Pure X

Crawling Up the Stairs

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Pure X's 2011 debut, Pleasure, was a slow, grainy trip of humid guitars and foggy atmospheric pop. Some of that excellent album's unique feel was attributable to the recording process -- a tight band with strong communication recorded live to tape with minimal overdubs, opting instead for choreographed movements in their murky ambient-leaning pop. Somewhere between that bright debut and 2013's Crawling Up the Stairs, things got a little darker for the members of Pure X. Guitarist/vocalist Nate Grace suffered a serious, debilitating leg injury and the even greater stress of not having insurance to pay for the necessary surgery. The pain -- emotional and physical -- of that tumultuous period is all over Crawling Up the Stairs, from the references to flailing and struggle that pop up on almost every song to the tormented howl of Grace's now much more prominent vocals. The slow-burning agony of "Someone Else" sees Grace slipping into a character somewhere between Nick Cave's most stoic murder balladry and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst in its whimpering melodrama. Other tracks are reaching out also, grasping in an emotional sense for anything they can hold. "How Did You Find Me?" smacks of desperation, with bellowing vocals and terse dynamics. "Thousand Year Old Child" is a little less weary sonically, but the lilting vocals and dreamy autumnal guitar pop background just support bleak lyrics about directionless days and confusion at the end of youth. Musically, the glorious haze that marked Pleasure is traded in for a much more high-definition picture. While some elements of Pure X's sound remain mired in the glistening ether of their debut, the heightened clarity of the vocals and their often pained delivery highlight the less obscured details of the rest of the album. While the more standard production helps peel away a few layers of distortion, Crawling Up the Stairs is a pretty bleak picture when observed without Pure X's unique filtering. While a totally pleasant album not too far removed from the dense sound they've been working in, the dour sentiments are barely hidden below the softly spacy atmospherics, and when they do pop out, the combination of ugly hard times and pretty music can be unsettling.

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