American Football / Pure Bathing Culture at Union Transfer
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A record comes to represent and trigger a specific era in the listener, an unchanging document against which people can measure their own evolution and feel returned to not only their own season with this record, but also the imagined landscape and lives of the artists.
That American Football’s first record continued to resonate with an everexpanding coalition of new listeners long after their brief existence is proof of the skillfulness and subtlety with which they could express themselves as undergrads. And that mysterious aura is a lot to live up to. People have had almost twenty years to live alongside that album. And now, in a flash, their body of work doubles.
That first record was made in complete innocence and obscurity, and even naivety. But now, could anyone even count how many different instruments in how many different bands Mike and Nate Kinsella have played? The simple addition of bass goes a long way in rounding out and deepening the overall sound. Tightened and confident, they hit every pickup and hiccup, ably executing what they always intended to, but on a bigger scale.
With an easybreezy shuffle, they balance Jackson Brown and Steely Dan with rushing, clicky rhythms under sweeping chord progressions woven out of arpeggios and harmonics. Every drumfill is like a polite interjection, perfectly considered, but disruptive and propulsive nonetheless.
And though they summon a sustained mood beginning to end, moments of detailed attention abound: the cool strut of “Born to Lose”; the bigclap breakdown and Phil Collins fills of “I’ve Been Lost For So Long”; the 80sradio pop of “Desire Gets in the Way”; and on “Instincts are The Enemy” even the bridge gets a turn being foregrounded.
The record opens as if daring the listener to enter, locating the space that the record exists in—a return to that same iconic house, made strange by returning to it. Mike notes the lock on the door, and establishes the central tension that will propel the record’s narrative: “what if I wasn’t afraid to say what I mean?” The confused singer battles his own appetites, though as listeners we all know that it is engaging them in battle that gives the appetites their power. War declared on one’s own instincts is the battle to conform to the expectations of adulthood, to sand down as many edges as possible to fulfill one’s responsibilities to others, while cleaving to the little bit of grit one needs to retain one’s sense of identity.
— Tim Kinsella
Pure Bathing Culture
To hear Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman tell it, their Portland, OR-based band Pure Bathing Culture has always evolved naturally and at a steady pace. «That's really the path we've been on as a band, always putting one foot in front of the other as opportunities presented themselves,» Versprille said. «The music just revealed itself to us as we kept going.»
But for Pure Bathing Culture's second album, Pray for Rain, the band has taken a big leap forward. You can hear it from the opening notes of their anthemic title track: in Hindman's clean yet serpentine guitar lines interacting with the live rhythm section and Versprille's lucid vocals cutting through it all as she asks: «Is it pleasure? Is it pain? Did you pray for rain?» Pray for Rain is the sound of the group confidently taking a step up to the next level and finding their footing as a true band.
«We needed to make a big step and our version of that was to cut the cord from our previous albums,» Hindman said of the process, then confesses: «I was nervous all the way through. It was nerve-wracking and almost antagonizing at times.»
The roots of Pure Bathing Culture stretch back to 1999, when Versprille and Hindman befriended one another on the first day of freshman orientation at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. A decade later, they became bandmates when they both joined Vetiver for their Sub-Pop albums Tight Knit and The Errant Charm. It was while playing in Vetiver that Pure Bathing Culture emerged as its own entity.
«Dan was working on some instrumentals that he would make on a looping pedal,» Sarah said. «One night he was out and I just listened to this loop and wrote some lyrics to it. He came home and I showed it to him. We laughed at first, as we didn't have some grand plan to start a band. It just happened naturally.» That song «Lucky One,» wound up in the hands of Richard Swift, who encouraged the duo to keep writing. «Richard pushed us along and became an inspiration,» Dan said. Swift wound up producing the band's first EP and dreamy full-length, 2013's Moon Tides at his National Freedom studio.
From there, PBC evolved from simply being the product of Versprille and Hindman writing songs in their own home to hitting the road as a full touring band. «Sarah and I conceptualize music and then write so it's a pretty fragile state,» Hindman said. «Playing live was a huge change for us.»
When it came time to write and record their follow-up to Moon Tides, the duo knew what they didn't want. «We didn't gravitate towards someone making indie dream-pop records,» Dan said. That was when producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans, Angel Olsen, The Walkmen) reached out to the band and invited them to come record with him in his Dallas, TX studio.
«John pushed us to not make clichés, to not play into the style of other bands,» Dan said. The challenges came right away as Congleton pressed the group into unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable territory in the studio. «He tricked me with the guitars on the album,» Dan said. «We got the basic tracks down and he asked me to do scratch guitar and then John wouldn't let me go back and do the guitars again. He refused to do any layering.»
As a result, everything on Pray for Rain is pretty much as Pure Bathing Culture actually sounds, all analog gear, with virtually no plug-ins or effects added afterwards, no hiding behind multiple layers. «There aren't a lot of tricks; What you hear is naturally what's there,» Dan said.
It was a taxing yet ultimately rewarding experience when the album was completed. «It was shocking to hear what the finished product was,» Sarah said. «It was like being in a vortex and then we came out with this record.» She adds with a laugh something John Congleton told her when all was said and done: «You were very brave.»
Sarah summarizes the Pray for Rain experience as one of «stepping into the realm of discovering who we are as a band and as songwriters,» echoing a theme of the album itself, the process of change and transition. «You can find the best version of yourself in those hardest moments,» she said. To which Dan adds: «You have to be backed up against the wall in order to really feel those feelings and respond to them.» Pray for Rain is the sound of Pure Bathing Culture transforming from who they were to who they will be, of finding their way, ready to take steps both small and momentous on their musical path.
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