Had someone tried to chart the course for the decade-ish following their debut album, the likelihood would be the PVRIS wouldn’t end up here. In 2014, with the release of White Noise, they were the untouchable buzz band ready to dominate the alternative landscape and beyond; now, it’s Lynsey Gunnulfsen’s solo project with a trail of diminished returns in its wake. And it’s hard not to feel sorry for her, because in a sense, you can tell this wasn’t built to last. For dark electro-pop finding scene-adjacent favour, that might’ve been all the rage back then, but those tectonic plates have shifted multiple times over since, and PVRIS have been left in the lurch.
You can also appreciate the tenacity to make this work though, and how Gunnulfsen has persevered so much to continue to make something from this. But that’s the problem—nothing has been made. Particularly with a lead single like St. Patrick, White Noise was a breath of fresh air that others would jump onboard, but it’s been lapped and overtaken so many times since. So while Evergreen is clearly an attempt to modernise and come more in line with where that portion of pop-rock is currently, Gunnulfsen finds it hard to escape her status as a follower now, rather than a leader. The palette of Evergreen has grown, yet the hang-ups of other PVRIS albums haven’t been shed—these don’t feel like worthwhile changes, nor does Gunnulfsen’s application of them feel conducive with her initial artistic strengths.
Now, that’d be an incredibly difficult balance to get right at the best of times. The style most associated with PVRIS—monochrome alt-pop buoyed by crashing expanse just as much as smoky vulnerability—doesn’t gel too well with these blockier, somewhat-in-vogue tones employed here. The ‘somewhat’ is especially important there too, and not in a good way. Because while you’ll still find artists like this around, and who’ve clearly spun off from this more grinding, abrasive style of alt-pop, it isn’t popular anymore. Ergo, Evergreen feels the total opposite of its title, and considering how far ahead Gunnulfsen once was, it paints these efforts in a fairly unappealing light. She’s not turned into grandson or anything just yet, but it’s the overweight guitar splutter of Goddess or Hype Zombies, or the grunting bass of Animal that just do nothing at all.
What it feels like most of all is Gunnulfsen opting for her own twenty one pilots impression about half-a-decade too late, and feeling every second of it. Even on the album’s more tolerable moments like Senti-Mental, the brighter synths and fluffier indie-pop tone don’t even try to hide it. And that feels so counterintuitive to when Gunnulfsen staked her claim originally, now reduced to fragments of ideas on I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore and Take My Nirvana. Those two are arguably the most ‘standard’ PVRIS songs here, for the simple reason that they’ve got a darker throb that bends and twists into whatever direction their bigger album concept has in mind. In the case of Evergreen and its tries at alt-pop circa 2015, they’ll stick the landing more convincingly than ground-up reimaginings of something that PVRIS had surpassed at the very beginning.
It’s frustrating when there’s clearly effort and intent here, and it just feels so misguided. Even if the half-dozen directions at least that Gunnulfsen pulls this in are nothing that surprising, when the stars align and they culminate in something like the burbling pop of Love Is A…, there’s something worth it there. But those moments are incredibly fleeting. That’s been true of all PVRIS albums since their debut, but even they’ve never felt as patchwork as Evergreen does. And with the weird lack of weight or portent behind it, even in the production, it’s really not that different from past efforts, if you think about it.
Except it’s clearly supposed to be. In the same way that 2020’s Use Me used Gunnulfsen’s split from her former bandmates to envision a clean slate (and generally didn’t fare too well), Evergreen seems focused on reassertion and redefinition. It goes slightly better, to be charitable. Thematically, there are largely fine moments—Gunnulfsen turns towards self-actualisation and empowerment on Goddess, as well as aiming at industry fickleness on Hype Zombies or Take My Nirvana. Even if much of PVRIS’ work has felt tied to similar fenceposts as those, they fundamentally work all the same. It’d just be nice if Gunnulfsen saw fit to return to a more powerful vocal style, instead of the sleepier coo she’s almost permanently locked into. Sure, the others she’s aping also do that, but it’s rarely tolerable; if there’s ever praise for Tyler Joseph, grandson or K.Flay (and for the last two, there seldom is), it’s certainly not for how good they are as singers.
What’s left as the end of it all is a piecemeal mess that, for all it’s worth, does make itself known more than the past couple of PVRIS albums. Not in a good way, mind, seeing as Gunnulfsen seems to have abandoned the last few shreds of real excellence her wider career started out with, for this unflattering melange of half-ideas that, quite frankly, is beneath her. She’s a talented artist, as has been documented numerous times, and rarely does the extent of that show up on Evergreen. The scant glimpses of something working aren’t enough to sing praises as loudly and defiantly as they once were; if anything, given the consistency of this album, they might’ve been stumbled into by mistake.
For fans of: twenty one pilots, K.Flay, grandson
‘Evergreen’ by PVRIS is out now on Hopeless Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall