You know it’s a lean year for music when the first article I write in over a month concerns a disappointing album. Oh how I wanted to love this a lot. I do love some of it a lot. Several tracks showed real promise for this album, but their allure was deceptive, leading me on to believe that these first few morsels of Moon Tides was wholly representative of the remainder, and alas that was not the case. Pure Bathing Culture make music in the realm of what could broadly be described as “Indie Pop,” a tag I am loathe to explore due to the majority of what I hear being pretentious and meandering; forsaking structure and songwriting ability for a certain “mood” or “experience.” Don’t get me wrong: the dreamy, hazy atmosphere that a lot of indie pop aspires to is truly appealing to my ears, but the marriage between atmosphere and songwriting is often sadly mismatched. Safe to say I’ve been lured in many times by a track that achieves this balance only to find the rest of the album is an exercise in style over substance. And unfortunately I’ve got to say that’s what’s happened here.
Moon Tides is Pure Bathing Culture’s full-length debut that dropped in August of this year. The Portland-based duo have managed to conjure up some of the most wonderfully atmospheric music I’ve heard all year, with soothing textures easing you into the music like a warm bath or the haze of near-sleep. Its calming, reverb-drenched sound is a tonic for tired ears, and I must praise the duo for the keeping this consistency up for the whole album. With regards to the atmospheric production that I talked about earlier, Moon Tides achieves full marks. Even think about the name; Moon Tides; soothing waters, vast calmness and ethereal surrealism spring to mind simply from putting images to these words. But alas, Moon Tides more often than not falls victim for striving to maintain this dreamy atmosphere at the expense of presenting us with interesting compositions. Too many of the songs are aimless and flat, with the duo approaching the songs with a reverence that they simply don’t merit. They’re trying hard to give the songs depth with passionate vocals and shimmering production, but when the gloss is stripped away you realize you aren’t left with much. Twins and Seven 2 One, in particular, are guilty of this, with the former starting off with some nice atmospheric, shimmering guitar before you realize that there this barely develops at all over four minutes, and the remainder is lifeless. The latter, as well as making the same mistakes, is also extremely repetitive and tiresome. There are also some near misses, such as the closer Temples of the Moon, which keeps the keys in the ignition for too long without turning the engine on, and then stalls not long after it does.
So what was it about this album that enticed me so much in the first place? Frankly, upon listening to Moon Tides again, I’m convinced that while there are some fine tracks here, (maybe three or four of the nine) only one truly achieves excellence; that being the first track, the first one I heard and thus the one to excite my attention: Pendulum. Pendulum is the perfect marriage of aesthetic and structure, a great song given a great treatment. The singer, Sarah Versprille, delivers a perfect vocal performance, her sweet and powerful voice clutching at your proverbial heartstrings – all this over the most sumptuous musical backing on the album; the melodic and melancholic guitars drifting gently over a drum machine beat that sounds both comfortingly familiar, yet fresh and interesting. Pendulum sweeps you in and, for four glorious minutes, you feel awash on your very own tide. If the rest of Moon Tides sounded like this, we’d be onto a winner, but alas it falls short. I like what Pure Bathing Culture are onto, and their debut delivers a lot of promise. If they retake Songwriting 101, develop a song above the level of a character in Michael Bay movie (which is where they’re mostly at) and hone that wonderful atmosphere that is so obviously their strength, they’d be a band impossible to ignore. And I think they can do it, you know: they’ve already proven they have the ability with Pendulum, now they just need to play to their strengths. So download Pendulum, and remember the name. I think they’ll be back with a lot more to say soon enough.
Words – Adam.