Scaling back their original name – Pure Ecstasy – to the less specific Pure X made sense for this Texas trio. There is a minimalism at work in their music and approach – a purity of execution to their simple, bulbous rhythms and a direct honesty to their record-this-shit-live-while-it’s-hot approach. The “Ecstasy” from their name lives on in the title of their debut full-length, Pleasure, and more importantly in the unbridled sensuality of guitarist Nate Grace’s playing. The idea of playing – explored here with inventive use of distortion – is central to this recording’s panache, capturing feeling in the raw romanticism of performance more so than in the intellectual manipulation of composition.
Pleasure achieves a singular sound and exudes a stratospheric ache. Usually rolling along slowly and blooming organically, Pure X at times rely on distinct traditional forms, mixing elements of R&B, surf, doo-wop, and dirge while never sounding close to any of them. At others they sound like the amorphous ghost of Texas minimalistic rock, the cosmic projection of the hazy spirit of Emperor Jones and Trance Syndicate still drifting 15 years later through the outer reaches of the emptiness of deep space and/or Texas. Grace pines plaintively in his supple tenor or oohs and ahs in drifting clouds of falsetto – either way the vocalizing both reads and feels like restless longing. While songwriting frequently uses music to prop up and support a singer’s text, Pure X is striking for the converse relationship – the songwriting exists as a platform for an expression of pure sonic language. The basis of this language is wildly distorted guitar which is EQed to within an inch of its life. It doesn’t take bucketloads of talent or vision to hook up an effects chain and blast out some noise, but what’s happening here is both more peculiar and precarious. Situating this type of noisiness within the structure of traditional song strips both the sonic approach and the traditional form of much of their previous contexts and starts anew. Effectively, the band uses these old contexts to compact widescreen vistas into small spaces and stretch emptiness into an even thinner substance, lending this music a hugeness through eloquent syntax that other forms and approaches can only reach crudely.
In my mind’s eye, the “X” in Pure X isn’t flat, but 3-dimensional – something like a Cartesian coordinate system – and the band’s music slides up and down a number of continua with extreme liquidity. Pace, melodics, harmony, lyrics, and all the other usual suspects are there contributing to both the linear narrative and the vertical color of the sound, but a third dimension comes through in the performance and is the real key to the emotional payoff here. Instead of using distortion as a blunt tool – here it is used to stretch out the dynamics and create more range for expression. When the EQ is set this extremely, the guitarist’s touch and finesse becomes as important as the selection of notes, and micro differences in the pressure placed on a guitar string account for the difference between a sigh, a chime, an eruption, and a tear in the fabric of space time. In essence, instead of using distortion Grace is playing distortion like an instrument – conveying things like softness with a loud low-attack sound or brightness with a prismatically choppy filter. The Pure X approach introduces the listener to a sensitivity they aren’t often consciously aware of by highlighting and foregrounding the physical sensation of struck strings through differences in distortion – much the same way a word takes on different meaning when yelled, spoken, or whispered – and allows a strategy usually reserved for self expression to be repurposed as a delicate device for interpretative and introspective listening. The freshness of these subversions reveal spaces you didn’t know were there, and achieve a rare expansion of the vocabulary of music. These guys have staked out new territory and marked their spot with an X.