The time when PVRIS could seemingly do no wrong feels like an awfully long time ago now. Their debut White Noise certainly was a great album in giving the pop-rock of the time an added boost with electro-pop and darkwave elements that, with the benefit of hindsight, could be seen as a catalyst for the alt-pop explosion to come, but All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell was a considerable stumble for them, to the point where a lot of their scene clout seemed to effectively evaporate without hesitation. Regardless of their devoted fanbase who’ve proven their own wherewithal to stick around isn’t going away, PVRIS aren’t exactly on their strongest footing right now, which makes an already odd and somewhat contradictory move into Hallucinations’ cycle feel even stranger. For one, moving to a label like Warner doesn’t tend to yield a mere EP for a first release, and with both Death Of Me and the title track already heralding what feels like an even poppier step that’s proven to be the patience-tester needed for that fanbase to really have some doubts, there’s already a sense of uncertainty and instability running through Hallucinations that’s arguably never been as critical within PVRIS as it is now.
Granted that might be a bit severe of a reaction when Hallucinations is functionally fine as a release, but its transitional qualities really are unavoidable, especially in the extent to which it feels as though PVRIS aren’t operating at their full capacity. The ear for a catchy melody and sleek, slightly darker electronic sheen remains, but putting that into a safer, more palatable context to represent their step up the industry ladder isn’t something that reaps many immediate benefits, especially when the balance between that exact angle and a noticeable rock side was already razor-thin. It leaves Hallucinations as generally decent but lacking the spark that can make PVRIS so compelling, and when that was a similar criticism with their last full-length (albeit repurposed into a different area here), it doesn’t feel like a progression as much as a solidifying of what was already a mid-tier approximation of their sound.
That repurposing is important to consider with Hallucinations however; where All We Know Of Heaven… could muster the icy atmosphere but meandered in doing so, the tighter, pop-centric compositions here are a lot sharper and more direct, but at the mercy of the richer sound that PVRIS are capable of. It’s not totally absent as the fluttering guitars and harps of the title track and the cold, echoing pianos of Things Are Better show, but the onus is placed on feeding these songs through a more accessible pop filter that streamlines the approach much more. And honestly, that’s not bad in itself, especially when there’s a punch to some of these tracks that’s much appreciated, both in how evidently more honed-in they are, and in how they give Lynn Gunn’s more strident, powerful vocal register a lot more to do, and highlight just how well she can balance that with the delicate, velvety moments elsewhere. Both Nightmare and Death Of Me make good use of their pounding beat that, when paired with the buzzes of guitar on the former, does pick up a sharpness that’s really well executed, and the general leanness of the EP as a whole cuts away the majority of empty calories by design alone. But by removing a lot of that atmosphere, regardless of how poorly it might have been utilised in the past, there isn’t much in the way of differentiation between PVRIS and just another alt-pop band, and Hallucinations ultimately suffers from lacking that critical component that’s always been so defining. The songs themselves are fine, but the mould in which they’ve been shunted into feels notably un-PVRIS, like something has been taken away from the wider equation without being replaced by something else. It can honestly leave moments on this EP feeling a little anonymous, and while there’s often enough of a personality to the performance to keep everything tied back to the source, it’s often not enough to make the net result feel worth it.
The exact same criticisms can be made of the writing as well, in how what’s here isn’t bad and has ostensibly enough to it to be recognisable as PVRIS, but that comes at the mercy of being compressed down for what feels like marketability’s sake. That’s not to say that having each of these tracks form part of a messy post-breakup headspace isn’t a good idea, and for a band like PVRIS especially, it’s the sort of thing that’s right up their alley, but again, it’s that final push over the finish line that Hallucinations is lacking, especially when it comes to putting everything together. The smirking malevolence of Nightmare is definitely a nice touch, and the darker, often paranormal imagery running through the title track and Old Wounds does have the band’s distinct flavour to it, but it doesn’t feel as though everything coalesces as tightly as it could, and the main focus of what’s being said comes down to moments of that recognisability among a pretty menial collection of breakup songs. PVRIS songs in the past have usually had more complexity or subtextual depth to them, but here, the only congruent throughline with that is Gunn’s clearly scattered headspace and how her bouncing emotions underline what tones are played to and when. It’s definitely basic, but even though it gets the job done, it’s hard not to feel a bit underwhelmed by what’s on offer here. There’s not much that sticks out beyond the hooks, which can be enough for a pop-rock band to stick the landing on, but when PVRIS have been able to eke out so much more depth and potential in their material, this sort of truncated, pared-back version of that doesn’t feel nearly as long-lasting.
That’s not enough on its own to call Hallucinations a failure, though; PVRIS are still capable writers and musicians, and for what they’re aiming for here and what comes from it, it’s hard to say that their intentions haven’t been at least somewhat fulfilled. But it’s those intentions that stand as the issue, in that they feel more restrictive than they should and don’t give PVRIS the room to experiment that they could really use about now. There’s more to this band than the hooks and the production, and while both are fine here, the impression that everything else is going to be overlooked going forward only begins to set in deeper with each listen. It’ll ultimately take a full album to solidify the direction that this new era of PVRIS is going to be heading in, but off Hallucinations alone, it appears to be another band who could’ve been something really special moving in a way that doesn’t flatter their abilities.
For fans of: Against The Current, CHVRCHES, Chapel
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hallucinations’ by PVRIS is out now on Warner Music.