The Otherworldly Appeal of Pure X’s ‘Angel’

Before we treat the music of Pure X’s third LP Angel, let’s take a moment to appreciate the airbrushed brilliance of its album art. On a cream-colored backdrop, a dripping heart containing a deep red and soft purple sunset loses its shape, trickling into a puddle. The band and album name frame the image in a font a teenage couple would pick at a fair to signify eternal love, shortly before breaking up. If you look closely, you can see the texture of cheap T-shirt fabric in the sun.

“I found it on eBay,” says Jesse Jenkins, bassist and singer of Pure X. “We started listening to the mixes of the album and thought it had a scuzzy, boardwalk kind of a carnival feel. It’s pleasant, but a little bit twisted, you know? I ordered a shirt from a guy on eBay and put in the customizable comments that we wanted the tracklist done on the back of the shirt. Bam, it was like 12 bucks. And a week later we had the artwork and scanned it in.”

Like the potential misstep of the cover’s campy appeal, Pure X has a knack for wading in corny territory and coming out creatively intact. A lesser band piloting such interminably chill waters would find themselves in the straits of sleepy soft rock, leading listeners toward an unintended nap.

But on Pure X’s three records, the Austin outfit wields a codeine appeal, closer to a Houston-screwed indie rock approach than anything from the state capitol. With its reverb-washed guitars, punctuated bass and genderless falsetto, Angel delivers with a post-coital tone, or the not-there feeling of air on a warm evening.

Part of the record’s casual quality comes from its painless recording process, especially compared to 2013’s Crawling Up the Stairs. “We wrote that album locked away in a studio with no windows,” says Jenkins. “It was like a dungeon atmosphere in there. We did a lot of experimenting and mashing parts together. It was where we were at at the time, feeling claustrophobic and paranoid.” 

The 12 tunes of Crawling Up the Stairs are still packed with decidedly calm grooves, but with a quick look at the tracklist—“I Fear What I Feel,” “Things in My Head,” “Written in the Slime”—it’s clear that 2013 was a dark year for the band. On “Shadows and Lies,” over dim loops of conversation, guitarist Nate Grace lets out an anxious, elliptical call: “Shadows and lies all around me/ What the hell is real anymore/ The door—I swear I see it/ But all I can feel.”

But Angel, recorded in the remote Wied Hall outside of Shiner, Texas, was a smooth cruise. “It was the easiest recording experience I’d ever had since I started doing this when I was 12,” says Jenkins. “Everything was easy, we went in and did it in a week. It popped out of nowhere, which is a little bit of where the title came from. That’s one aspect of the title, it just dropped on us.”

Speaking over the phone with Jenkins, we both struggled to pinpoint a single word to describe Pure X. Laid-back, maybe? Soothing? “I don’t know if laid-back is the right word,” says Jenkins. “We’re still pretty intense. It’s maybe like healing, or soothing … I don’t even know if soothing is the right word. There’s a certain thing we go for, I don’t even know if I can describe it. I want our music to hit people the way music hits me.” 

Even the name Pure X involves an ethereal stance. In its early days, the quartet went by Pure Ecstasy, but changed their brand when threatened with a lawsuit from a San Fran cover band. “I like Pure X a lot better because to me it means like Malcolm X,” says Jenkins. “It’s like a blank. It’s band name X.”

Perhaps a phrase is better. On “Heaven,” over a blissfully arpeggiated guitar, Jenkins utters a piece of advice that puts Pure X into a little pill of good vibes: “Heaven is a feeling/ One that I believe in.”

Pure X feat. Saakred, Killer Kill, Future Museums

8pm Fri, Oct 24
K23 Gallery
140 Fredericksburg
(210) 776-5635

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