Use Me: a review and analysis of the new album by PVRIS

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Image belongs to PVRIS/Warner Records

Just days before this album releases, PVRIS is dealing with the sudden and necessary departure of Alex Babinski, the band’s guitarist who is under fire for sexual misconduct allegations. This is the latest development in a difficult rollout for the band’s third album Use Me. Initially slated for a May release, the album was delayed to July due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then again to August 28th, despite the album leaking nearly a month in advance due to some albums shipping out on the July date — but Gunn felt it was important not to distract from the Black Lives Matter movement and the conversations about racism that needed to take place. Furthermore, having already teased three of the album’s songs on an EP last year as well as having released two more singles by April left PVRIS with little else to promote before the album’s release. Interviews leading up to the album’s release have largely focused on Gunn, having previously been uncertain of taking ownership of being the creative force of the band’s output but now empowered to do so.

“Gimme a Minute” is a more pop-focused and rhythmic approach to PVRIS’s usual dark electronic-rock sound, continuing the more mainstream sound they teased on their Hallucinations EP which served as a prelude to the album. Frontwoman Gunn sings about confronting the resurgence of her depression, and the rapid-fire delivery of the chorus transports listeners to the frantic moment Gunn finds herself battling a panic attack. The production calls to mind Billie Eilish’s work, specifically on “Bury a Friend”, but a burst of electric guitars as the song draws to a close allows Gunn to inhabit an edge that is fully PVRIS. The grittier sound carries over to “Dead Weight”, where Gunn is tired of the lack of reciprocity in her relationships, and feeling like she is carrying others without receiving the same support in return. Her voice has a gravelly and abrasive tone, communicating her anger over being taken advantage of. The track’s production takes an industrial approach akin to a Nine Inch Nails song, with edgy electric guitar riffs embedded in its sound. On “Stay Gold”, Gunn pivots to a more mainstream-friendly but still distinctive sound as she sings of the affection she feels for her love interest, not wanting it to end and hoping to preserve their relationship in its current form, vowing to keep her partner’s reputation intact should they break up. The production pushes PVRIS into blatant synthpop territory, infusing it with traces of their hazy ghostlike rock sound — and a robotic effect nearly muffles Gunn’s admission that her partner is precious, reflecting Gunn’s earlier expressed reluctance to share her feelings with the public. Gunn is a bit more relaxed on “Good to Be Alive”, where she ponders her life and career to this point, finding herself not wholly satiated with all she has achieved. JT Daly’s production borrows some hip-hop elements to add to the poppier synth-rock sound Gunn is building on the record, relying on acoustic guitar work to retain PVRIS’s rock roots.

“Death of Me” was released as the lead single off PVRIS’s Hallucinations EP, which served as a bridge from PVRIS’s older material to their new sound back in 2019. Gunn highlights the depth of her feelings for her partner here, confessing the power her partner has over her to emotionally break her and also utilizing innuendos to indicate Gunn’s sexual attraction to her partner. Gunn’s vocal delivery is smoky at times on this track, playing up the seductive tones of the lyrics and the melodies, while the production gives her an explosive chorus as Gunn recognizes and embraces the risk of being vulnerable with her partner. “Hallucinations” was the second single off the same EP and sees Gunn struggling with her psyche in the aftermath of a breakup, unsure which of her feelings are real and lost amongst her thoughts as she is haunted by her ex. Gunn co-wrote the song with Marshmello and set it aside before Daly worked on it, and Daly retains the EDM drop format for the chorus, creating a dark synth-rock EDM banger that also communicates the psychedelic and dazed outlook of Gunn’s lyricism. The last track from the EP to appear on this album, “Old Wounds’’ is a more traditionally PVRIS track and calls to mind the more downbeat and introspective moments of their last album, All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. The brooding and ethereal production gives way for Gunn’s profession of love towards an old flame that has re-entered her life, likening their reunion to picking open an old wound. Though the production builds to an explosive heavily rock-influenced climax, there’s a sparseness up until then that allows Gunn’s voice to mesmerize with her sincerity and vulnerability, mixed with her slightly-husky seductive tone.

“Loveless” strips everything back for Gunn to analyze her ex after an acrimonious separation. Gunn eviscerates her partner, accusing them of being incapable of emotion and manipulating her into being open and vulnerable while being unwilling to reciprocate. Gunn sings accompanied with stark acoustic guitar & minimal production aside from some reverb, leaving her to deliver the observation that her partner doesn’t love her with her pained and weary vocal performance. On “January Rain”, Gunn mourns a relationship’s end, having suspected her partner would abandon her and sorrowful over her lingering feelings over the summer romance’s end. The production here is a moody electronic-rock fusion that also sounds similar to PVRIS’s work on their debut album, with flourishes of piano. Title track “Use Me” sees Gunn inviting a troubled potential lover to lean on her, comparing the dependency to herself that of a drug. Gunn is joined by rapped 070 Shake, who gives her verse cajoling her love interest into trusting her, and her deeper voice makes for a good contrast with Gunn’s lighter and more vulnerable vocal. The chilly production utilizes a wall of background vocals for texture and harp and violins to sell the melodramatic plea. The final song, “Wish You Well” is a conclusion to the troubled relationship that mars the majority of the album, with references to prior songs like repeating her wish to preserve her in amber from “Stay Gold” and checking her psychic again on “January Rain”. Gunn expresses her hope that her ex-lover will heal from her past issues and troubles, acknowledging the hurt her partner caused her but wishing her the best for the future.

Use Me is yet another shift for PVRIS in terms of sound, which had already evolved between their first and second album. This album takes them to a more radio-friendly and pop-centric sound that still maintains their unique brand of dark synthpop, but feels more personalized to Gunn’s experiences than ever before. Her lyricism is sharper than on previous records, and she seems more comfortable sharing her experiences in music. Her artistry feels less reliant on being part of a band and more self-assured, with her vocal performance often being a defining highlight of the record. Gunn’s reclamation of the spotlight could not come at a better time for the band, and this album carves a path forward for the band to continue progressing as it always has under Gunn’s vision.

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