Austin, Texas three-piece Pure X are a band defined by an enveloping intensity. The trio’s debut album, 2011’s Pleasure, was a dense, dark and frequently beautiful album that delved deep into the abyss. The follow-up Crawling Up The Stairs sees them adding the merest touch of light to their dark-hearted laments, providing an almost spiritual redemption, which takes their intense evocations to an even greater height.
Crawling Up The Stairs is a record born out of turmoil and self-doubt. It is the sound of a cathartic release that is initially aching and painful before ultimately culminating in a soft beatific glow. Each of the three band members and songwriters suffered from their own personal problems during the making of the album. Nate Grace was struck by a serious leg injury and crippling financial concerns as he sought to try to pay for treatment. Co-writer and vocalist Jesse Jenkins was equally troubled as he pondered his own mortality. It’s a logical assumption to assume Austin Youngblood must have been just as affected by his band mates’ struggles. Out of this troubled state though comes a record that bristles with a bruised and at times overwhelming beauty.
Sonically, Pure X have perfected the art of making soft focused, pared down sounds take on grand and powerful overtones. These songs are often filled with swirling effects that are rich in texture and wonderfully atmospheric. By far the most alluring aspect of this album is the incredibly stark lyrics. On the excellent single Someone Else, Grace’s voice is inexorably tortured as he howls into the depths of his soul, his voice audibly quavers and shakes as he pleads: “Make me feel something, baby, I don’t give a fuck.” The narcoleptic waltz of the music provides a beguiling contrast to ramp up the power of his words and delivery.
There are distinct similarities sonically to both Spiritualized and My Bloody Valentine at their softest and pellucid throughout this album, although Pure X also have their own woozy, strung out psychedelic drawl that is very much their own. There is an unconventional beauty at work here; Shadows And Lies aches and trembles under a swell of dissonant hazy distortion that is unconventional but supremely effective. The music here is not soulful, more sensual – sexy even – in a heightened primal emotional state.
Most of the 12 tracks are slowly revealing and evolving pieces; this is certainly not an instant album. Instead, it rewards over time. The album builds to a redemptive climax as it proceeds, taking in the utterly gorgeous Thousand Year Old Child; here, Jesse Jenkins tenderly muses on the hopes and fears connected with the ageing process, and his softer, sweeter falsetto is a nice counterpoint to Grace’s rather more wayward tones.
The final track, All Of The Future (All Of The Past), is the song that exemplifies the hope that burnishes these stark songs, songs that veer between dark and uplifting and sweetly transcending. Optimism runs through a song that is noticeably more direct in form and execution: “I can see the light, I’ve just got to stay alive.” It’s perhaps a fitting mantra.
Pure X are most certainly a band who put every facet of their being into their work. Crawling Up The Stairs is a very fine follow up that sees them once again exploring the inner workings of their souls and collective psyche with often beautiful results.