When Pure X made waves with Pleasure, you knew that it would be easy for the group to go back into the studio and rehash that same old sound. But, Crawling Up the Stairs definitely isn’t the same LP; in fact, while still bearing the mark of their early work, you find the group gradually coming out of their haze, creating a dramatic pop record that sees the band foraging into a world all their own.
Opening up with the titular track seems like a nod to the band’s past. It begins with just light touches of noise, making way for Nate Grace to make his vocal appearance, virtually untouched, yet moments later he sinks back beneath waves of varying atmospheric/musical touches, all as the track gently fades away. It set’s the stage for Crawling Up the Stairs, but it’s “Someone Else” that really breaks open the door. Guitar chords trickle, and there’s very light percussion, while Grace operates between operatic crooner and throat-y troubadour. It’s weird, but even though it plays a small part, the guitar sound on this tune is my favorite thing, once again illustrating how the careful touches of Pure X put a stamp on their sound.
There are definitely some songs throughout this release that I can see as grating, such as the pitch on “I Fear What I Feel,” which is purposefully out-of-key, yet still fits into the song. But, when the vocals are executed perfectly, the tunes are enchanting. One listen to “Things in My Head” and you will see precisely what I’m talking about; this track features a warmer tone on Nate’s voice, while the accompanying music wraps the voice in politely trickling guitar work. Just a note: this is my favorite jam on the LP. Of course, some of the grating moments are pretty special, in so much as they evoke the emotional pull from the audience like the straining vocal on “Shadows and Lies,” which is where I think a lot of people are seeing the Conor Oberst connection.
For my ears, I think one of the remarkable things about this record is that it hold true to the sound Pure X established a few years back, but it’s pulled back the layers to reveal a shimmering pop sound. Those elements always lurked in the shadows on Pleasure, but we were all amazed at the way the atmospheric elements. Now, the band has scrubbed themselves clean, leaving you with floating gems like “Thousand Year Old Child,” which still has a bit of that noise factor. In making nods to the early days, the band can hold onto old fans, but still push themselves creatively into their own future. Such things are what makes Crawling Up the Stairs another hit from this Austin trio.
Download: Pure X – Things in my Head [MP3]