Pure X

It may not seem like it initially, but Pure X shares a lot with our latest subject, Shakey Graves. On the surface, the differences couldn’t be greater: Shakey Graves is a solo (often acoustic) guitarist singing in a clear raspy tone, while Pure X are a slowcore trio who slather their vocals in reverb and their guitars in feedback. I doubt that their core audiences overlap drastically. However, each is about stripping their music down to its simplest form. While Shakey Graves’ guitar parts are intricate, he has no accompaniment except for a bass drum and a tambourine which rarely stray from the downbeats. Pure X take a similar approach. The drum parts are steady and simple, the guitar lazily meanders through a haze of effects pedals, and much has been made about how the band recorded their latest album without any overdubs.

Beyond that, the two artists share philosophies. Shakey Graves’ lyrics are often a rebuke of contemporary consumerism and his arrangements reflect his technological skepticism. Pure X are a bit denser in this regard, but this fascinating interview with them from Altered Zones (Pitchfork’s hipper, even more underground version of itself) reflects similar sentiments informing their music. Guitarist Nate Grace notes that he prefers “a┬ásingle-note guitar drone with some GODDAMN REAL FEELING” to…well, it’s not really clear what Grace is rebuking, but his passion is evident both in the interview and on their new record, Pleasure. Each artist is using their music to search for that inarticulate “realness” we all crave.

Pure X - Dry Ice

Pleasure is a minimalist tour de force, and hence it’s a demanding record. The first couple of times through it, it barely registered with me – largely because I was only listening halfheartedly (as I often do on a first pass). Yet the buzz continued to build around them, and I was convinced to listen more carefully. The songs reveal themselves to be kind of like sunny surf-pop, but doused in a huge vat of cough syrup. “Dry Ice” is a perfect example of this, with a catchy guitar line and a bouncy bass part that could be mistaken for a summer anthem if it were three times faster; and yet, I still couldn’t hum it to save my life. The focus here is on atmosphere and aesthetics more than the songs themselves. These are songs that you can get lost in as they slowly wrap themselves around you…but I was also listening to this album all weekend and it made me really lethargic.

It’s like little else I’ve heard in Austin, and that may be part of what has catapulted them onto the national scene. Last week they became just the sixth Austin band to be reviewed by Pitchfork this year (by my count…I’ve seen Trail of Dead, Okkervil River, Explosions in the Sky, White Denim, and Wooden Birds, but I would love to be proven wrong), and they are the only one to be reviewed for the first time this year. And of course, it seems that every major indie blogger is weighing in. Now, I’m not going to fawn over them like Austin Town Hall did recently, but the talent is real and the record is good. After what feels like dozens of spins this weekend alone, it only gets more rewarding. I’m still listening to it even as I write this. The only downside? I really have to go take a nap.

– Carter