[Acephale Records; 2011]
Although seemingly named after an over-the-counter aphrodisiac, Pure X (formerly Pure Ecstasy) has no intention of giving listeners a painfully overwrought tumescence in their unmentionables. Instead, the Austin trio’s first full-length album “Pleasure” works as a stimulant to one’s melatonin receptors. Common side-effects may include drowsiness, an inability to stay alert, and an all-encompassing sense of crepuscular tranquility. You could call this somnambulant shoegaze or drone-pop; it is music made for nodding off and it is made well.
Nate Grace’s waves of reverb-drenched vocals (which range from a laconic, earnest croon to a Jonsi-esque, cetaceous falsetto) mingle with his languid, fuzzed-out guitar leads to create a distinctively rich atmosphere on the album. The deceptively simple sonic landscapes formed are immense and desolate, yet simultaneously cloistered and claustrophobic.
This may indeed be beach music, but from the opener “Heavy Air”, listeners are treated to the not-altogether-unnerving feeling that the shore in question is a forlorn strand of greasy sand adjacent to a dying inland sea. At times, the music can feel overtly ominous – as if the land in question has no known boundaries, but is enclosed on all sides by unseen walls that vaguely threaten to collapse inwards. Conversely, the layered sounds can also create an overriding sense of warmth – like a hypnogogic womb where the listener drifts on the cusp of consciousness in a bath of subtle light.
On “Dream Over” and continuing into “Twisted Mirror” (think Sweet Jane with an ample helping of the Field Mice), a simple back beat and warm, sticky bass lines tick on inexorably as molasses-seeped guitar leads drift into the thick air with the help of a bit of pedal wizardry (a hallmark of the album). Hauntingly omnipotent vocals echo off the aforementioned walls and immerse one in a hazy, soporific dreamscape. “There’s a mirror in your eyes and every time I look, all I see is me in disguise”. Lyrically obtuse, Pure X ostensibly sings about relationships, but this may also be a reference to the pantheon of forbearers who have informed their swirling, narcotic sounds (Spacemen 3, Ride, and even Brian Eno’s minimalist textures come to mind).
Pure X - "Easy" from Malcolm Elijah on Vimeo.
“Easy”, the most decidedly upbeat song on the album, brings light to the ethereal gloom as a bubblegum-doo-wop melody rises through the murk and trails into a lilting harmony reminiscent of Galaxie 500. However, the light-hearted moments are ephemeral here and the instrumental coda gives tidings of the twilight to come. “Voices”, another standout track that was released on an earlier 7-inch, plays sonically like an Angelo Badalamenti score as the empathetic refrain serves up solace through shared experience. “I know, I know, I know. It seems like there’s no place left to go. I know, I know, I know. Everywhere you look is dark. ” A Faustian deal gone awry or just another mind-numbing day at a shitty job? As the album rarely flirts with absolutes, my guess is as good as yours; but fear not young acolytes, as Grace later assures us that “the walls aren’t caving in”. (A seemingly spurious claim from a purveyor of such close-quartered music.)
While drug references and this band go hand-in-hand, Pure X doesn’t feel like reckless intoxication or dopey glee to me. This is comedown music and “Surface”, an enchanting slow-burner with a playful beat, sums up the overarching vibe of the album - don’t expect to be singularly moved by the music, but it should entangle you amongst the detritus and flotsam flowing in its current and pull you along for the ride.
By the time the album starts wrapping up, the listener is mired knee-deep in its thick, washed-out brilliance. “Stuck Living” reinforces the masterful restraint exhibited by Grace. Self-indulgence is far from an issue as each understated note resonates and his plaintive voice hits eerie heights. While “Dry Ice” may at times sound like Yim Yames fronting Isn’t Anything-era MBV, the end-result is strangely invigorating as guitar bends and squeals transition into the introspective instrumental “Pleasure”, where the listener is whisked back to the earlier scene of indolent waves lapping at a darkened coast.
The album could have naturally culminated here, but we are treated to an encore of sorts with “Half Here”. Again invoking an early Sigur Rós, Grace’s whale-song permeates the air behind a drifting melody until a fierce cacophony impetuously rises into a maelstrom of sounds, quickly subsides, and then abruptly stops. An aptly disconcerting and inchoate end to a terse and restrained album that won’t be remembered for its songcraft or sonic diversity, but for the stark, unique atmosphere it creates.