A journey t(hr)o(ugh) X marks the spot:
X: “He’s the love you could lose”
You know the time when your friend has had five too many and is weepily and incoherently rambling about how nobody loves them? And you like and care about your friend a lot and do what you can, but on another level, the whole thing is so cringingly embarrassing it makes you want to crawl into a hole? And then — you know how sometimes you are that friend? What we express in those moments is uniquely-experienced and deeply true, but also utterly clichéd.
And what about the concept of a journey? Again, in order to confront suffering, this is an idea that’s as invaluable as it is overutilized; furthermore, we’re always on the cutting edge of time, always reading narratives back into history — like angels — creating stories that can only culminate in the present moment. An auto-telos that undoes itself, the modern myth of self-unfurling — “I’m going to try to move into a new zone. I’m making my own way” — which itself is what we have in common and which brings us into hackneyed communion with every contemporary.
X: “In my darkest dreams, I see… “
The genesis of Crawling Up The Stairs would be anyone’s nightmare: on the back of a skateboarding accident resulting in “an intensely painful and drawn out knee injury,” frontman Nate Grace was left on crutches and without insurance. Add the breakup of Jesse Jenkins’ nine-year relationship to the mix and the reason for this album’s existential howl emerges, birthing a stitched-together combination of the unusual and the universal. Musically, this jigsaw quality is also true: where Pure X’s first LP, Pleasure, was stylistically of a piece (that piece best described as Jesus And Mary Chain happy when it rains purple drank), Crawling Up The Stairs is a heartbroken, railing Frankenstein’s monster, albeit finally rejecting the destination-less voyage to the Northernmost extremities for the possibility of sunnier climes.
X: “I’m in heavenly agony”
Pure X have abandoned the murky sonic veils of their debut for a sound that’s equally laconic, but more agonized and immediate, foregrounding vocals now distinguishable. Their dream pop influences are still apparent, and that tension remains a part of their charm, but it’s somehow sharper while still being numbed at the edges. According to Grace, “[t]he last album was a lot more thought over whereas this one had a lot more just getting it onto the tape and listening back and thinking, ‘What the hell was that?’” — and that’s apparent.
It’s an album of stitched-together aspects that feel incongruous, though interesting. At times, there’s a dubby use of bass reminiscent of the stretched-out rhythmicity of Dif Juz, that place where post-punk embodies reggae like an opium suppository. At others, Grace’s falsetto approaches, without ever quite sliding smoothly into, the R&B revival tones of acts like Autre Ne Veut or inc. The ringing sonorousness of The Cure is also summoned, while behind and threading through it all is the ghost of Pleasure’s squally, dank vibe — not so much a wall as a puddle of sound. “Rain At Dawn” literally reproduces the sound of water running, sonics taking themselves as seriously as the lyrical painedness. But can it rain all the time?
X: Thanking those who deal in
“Crawling Up the Stairs was designed so that it’s starting out in a dreamy vision and then dives down into this subconscious hell zone and then you eventually find your fucking way up out of it.” So the end of the journey is literally an elevation, a return from Hades, even if there is a certain ambiguity to the question of the next steps. This brings us too, gentle reader, to the end of our journey together, and we must go our separate ways. But where on “Never Alone” Pure X repeat the eponymous invocation, William Hazlitt would have it that on a journey “I am never less alone than when alone.” Have you appreciated the trajectory we’ve followed, in its familiarity and its heartfeltness, or would you rather that that which we all know be censored?