September 9, 2013

Pure Bathing Culture

Aaron Frank wrote this on a catamaran.

There’s no way to circumvent that Pure Bathing Culture sound a lot like Beach House. Aside from the similarities in instrumentation, both bands are female fronted duos trafficking in similar strains of hazy dream-pop. But on occasion, you’ll see a new artist successfully re-purposing and expanding a template created by one of their predecessors. That’s exactly what Pure Bathing Culture have accomplished with their debut, Moon Tides.

For what it’s worth, I absolutely love Beach House. Their last three albums have gotten more rainy day rotation than Burial, but therein lies the problem. Their sound is so one-dimensional that it really only feels conducive to certain moods. If you disagree, then play Teen Dream on a bright summer day and see if you can make it through the first two songs without being dragged back to winter.

Pure Bathing Culture utilize essentially the same instrumentation but evoke a much wider range of emotions, which speaks to their talent as songwriters. Originally from Brooklyn, vocalist Sarah Versprille and guitarist Daniel Hindman fled the East Coast for Portland in 2011. Formerly of Vetiver, the duo they teamed up with producer and Shins keyboardist Richard Swift for their first EP and again for their newly released full-length.

On Moon Tides, Verpsprille and Hindman draw from a multitude of genres for inspiration, but they’re so neatly integrated that the consistency in style is remarkable. The sequencing is seamless, each track blending smoothly into the next, but the diversity in influences keeps the group from settling into one particular tone. Clearly inspired by old school funk and R&B, “Scotty” almost feels like a subtle homage to Prince (the original sadboy), while the next track “Seven To One” locks firmly back into modern indie pop.

As the album progresses, you can hear Verpsprille and Hindman constantly adding to their resume. “Pendulum” is straightforward upbeat pop, while “Ever Greener” drops back into hazy dream-pop and “Golden Girl” veers into loungy R&B. The transitions, however, are anything but clunky, and you get the sense that all of these things are well within their wheelhouse.

Part of the stylistic consistency stems from Verpsprille’s impressive vocal range and the way she manipulates her voice to fit the tone of each song. On “Scotty,” she does her best Aaliyah impression. On “Pendulum,” she projects like Katy Perry. Meanwhile, all of the arrangements are keenly anchored by Swift’s production.

While influences vary from track to track, there’s a mystical and serene quality overlying the entire album that reflects the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Moon Tides is alluring to the point that you feel obligated to explore it more, just as you would on a hike through unfamiliar territory. They seduce you with poppy arrangements, but there are multiple layers to each song, all of which feel worthy of discovery.

Bonus: Verpsrille and Swift recently collaborated again on the score for the hilariously dark short film It’s Not You, It’s Me, which can be viewed below.

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