“You give me something to talk about.” Those words kick off the best pop song 2014 has to offer- try as Taylor Swift might. Those are the words of Lyndsey Gunnulfsen of the Lowell, Massachusetts pop-rock trio PVRIS- but it just as well could be the words of all the music critics, myself included, who have fallen in love with the up-and-coming band’s breakthrough single. Though it would be impossible for any band to craft an album of ten songs as impactful as the roaring “St. Patrick,” which we have spoken about previously on this very blog, PVRIS dutifully attempted to harness the energy of “St. Patrick” into their debut full length White Noise.
Harness that energy, they did. Whether on the suitably incendiary “Fire,” which bassist Brian McDonald paces with a powerfully driving bassline in the chorus, or on the album closing one-two punch of “Ghosts” and “Let Them In” (the latter or which has one of the most anthemic and riotously fun choruses of the year), PVRIS displays that at the very least if they are not able to live up to the promise of “St. Patrick,” they will come exceedingly close.
When Gunnulfsen deviates from the melody for a freestyle vocal run, her talent is immediately noticeable.“Why can’t you stay?” she belts near the tail-end of “Ghosts,” and the emotive force of her vocal delivery is palpable. Or there is the variation of the chorus in the bridge of “My House,” in which Gunnulfsen’s vocals twist the original melody, her voice ascending as she asks, “Haven’t you heard?,” before finishing the line with a snarling “I’m not yours anymore,” over a pulverizing drum beat breakdown that would make even the best Warped-core bands blush.
On the sound board side of White Noise, the arrangements of the songs are incredibly layered and intricate, and the drum textures feel crisp while still fairly organic sounding (the drums on White Noise were also recorded in part by There For Tomorrow drummer Chris Kamrada, who does a tremendous job when given the opportunity to shine). A lot of the credit for the tight production has to go to producer Blake Harnage. Harnage seems to have learned a lot since the recording of Neon, his band Versa’s newest EP which he was featured as a producer on. Whereas the electronic elements on Neon felt listless and empty, on White Noise they stand out and are equally as impressive as the driving guitars.
That’s perhaps not the only place on White Noise from which Versa could learn a thing or too. Gunnulfsen seems to have an innate ability to craft biting one liners and incitive lyrics which she delivers with a masterful growl. “Fire” especially is just line (“You were a walking, talking, corpse at best. / And I swear, I couldn’t wait to get you off my chest,”) after line (“And when you asked us why we couldn’t look you in your eyes, / It’s hard to find life in something that’s already died,) of accusatory snipes. This is an album full of lyrical homages to the days of subtextual AOL instant messenger away messages and to the modern art of the subtweet. I know this sounds as though I am discounting the lyrical content of the record by saying that, but I think this idiosyncrasy is actually one of White Noise‘s greatest strengths. Whereas many young bands stick meaningless platitudes into their songs or describe how malnourished their knees are, PVRIS has a snark and character to their lyrics which comes across as highly distinctive. Whereas on “Holy,” Gunnulfsen could’ve stuck to Paramore-esque criticisms (“It has to be so lonely, to be the only one who’s holy?,” anyone?), she instead opts for a brutal inspection of a former lover’s moral fiber, singing: “I think that chest must be heavy from that cross on your neck you only wear ’cause you’re weary of what comes next after you’re death.”
While White Noise is ultimately a pop album, full of powerful synths and sing-along choruses, it would be reductive to call it “just” a pop album. There is a kind of mysterious brooding nature to several of the tracks. While “Fire” and “Holy” have a deep-seated anger behind them, “Eyelids,” has a sort of desperate longing to it (“It’s hard to say “good morning” when it’s followed with “goodbye”). Simply put, there is more depth to White Noise than may be initially apparent when you heard the words “electronic pop-rock.” As a result, White Noise joins a crowded pack, also featuring Bleacher’s Strange Desire, as not just one of the best debut albums of the year, but one of the best albums of the year, period.