While Beach House is squarely dream pop in a retro-indie sense, Pure Bathing Culture forks off the road slightly to have a passing familiarity to the sounds of ‘70s-era Fleetwood Mac.
It’s a shame that Beach House has its equal share of admirers and detractors. When I reviewed Bloom, and gave the record a perfect score, there were howls of outrage levelled at me for overhyping the long player from Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand. So, a word of caution here, folks. If you absolutely hate Beach House, and simply cannot stand their music, when Portland, Oregon’s Pure Bathing Culture comes walking down the street, you will want to quickly cross to the other side, make the sign of the cross, and move on with your journeys. You see, Pure Bathing Culture is another boy-girl band – in this case keyboardist/vocalist Sarah Versprille and guitarist Daniel Hindman – and they sound almost like a carbon copy of, well, Beach House. And I wouldn’t be the first to make that comparison. However, there’s a little bit more to Pure Bathing Culture – initially a Vetiver side-project – than meets the eye. While Beach House is squarely dream pop in a retro-indie sense, Pure Bathing Culture forks off the road slightly to have a passing familiarity to the sounds of ‘70s-era Fleetwood Mac. (And it should be pointed out that Pure Bathing Culture is offering up a cover of “Dreams” on their BandCamp page.) What’s more, the song “Twins”, off the duo’s new album Moon Tides, sounds an awful lot like the soaring anthems of Wilson Phillips during the chorus. It sent shivers down my back, which is odd considering that I never really got Wilson Phillips during their heyday and their inclusion in the movie Bridesmaids kind of baffled me – I guess you have to be a woman of a certain age to understand and be moved by them.
Still, virtually everything on Moon Tides is going to earn the band the inevitable Beach House comparisons, especially when you hear the opening drum machine stutter of lead single and first track, “Pendulum”. It’s so resolutely Beach House sounding that you would, if you were a hater, wonder why Pure Bathing Culture ever wound up trying. However, when those acoustic guitar chords kick in and the atmospheric keyboard washes start, you’re instantly transported back to the ‘80s. And the cooing female vocal that innocently states, “You’re the cat’s eyes / You’re the pendulum”, at the opening of the piece makes it very well clear that Pure Bathing Culture is a much more dewy-eyed, innocent version of Beach House, one with an unabashed love of 1980s synth pop. Follow-up song and second single, “Dream the Dare” is in the same vein, but is arguably even better. Its verses swoon and its choruses ascend. It’s hard to imagine that this didn’t come out somewhere around 1988 and wasn’t a big VH-1 hit. It’s pure pop confection goodness. But if there were a choice for a third single from this album, it would be “Twins” – a song so gooey and lovely in its rendering that tears nearly welled in my eyes by the time the song hit its undeniably effective and emotional chorus. “Twins, our bodies keep us so warm / Rings, wrapped around our forearms”, sighs Versprille. That’s it, I’m already in love with this band.
Admittedly, the album is front-loaded: After “Twins”, the song quality drops off a little – but only a little – and it would be hard, admittedly, to sustain the kind of internal propulsion that Moon Tides’ first four songs build to a crescendo of poignant release. By the time you get to fifth song “Only Lonely Lovers”, you’re getting Beach House filtered through the prism of a late-‘70s ABBA hit. It’s less immediate, but it’s still a bit catchy. “Scotty” has that kind of Wang Chung guitar sound to it, and it chimes beautifully. “Golden Girl” is another song that’s ripped right out the ‘80s song book, and renders itself so exactly that, again, you’re surprised that the song wasn’t a hit in some kind of alternate universe of 25 to 30 years ago. But the album’s biggest surprise comes with the final track, “Temples of the Moon”, which feels like a Kate Bush song somewhere around The Hounds of Love. It’s absolutely haunting.
Overall, Mood Tides is probably going to have its share of people who outright hate the group for sounding so close to Beach House. But forget them. Those who couldn’t get enough of the ethereal beauty of Bloom will really appreciate what Pure Bathing Culture is doing here. It may not be up the exacting standards of Beach House’s greatest album, and I’m sure someone is also going to start bandying about comparisons to Cocteau Twins (too late, the record label’s Web page on the band already does this), but there’s really a lot to like in the purely blissful sound of Pure Bathing Culture. I’m listening to this record during some of the hottest days of summer, and the music is the exact opposite of the oppressive humidity I feel: These songs are cool and refreshing, and ultimately exhilarating. Moon Tides is a tease – I can’t wait to see what comes after these nine tracks – and I wonder if the group will still be hitching itself to Beach House’s sonic wagon by the time the next release comes around. But, if you know, Pure Bathing Culture comes walking down my street (and I suppose they have, as I already possess the record), I’d do nothing but embrace them and give them a gigantic hug. Moon Tides is an assuredly confident move, and there’s so much to take in by this band. Even if they do more than tangentially sound a little like a certain Baltimore group.