Pure Bathing Culture
1811 14th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20009
The quietest voices can be the most durable.
American Football's original triumph, on their 1999 self-titled debut, was to reunite two shy siblings: emo and post-rock. It was a pioneering album where lyrical clarity was obscured and complicated by the stealth musical textures surrounding it.
Like Slint's Spiderland, or Codeine's The White Birch, even Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, American Football asked far more questions than it cared to answer. But there wasn't a band around anymore to explain it, anyway. The three young men who made the album -- Mike Kinsella, Steve Holmes, and Steve Lamos -- split up pretty much on its release.
Fifteen years later, American Football reunited (now as a four-piece, with the addition of Nate Kinsella). They played far larger shows than in their original incarnation and recorded their long-anticipated second album, 2016's American Football (LP2). The release was widely praised, but the band members still felt like their best work was yet to come.
'I feel like the second album was us figuring it out,' says Nate. 'For me, it wasn't quite done. I knew there was still more.'
Enter American Football (LP3). 'We put a lot of time and a lot of energy into it,' says Mike. 'We were all thoughtful about what we wanted to put out there. Last time, it was figuring out how to use all of our different arms. This time, we were like -- Ok we have these arms, let's use them.' The band used the same producer, Jason Cupp, and recorded the album at the same studio (Arc Studios in Omaha, Nebraska) as its predecessor -- yet they approached it in a markedly different way. There was a determination to let the songs breathe, to trust in ideas finding their own pace. The final result is a definite, and deliberate, stretching of the band.
As a result, LP3 is less obviously tethered to the band's past than the second album. An immediate contrast between LP3 and its two predecessors is its cover. The two previous albums featured the exterior and interior of a residence in the band's original hometown of Urbana, Illinois (now attracting fans for pilgrimages and photo opportunities), by the photographer Chris Strong. But American Football knew that LP3 was an outside record. Instead of the familiar house, this time the cover photo (again by Strong) features open, rolling fields on Urbana's borders. It is a sign of the album's magnitude in sound, and of the band's boldness in breaking away from home comforts.
American Football also joked that LP3's genre was 'post-house,' because of this very conscious visual break. But, in a strange way, there are links in LP3 with an actual post-house genre: shoegaze. The more exploratory members of the original British shoegaze scene were inspired by the dreamtime and circularity of house music (ambient house in particular), cherishing its sonic possibilities. That spirit drips into LP3, most obviously on 'I Can't Feel You,' a collaboration with Rachel Goswell of Slowdive.
The album also features Hayley Williams from Paramore on the album's catchiest moment, 'Uncomfortably Numb,' and Elizabeth Powell, of the Québécoise act Land Of Talk. Mike wrote lyrics in French especially for her.
LP3 is contemplative, rich, expressive, yet with a queasy undercurrent. It is heavy with expectancy, revealing its ideas slowly, eliciting the hidden stories people carry around with them. 'I feel like my lyric writing has changed a lot over the years,' says Mike. 'The goal is to be conversational, maybe to state something giant and heavy, but in a very plain way. But, definitely in this record, I keep things a little more vague.' As on the first album, the lyrics on LP3 may seem confessional and concentrated, but the more you scrutinize them, the further their meaning slinks away. Or, as Mike tellingly sings on 'I Can't Feel You": I'm fluent in subtlety.
'Somewhere along the way we moved from being a reunion band to just being a band,' says Steve Holmes. American Football is now a bona fide ongoing focus, and they are making some of the best music of their lives. American Football (LP3) stands with two other rare reunion successes -- Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine's mbv -- as a fine example of how a band refinding one another can augment, rather than taint, their legacy.
'I think that there are those albums, or the music that you heard when you were younger, and they imprint on you,' says Nate. 'And no matter where you go, or what you do they're always there.' He is talking of Steve Reich -- an early and ongoing influence on American Football -- but he might as well be reflecting what is said of his own band, and the ardent following they inspire. American Football stands as an enduring symbol of elusive emotional landscapes, where introspection can be as dramatic as confrontation.
Pure Bathing Culture
It's a rare and beautiful thing when a band emerges fully formed, but it makes perfect sense in the case of guitarist Daniel Hindman and keyboardist Sarah Versprille's Pure Bathing Culture. Having backed folk rock revisionist Andy Cabic in Vetiver, the New Yorkers partnered up and moved West in 2011, settling in Portland, Oregon. Building off their past experiences as musical collaborators, in a short time the duo have created a sound that is undeniably their own: soaring synths, chiming keyboards, and shimmering electric guitars move in lockstep with bouncing drum machines. Sarah's crystalline voice floats on top of it all with divine purpose. It's a sound that looks back momentarily for inspiration — Talk Talk, Prefab Sprout, Cocteau Twins — but then fixes its gaze firmly on the present.
Further developing the sound of their acclaimed four song, self-titled 2012 EP, at the start of 2013 they set out to record Moon Tides, their first full length album. Again, they chose to work with producer Richard Swift at his National Freedom studio in rural Cottage Grove, Oregon. Throughout 2012 Swift had called on the duo to help him with other studio projects (Versprille sings on Foxygen's latest LP and Hindman adds his sprawling guitar work to Damien Jurado's excellent Maraqopa) which only helped to cement the threesome's musical partnership. For Moon Tides they continued where the previous EP left off, bolstered by Swift's belief in the duo's artistic vision and their unique sound, "From very early on, Richard was the person telling us that what we were hearing and wanting to do musically (which at times could feel a little strange or embarrassing to us) was ok and valid and that we should pursue it."
Like the earlier sessions for the EP, they worked quickly in the studio and improvised parts around the basic song structures that they'd carefully composed up in Portland. Dan explains, "Pretty much all tracks (vocals and instruments) are all first or very early takes. Richard is kind of a stickler about this and I actually don't go in with a clean, pristine idea of what I'm going to play on guitar or any other instrument for that matter, so there's actually a lot of improvisation as far as performances in the studio go." The results, like the earlier EP, are astounding: the arrangements feel fresh and imaginative, the melodies are unforgettable and the finished songs, most importantly, feel intensely human and deeply spiritual.
It's this compassion and warmth in Pure Bathing Culture that set them apart. The music is uplifting. It invites self-reflection. It never feels alienating. This, confirms the band, is no accident: "Concepts of spirituality, self actualization, mysticism, new age symbolism and pretty much anything that has to do with humans making sense of why we're all here are all deep, deep muses for us." To that point, even the album title Moon Tides alludes to self-discovery: "We are deeply inspired by the relationship between the moon and the tides. Particularly in the sense that the tides and the ocean are comprised of water and the element water is often associated with human emotion." While these heady themes can be difficult to explore in a pop song, Pure Bathing Culture makes it feel effortless. "Pendulum" is a perfect mid-tempo album opener that pulses and shines. Other standout tracks from the album — "Dream The Dare", "Twins", "Scotty" and "Golden Girl" — are slices of reverb-drenched, soulful, danceable electro-pop, that musically and lyrically tap into an introspective worship of the natural and psychic mysteries that surround us. Pure Bathing Culture's debut album Moon Tides is optimistic modern music for souls who seek to explore the infinite.