During the ’90s, a general unspoken rule held that any band named after a drug played its music slowly and sedately, sometimes mimicking the effect of downers and depressants. This held true with Codeine, whose hazy psychedelia played a major role in pioneering slowcore. Likewise, Morphine’s bass-and-sax “low-rock” combo frequently came across like a late-night comedown, only a little sexier. “Weed” bands made a notable exception, as groups like Bongripper and Weedeater deal exclusively in fuzzy metal riffs, but that’s a phenomenon to be explored another time. Austin’s Pure X, formerly Pure Ecstasy, might give a slightly different impression, as club drugs are typically associated with dance music, but in actuality, the band follows this pattern to the letter, delivering in Pleasure an album full of sleepy albeit pretty psych-pop progressing at a languorous pace.
Atmosphere is everything on Pleasure, and each of its ten tracks is soaked in effects, chief among them reverb. The result is something akin to a shoegazer version of Galaxie 500, The Jesus and Mary Chain without the uptempo rockers, or Spacemen 3 with more of an easy-going sunset vibe. Everything here is pretty in a detached and distant kind of way, rarely delivered with much immediacy yet all highly accessible. It’s a rock record made for those strange, contradictory cravings for distorted guitars and gentle balladry.
Within its fairly consistent range of slowly moving pop songs rich in effects, however, Pleasure boasts numerous highlights, even if it may take a few listens before those highlights stand apart on their own. The stunning “Dream Over” blends the band’s softly crashing waves of reverb and distortion with hypnotic falsetto coos, yielding an alternate reality beach romance soundtrack that sounds timeless. The infectiously dense “Easy” cranks the tempo up ever so slightly to stand as one of the more solid pop songs on the album. Meanwhile, there’s a Spector-esque ’60s vibe to “Voices,” but mostly as heard through a Psychocandy filter. And “Surface” eases into a breathtaking groove, maintaining the molasses pace at which the band travels through much of the album, yet adds more drama and intrigue via more sexy and efficient use of space.
Though Pure X never escalate from their lingering slow burn of reverb-laden ambience, they find a lot to explore within these constraints. As much as I kept wanting to hear something like “The Living End” on the first listen, the third or fourth time around I couldn’t help but find the group’s leisurely space ballads enchanting. Implications of their name aside, Pure X nonetheless offer a simple and aesthetic kind of ecstasy, a beautiful and gentle sort that turns off the outside world for 37 blissful minutes.
Galaxie 500 – On Fire
Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription
Codeine – Frigid Stars
Stream: Pure X – “Dream Over”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.