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Pure X

Pleasure

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Label: Acéphale Records

Previously known as Pure Ecstasy – a name that brings to mind drugged-out club kids or a filthy porn shop – Pure X is another in a long line of indie bands that were apparently hatched in an echo chamber. You’ve heard the defining traits of these groups before; their slow, moody, atmospheric songs awash in reverb; their nimble balancing act as they stand on the shoulders of various revered indie bands from earlier eras; their hushed vocals that suggest their first words as babies came out lo-fi and barely audible. All of the above dominates the Austin trio’s debut, Pleasure, a sedate crawl of an album that squarely places the group in the dead middle of the slow-rock genre.

The album’s cover – an image of bondage shackles and a rose – might suggest a certain degree of S&M depravity to the songs, but that’s not the case. Instead, Pleasure is thematically largely abstract and understated perhaps to a fault, with large swaths of instrumentation more prevalent than the vocals, which are essentially treated as just another instrument anyway. Out of the blocks the album begins auspiciously: Nate Grace’s wordless falsetto vocals on opening track “Heavy Air” immediately establish a subtle, ethereal quality, a tone that continues on “Dream Over,” with Grace sounding like he’s singing from the back end of a cave or at the bottom of a well. And, it must be admitted, the album as a whole sounds spectacular; recorded live in the studio, it contains very little extraneous notes and is warm and uncluttered, an approach that puts the focus on how the guitars, drums and vocals interact with each other.

But the band’s sound is neither interesting nor unique enough to sustain this uniform, excessively deliberate pace, regardless of how, well, pleasurable it sounds. Pleasure is too insular, too self-contained; a one or two-trick pony whose finely polished exterior quickly starts to feel quite superficial and lacking any real guts, especially with repeated listens. From around “Twisted Mirror” or “Easy” to closing song “Half Here,” the album locks into a single-minded pattern and begins to sputter along, eventually becoming both repetitive and formulaic. Grace’s vocals – whether they’re placed even with the mix or slightly above or below it – likewise stall, with the singer’s delivery frequently coming across as too controlled and somewhat emotionless.

The shame of it all is that in small doses the songs on Pleasure are actually pretty enjoyable. In their best moments Pure X recall like-minded groups like Real Estate and Cotton Jones, especially in their love of all things echoed and reverberated. Yet these songs tend to feel flatly one-dimensional and monotonous when heard in their larger album setting. Grace’s lyric in the album’s latter half about being “stuck livin’ the same song” isn’t too far off. It’s likely a sentiment that more than a few listeners will share, though probably not in the way the band intended.

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2 Comments

  1. yousuck

    February 23, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    shit review. you suck.

    Reply

    • Eric Dennis

      February 24, 2014 at 5:50 am

      Dad I thought I told you to wait in the car.

      Reply

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