Thursday, 3 October 2013

Pure Bathing Culture - Moon Tides


Summer is over. What manner of hot weather and clear skies, have departed for another year (or two maybe three, in the case of us Brits) and Autumn's blistery, drizzly, sinisterly lower form of climate is what surrounds us now to continue the cycle. While the reports point to an upcoming surge in temperature and good fortunes - which, as you'd expect, I don't believe in - it's safe to say that immersing one's self in the literal and physical heat is gone. For some areas of music, summer bears much more importance than just a desired sun-tan. Should any dream-pop records come about in the time between now and the merry capitali- err I mean Christmas period, it's likely their target market may be experiencing only a sonic and audible suggestion of summer, rather than a means to soak more of it in. Likely, but never guaranteed though; to counter that, an act like Portland's Pure Bathing Culture have their studio experience with currently-traded names like Foxygen to at least suggest their way around the production equivalence of music, is something that's been fortunately passed on. Meeting at the point between summer and autumn then, Culture's debut LP Moon Tides title-wise, attempts to capture (metaphorically admittedly) that in-and-out phasing between seasons. And as Sarah Versprille [vocalist of Pure Bathing Culture] seems to suggests - offering that the title came up while '[thinking about] the moon’s relationship with the Earth, and how the moon effects the tide, and how perhaps the moon effects humans' - the intention is evermore personal yet challengingly distant.

There's at least three decades we travel though straight-off on the first track, and lead single, Pendulum with its breezy guitar notes, colourful beach pop, and above all, a sense of enjoyment. Much like the very 80's the duo attempt to draw us into - a time when pop was growing more and more to being the suffix to many an electronic-themed context - Culture's sound is a fluidity of reverb atop Versprille's flairing vocals and sailing accoustic strings. It's never difficult to determine the state of bliss - or indeed the ellaboartion of it - from the front-woman's stance. More-so, it's not difficult to conclude that her direction is one of affection, 'You're the cats eyes/You're the pendulum', even if her description mixes romanticized flair with riddled challenge. Dream The Dare takes a slightly less voided and stereoscopic approach, and while this slowing-down of pace and delivery makes for some interesting lyrical structure for Verspille, [remaining half] Daniel Hindman's refusal to shake the same formula of wavy guitar riffs, reverb and plush drum beats off, feels more a nuisance than a humble accordance with the former's instinctive impression of emotion amid scenery. And speaking as someone of a electronic favour, it comes as human nature for me to pick-up on the rather stagnant use of drumbeats on a case like Evergreener, and denounce this as forcing too much on the pace and rhythm of the piece in its quaver one-and-TWO-and pattern. It's a problem because the track's actual flow and resounding use of melody, allows the song to succeed in equivalating this already-recognizable coloured-in, young charm - latter synths dabbing at the choruses like paint dabs. Child-like, but not child-natured.

Clearly Versprille has already snuck into the niesh to which her star-gazing, sofening vocals fit, and if my indecision was merely down to the limitation of their interplay, I probably wouldn't be as indecisive as to its conviction. Fortuately, when we're offered a slight mix-up in instrumentation in the case of Twins and its colourful guitar strums, interlinking gush of tone with Versprille's voice and the melodic lead of guitar and drum beats offers a little more on the harmonious side and allows the fairly unchanged tone of synths a slight pardon. Not that the percussion changes from what is still this more-afront than need-be, but at the very most Culture's composition feels like it's attempting to keep melody their top priority. Lkewise on following track Only Lonely Lovers, the guitars seem to increase in liveliness on an active level as opposed to being shunted to some reverb-drenched sideline. What's more is that there's a slight change in Versprille's lyrical flow - words skipping out from the void of effects instead of laundering in them. While I like the way she seems to instigate a sort of tonal friction on the music, I wish - in part down to its success - that this was taken forward a tad more, as the first track aside, it demonstrates Versprille's ability to blend into the atmospheric context of the track, as well as arising from it independantly.

Having said that, even when the focus it seems isn't drawn on causing friction between lyrics and sound, with Scotty, Culture manage to will in them the confidence to strip back a little even if the atmosphere and the expanse of tone and colour, still remains. But this in result creates an interesting dynamic between the sun-drenched reverb of their melodic sounds and the remnant-like stance of vocals and synthesizers that act on the space in a more challenging - but not dramatic - fashion. But as we approach Seven 2 One and the greeting we get is yet again in the shape of an upfront, monotony of drum machine beats more clear than the guitars pleasantly strumming beneath it, that the problems surrounding this record overshadow its benefits. Melodically, Versprille's heightened cries of 'Seven to one/Hope you will become/Seven to one/Hope that's said and done' proove both band members can equate to one another's tonal qualities - tidal wave cymbals especially giving the track a fresh, soothing vibe that works nicely with the dreamy glaze of atmosphere still present. But even with this, despite the novelty, the percussion continues to fall rather flat in affecting me as much as the guitar lines or vocals do - not only when fulfilling their own duties, but more importantly (and conspicuous as a result) seeming to rely on the drumbeats to, yet again, force through a pacing that perhaps isn't necessarily needed.

The debate turns sharply towards whether or not Culture's flow and sequencing actually requires such lifeless, unemotive synthesizers in the first place. Clearly there's a distinctive pattern and palette the duo stick to when carving their plain or shading their atmosphere. But the more I find myself [pleasantly] soaking into the duo's scenery, the more I begin to pick up on how dry and dismal their use of assisted electronics can be. Golden Girl could easily have done without the compulsory lead of such minute and delicately-tapped beats; if anything I feel the rest of the track's build is deliberately held back and weakened by such a precise and targetted delivery. Temples Of The Moon thankfully ends the campaign with a small victory; straight away the former tighter, constricted precision of beats is gone - replaced by a denser, bass-like texture that is a lot more interesting and attractive given the track's less blissful, less frivolous display of tone. The singular, isolative delivery of guitar notation and the bubbling tension of the beats further this withdrawal from previous scenarios, and this departure from what the album has established for itself, strengthens Versprille's more closetted vocals and the remnant of reverb and echo that lingers amid the space, but doesn't eagerly sought to define it.

Sadly this late surge for the duo comes as too little too late to detract from the glaring frustrations that plague an album such as Moon Tides - a record that soughts for a texturally detailed of imagery, but finds its scenery outweighed by the components making up its whole. Like a half-finished house, the ' home' effect is trodden by the physicality of the structure's frame. In the case of the duo's debut, their forcing of flow and rhythm on their instrument choice ends up back-firing to the point the effect is not only off-putting, it damages what remnant pleasure is taken from the components that actually bring some means of decoration to the track's delivery. This isn't simply a case of an album being experienced at the wrong time, nor is it a sound that lands way-off its target marker. Clearly there's a distinction in what classes as Pure Bathing Culture's inspiration, and what is in actuality something of their own original creation. Melodically the ideas are pleasant and the gentle placement of such are worthy of some deeper investigation in parts. But without even just a kick which doesn't rely on the simplest, most basic - most dull - of synthetic leads, the performance overall comes across as fairly empty and synthesized to the point it desaturates the scenery the duo are so keenly delving both themselves and their listener into.
~Jordan

5.7

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