Pure Bathing Culture

Night Pass

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Thanks to Sarah Versprille's silvery vibrato and Daniel Hindman's intricate guitar work, Pure Bathing Culture have an unmistakable style that, nevertheless, changes notably each time they work with a different producer. On Moon Tides, Richard Swift helped them create an uncanny valley of dream pop, chillwave, and '80s pop that was all the more unusual for its allusions to familiar sounds. When they worked with John Congleton on Pray for Rain, they focused on that familiarity, heightening their songs' hooks and polish. On Night Pass, Versprille and Hindman enlist old friend Tucker Martine to help them turn the dial further from the golden age of 4AD and closer to the glory days of late-'80s AOR. Martine's ultra-smooth production makes the duo's third album one of the most genuine homages to this era of the late 2010s, when it was a surprisingly popular source of inspiration for many indie acts. If there's any lingering doubt that Fleetwood Mac -- and Stevie Nicks in particular -- are just as important to Pure Bathing Culture as the Cocteau Twins, "Devotion" puts it to rest. Boasting guitar licks that would have been called tasty back in the day alongside lyrics that could have been cribbed from Nicks' notebook ("We put stars in the jewels"), it's a fine example of how Night Pass deals in a very different kind of nostalgia than Pure Bathing Culture's previous albums did. Here and on "Black Starling," Hindman and Versprille filter their crystalline sound and dramatic lyrics through a late-'80s prism in ways that feel true to the era and their body of work. However, they're not always this successful. The duo is so committed to this aesthetic that Night Pass sometimes crosses the line between consistent and samey, although "Moonrise," where Versprille imagines herself as a spider over music that borrows from Bruce Hornsby, proves Pure Bathing Culture still have the ability to startle. Some of the album's finest moments occur when Hindman and Versprille put the mystical heart of their music front and center. Night Pass' opening track, "Thin Growing Thing," isn't just one of the best songs here, it's one of Pure Bathing Culture's best songs, period. As Versprille tenderly communes with all of nature, she and Hindman polish their mother-of-pearl pop just enough to give it a newfound glow. Similarly, "Violet a Voyager" sings the praises of the night's transformative powers so rapturously that it feels right to call it an ode. Though Pure Bathing Culture have always balanced their rhapsodic and straightforward sides with skill, this time their ebb and flow isn't quite as seamless. At one point on the album, Versprille asks, "can you believe in make believe?" Unfortunately, it's a little harder to do that on Night Pass than it was on Pure Bathing Culture's previous work.

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