Pray For Rain
Reviewed by: Max Miller
The guitars on Pure Bathing Culture’s sophomore release, Pray For Rain, do all the things guitars in positive reviews of indie-pop records are expected to do. They shimmer. They twinkle. They occasionally buzzsaw. The drums are generally programmed, or at least they’re produced to sound like they are, always in possession of that perfect dancefloor-friendly thwack. Synths swirl inobtrusively in the background, so as not to draw the focus away from Sarah Versprille, the band’s singer and greatest asset.
The Portland-based quartet (originally just a duo consisting of Versprille and Daniel Hindman, still the group’s main songwriters) once staked a claim in wispy shoegaze-based pop with a fairly lo-fi mentality. The beats on their debut, Moon Tides, were tinnier, and the guitars and vocals were more masked in a dense fog of echo and reverb. In fact, several comments on the YouTube upload of “Pendulum,” one of the album’s catchiest cuts, imply that PBC fans consider the group chillwave.
On Pray For Rain, however, it’s as if the group wrote out a checklist of mega-popular indie acts to emulate. Opener “The Tower” is structured around a surfy guitar lick that could just as easily open a Mac DeMarco record. “Palest Pearl” sounds, before Versprille’s vocals enter the mix, like a B-side from Future Island’s breakthrough, Singles. The shoegaze-pop legacy-in-the-making of Beach House lingers heavily over the entire album. Of course, some of Pure Bathing Culture’s own charms break through the laundry list of obvious influences. Versprille is a great singer and an even greater melody-writer. The cascading melodies of songs like “Clover,” “Singer” or the title cut (the album’s clearest breakout track) are paired expertly with Versprille’s ability to subtly add some gravel to her voice to give it extra force, a trick she utilizes far too infrequently.
Yes, everything about Pray For Rain lines up perfectly with the modern template for a smash indie record. It is well-crafted, and will doubtlessly find listeners. But for Pure Bathing Culture to ascend to the heights of the bands they so clearly worship, they’re going to need to focus more on what makes them unique the next time around.