Austin, Texas atmospheric rockers Pure X grew up fast on their 2013 album, Crawling Up the Stairs. That album, their second, saw the trio surrounded by tumultuous personal events such as injury, relocation, heartbreak, and financial dread, and those trying times came through loud and clear in the heavier, world-weary songs. As much as Crawling Up the Stairs was a sharp right turn from the band's beautifully murky, live-to-tape debut Pleasure, third album Angel moves just as drastically in a different direction from its predecessor. One large change is the band expanding from a trio to a quartet with the inclusion of touring guitarist Matty Tommy Davidson as a full-time member on this record. The band is still as dreamy as ever, but it's a different kind of dreaminess now. Gone is any sense of arid darkness and all the languid spiraling processed guitar tones of earlier albums. From the twinkling strains of opening track "Starlight," complete with falsetto vocals, wispy chimes, and a remarkably relaxed pace, Angel is a decidedly lighthearted album, edging toward an indie take on the '70s soft rock gentleness of America or breezy soul hits from the same era. Not all the tunes are as mired in dreamy-eyed wonderment as the intro, but even at its most rocking, Angel is mellow and easy on the ears. Standout tracks like "Heaven" and "Livin' the Dream" have the same summery, early-afternoon haze as the most laid-back Real Estate songs or the most restrained moments of the War on Drugs. The contrast is immense, especially considering the dark clouds that floated above Crawling Up the Stairs. The stony, untroubled, and patient moods of these songs feel like an intentional reinvention. The band's history of textural exploration isn't completely gone, as grainy atmospherics pop up on tracks like "Rain," but these rich sonics are now relegated to background noises, where they once took up the full space of entire albums. Instead of sprawling landscapes or harrowing emotional rawness, Angel feels like a continuous, slow-motion sunset on a coastline in a dream. It's new territory for Pure X, but when the elements of '70s radio rock and Sunday-morning soul come together, it results in some of their most tuneful moments.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas