Sound — 7
PVRIS are the brainchild of leadwoman/multi-instrumentalist Lynn Gunn (Lyndsey Gunnulfsen) and the equally multi-instrumental Alex Babinski (main guitarist) and Brian MacDonald (Jr., bassist).
"Heaven" is a gradual build into an overview of the album sound. This album features much more effected sounds than its predecessor White Noise and features far more pop elements (particularly arpeggiator usage) than ever before. However, both synthesizers and fretted instrument have their place under the sun alongside Gunn's improved and more refined vocal deliveries. "Half" shows brilliant interplay between the guitar lines and the samples/synths. "Anyone Else" is an exercise in contrasting syncopated patterns and general fun with rhythmic feel/groove, and "Nola 1" is as well, albeit to a lesser degree.
Production: this album was produced with slightly less reverb and more microphone clarity than "White Noise", and it serves the band well. Gunn's vocals shimmer more in "AWKOHAWNOH" than in "White Noise", where a combination of EQ and reverb (possibly mic fidelity as well) lead to the vocals being more in the mix; compare "My House" from White Noise to "No Mercy" for an example. There is also an overabundance of bass at times, particularly in "Nola 1".
Regarding "No Mercy", while the song's ideas are good, the mix leaves something to be desired. The song is meant to be some sort of headbanger, but the combination of parts within the wall of sound leaves no sonic breathing room and is aptly merciless; it could work better in a live setting than in the confines of a recording medium. The frequency range of that song is also smaller and cymbal clarity more wanting than most of the other tracks, particularly "What's Wrong" (the synth bass goes down towards the limit of human hearing, G# below piano keys, while the cymbals ring clear and high).
There are quite a number of post-song transitions, particularly following the first few songs. They give the album a generally more introspective, almost hypnotic feel in between songs and connect the pieces together.
"Same Soul" echoes "Mirrors" from their first album quite loudly, particularly in the verses and bridge. There is additional material in the song that differentiates the two ("Same Soul"'s chorus is most similar to "St. Patrick" in the antiphonal interplay between the instruments and the following vocals), but "Same Soul" and "Mirrors" are both in the same key and have similar feels, builds, and song structures. Listening to it alone a bit more, "Same Soul" gives off a bit more energy than "Mirrors" but still feels more formulaic than necessary.
"Separate" and "Nola 1" wrap up the album. The former is a piano, bass, and drum ballad and carries some general heaviness/weariness despite the sparse instrumentation and highly reverberant atmosphere. "Nola 1" is similarly minimalistic, not-as-similarly produced with less reverb, and, in stark contrast to most of their previous offerings, sounds more like a collaboration between the band's previous ideas and Richard Barbieri of Porcupine Tree fame.
Lyrics — 9
A great amount of lyric material comes from the ongoing processing of the full body of emotions during and following the reception and touring of the previous album. "Separate" stands out in particular: "Clouded sheets of glass behind hazel eyes/stand in front of my sights blurring my life/And it pulls away the world from me but I don't mind/as long as it won't separate you from me I'll be fine"
"Same Soul" includes a chorus with clever wordplay: "I'm just a body that you used to know/I'm just somebody that you used to know/I'm just a body that you used to know". It may not be the most original phrase (think Gotye), but the wordplay is much appreciated. Overall, the lyrics, written as a conversation between Gunn and an undefined "you", is a welcome purge of negativity in the process of healing from life's wounds.
The album lyrics are rather repetitive in their execution ("Heaven"'s chorus is "You took my heaven away" and chunks therein), but the effect drives the therapeutic nature of the negative emotions expressed through music.
Overall Impression — 8
Since its initial branding as Paris, Massachusetts-based band PVRIS has evolved from the more riff-driven metalcore escapades of the "Paris" EP, the more dynamic approaches in "White Noise," the acoustic rearrangements as evidenced in "The Empty Room Sessions," and overall general life and touring experience, and has thus refined their sound palette and songwriting skills.
"AWKOHAWNOH" takes a far more pop-driven approach to song writing than its predecessors. Guitar is much less of a focus throughout the entire album, and songs "What's Wrong" and "Walk Alone" signal this change from guitar-driven ballads/mid-tempo songs like "Eyelids" and "You and I" to a more synth- and bass-heavy dynamic most drastically. As musicians first and foremost, such experiments with the instrumental balance may isolate some fans who preferred the "Paris" EP-era sound, but the album is by-and-large pleasant, and usually displays a great compendium of well-organized and unpretentious musical ideas.
Highlights (in album order): "Heaven", "Half", "Anyone Else", "Separate."