Pure X Crawling Up The Stairs(Acéphale) Buy it from Insound
Crawling Up The Stairs is an album born out of pain. Lead singer and guitarist Nate Grace was injured in a skateboarding injury in 2012 and faced a very troublesome period where it was uncertain if he’d ever walk again, with the rest of the band stuck in artistic limbo by the situation. Thankfully he recovered, and now here we have the Austin Texas trio’s second studio album, but one noticeably different from 2011’s Pleasure. Gone are the low-fi elements, replaced with studio sheen, and bassist Jesse Jenkins takes on a more prominent role in the vocal stakes.
Opener and title track Crawling Up The Stairs sounds very reminiscent of The Verve at first, drifting in and out of focus, vocals alternating between hushed and shrill passages. It’s on Someone Else that the cracks start to appear with its 90’s alternative sound and nihilistic lyricism, understandable in light of the hell Grace went through. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that Grace’s voice is simply not capable of some of the notes he’s attempting to take on in anger, which make for painful listening, even with the intent behind them. Pleasure took the typical approach of having vocals low in the mix, which made for a blissful listen, but here they’re shunted to the front for the duration. Instrumental piece Written In The Slime comes as something of a relief, embracing an electronic approach with heavy effects processing applied to the vocals, futuristic fluctuating synths accompanying the slow and languid guitar. I Fear What I Feel follows and the vocals return, but this time provided by Jenkins - and the best way to describe it would be How To Dress Well producing the Bee Gees. Despite the album's vocal limitations, little can be said that is derogatory of the guitar and bass work throughout. It’s mainly what you'd expect and fairly atypical of the genre, with Jenkins' bass providing an anchoring and calming presence whilst Grace’s guitar work is suitably dreamy and melodic but still memorable. Austin Youngblood's drumming is simple, but an effective base for Jenkins and Grace to weave their patchwork around.
Pure X is the shortened form of the band's original name Pure Ecstasy, but this is an emotion that is rarely felt due to the shortcomings of Crawling Up The Stairs. The voice in dream pop is a vital tool that should meld with the accompaniment; an element that pushed My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless to the very top of the pile with the aid of Bilinda Butcher's hushed vocals. There’s no doubt that Crawling Up The Stairs is a more difficult proposition than its predecessor, with both Grace’s and Jenkins' voice nearly cracking with the strain at some points, but when they stick within their limits it’s definitely a worthwhile listen, especially during the second half of the album, which is a noticeable improvement on the first. Even though the complexity has been upped, it’s still tempting to revert to the simplicity that Pleasure embraced: an album prepared to simply wash over you. Crawling Up The Stairs has strong riptides that have no qualms over carrying you away, but if you embrace them you may be pleasurably surprised.17 June, 2013 - 04:36 — Richard Petty