanistic dynamics involving such issues as race, religion, conflict, nationalism, and postcolonial paradigms. He has a PhD from University of Toronto, and is particularly interested in cultural, social, and political issues of marginalization and how existential, social, and national dimensions of liberation can occur within literary and artistic forms of expressions. He is very passionate about the power of music in enabling people to vibrantly experience the world and think about existence in transcendent ways. Connect with him on Instagram @davidbuyze, Twitter @BuyzeDavid, or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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