Portland, Oregon’s Pure Bathing Culture isn’t the first to dip into an ’80s soft rock palette this decade, but they seem more eager than most to probe at the potential dissonance within the recycled genre. Last year, the duo’s self-titled debut EP slathered flimsy, pastel guitar riffs and plastic drum beats over ripe-pain lyrics like “I wish my heart was deep enough/ So deep that I could keep you, love.” Instrumentally, they might neatly echo Beach House, but Sarah Versprille’s lyrics cut closer to Purity Ring’s fragile, feminine horror.
Moon Tides sees the band at a level of technical clarity several notches above the mud of their 2012 EP. Versprille’s elegant vocals arc to the top of the mix, while a tried-and-true braid of acoustic guitars, thin synths, and drum machines snakes around the bottom. Like Bon Iver’s second record, Moon Tides is full of guitar songs that sound like they’re actually pure synth-pop. But the scope here is smaller, the instrumentals keener on serving as a pedestal for the vocals than as a landscape for them to get lost in.
Sometimes, like on “Twins”, the paths the guitars careen down feel more haphazard than whimsical. Tripling up on arpeggios here creates an effect that’s more jammy than lush; there’s only so much noodling a song this simple can sustain. “Only Lonely Lovers” puts more muscle in the drums, letting the beat and the vocals pull each other taut. With “Pendulum” setting the bar for melody on track one, tracks like “Scotty” tend to sag. Some choruses sound more bored than boringrote filler sorted next to creative hooks.
The album caps itself off with a song that suggests that Moon Tides is more of a jumping-off point than an official arrival. “Temples of the Moon” rolls with a dark pulse, cutting the sharpest contrast between percussion and vocals on the album. Guitars drip slowly from the ceiling. The track doesn’t just coast; it builds, twining around its base throb. Instead of spilling every sound at once, it withholds. It creates mystery. That shadowplay is by far the most fertile place Pure Bathing Culture reach on their debut, and a promising sign of what’s still to come.
Essential Tracks: “Pendulum”, “Temples of the Moon”