As it wafts along, Moon Tides carries with it a range of musical touchstones, past and present. 70s hippie counterculture rears its head occasionally, as on the bucolic imagery of ‘Evergreener’ and the skipping bassline on sunny anthem ‘Seven 2 One’. The album’s woozy aesthetic and isolated lyricism, not to mention the grainy coastline of its cover, takes cues from former chillwavers like Washed Out and Toro Y Moi. But the dominant reference is 80s pop, whether it’s ‘Dream The Dare’ evoking the starry-eyed gaze of the Cocteau Twins at their height, or princess-in-a-tower ballad ‘Golden Girl’ floating in the midpoint between the gloss of Fleetwood Mac circa Tango In The Night and the icy self-reflection of Suzanne Vega. The duo don’t shy away from the decade’s more kitschy excesses either, as demonstrated by the prominent sampling of Benny Mardones’s 1980 fromage-fest ‘Into The Night’ on the R&B-inflected ‘Scotty’.
There’s a sense of poise throughout; every edge is padded, every lick and synth wash presented without a single hair out of place. This detached approach lends the album cohesion and a statuesque grace, but like PBC’s close counterparts Beach House, it struggles to forge a deeper connection or surprise the listener with sudden shifts in tone. Moon Tides is a daydream, not a rollercoaster ride, and if you’re not enchanted with the album from its earliest moments you’re unlikely to find anything that will catch your attention down the line. Surrender to its lovely embrace, though, and you’ll find a late-summer gem that makes a perfect accompaniment to falling leaves and the last rays of September sun.
Still, virtually everything on Moon Tides is going to earn the band the inevitable Beach House comparisons, especially when you hear the opening drum machine stutter of lead single and first track, “Pendulum”. It’s so resolutely Beach House sounding that you would, if you were a hater, wonder why Pure Bathing Culture ever wound up trying. However, when those acoustic guitar chords kick in and the atmospheric keyboard washes start, you’re instantly transported back to the ‘80s. And the cooing female vocal that innocently states, “You’re the cat’s eyes / You’re the pendulum”, at the opening of the piece makes it very well clear that Pure Bathing Culture is a much more dewy-eyed, innocent version of Beach House, one with an unabashed love of 1980s synth pop. Follow-up song and second single, “Dream the Dare” is in the same vein, but is arguably even better. Its verses swoon and its choruses ascend. It’s hard to imagine that this didn’t come out somewhere around 1988 and wasn’t a big VH-1 hit. It’s pure pop confection goodness. But if there were a choice for a third single from this album, it would be “Twins” – a song so gooey and lovely in its rendering that tears nearly welled in my eyes by the time the song hit its undeniably effective and emotional chorus. “Twins, our bodies keep us so warm / Rings, wrapped around our forearms”, sighs Versprille. That’s it, I’m already in love with this band.
Admittedly, the album is front-loaded: After “Twins”, the song quality drops off a little – but only a little – and it would be hard, admittedly, to sustain the kind of internal propulsion that Moon Tides’ first four songs build to a crescendo of poignant release. By the time you get to fifth song “Only Lonely Lovers”, you’re getting Beach House filtered through the prism of a late-‘70s ABBA hit. It’s less immediate, but it’s still a bit catchy. “Scotty” has that kind of Wang Chung guitar sound to it, and it chimes beautifully. “Golden Girl” is another song that’s ripped right out the ‘80s song book, and renders itself so exactly that, again, you’re surprised that the song wasn’t a hit in some kind of alternate universe of 25 to 30 years ago. But the album’s biggest surprise comes with the final track, “Temples of the Moon”, which feels like a Kate Bush song somewhere around The Hounds of Love. It’s absolutely haunting.
Overall, Mood Tides is probably going to have its share of people who outright hate the group for sounding so close to Beach House. But forget them. Those who couldn’t get enough of the ethereal beauty of Bloom will really appreciate what Pure Bathing Culture is doing here. It may not be up the exacting standards of Beach House’s greatest album, and I’m sure someone is also going to start bandying about comparisons to Cocteau Twins (too late, the record label’s Web page on the band already does this), but there’s really a lot to like in the purely blissful sound of Pure Bathing Culture. I’m listening to this record during some of the hottest days of summer, and the music is the exact opposite of the oppressive humidity I feel: These songs are cool and refreshing, and ultimately exhilarating. Moon Tides is a tease – I can’t wait to see what comes after these nine tracks – and I wonder if the group will still be hitching itself to Beach House’s sonic wagon by the time the next release comes around. But, if you know, Pure Bathing Culture comes walking down my street (and I suppose they have, as I already possess the record), I’d do nothing but embrace them and give them a gigantic hug. Moon Tides is an assuredly confident move, and there’s so much to take in by this band. Even if they do more than tangentially sound a little like a certain Baltimore group.
As the two gorgeous singles 'Pendulum' and 'Dream The Dare' revealed, PBC's melodies are lush and unforgettable, but the production is hazy enough to complicate things by adding a dark tone to the beauty of the arrangements. It is not a coincidence the two like trafficking in the mystical: 'Concepts of spirituality, self-actualization, mysticism, new age symbolism and pretty much everything that has to do with humans making sense of why we're all here are all deep, deep muses for us'.
The songs are visionary enough to match their ambitions. Versprille's vocals prove to be extremely flexible, switching from the ominous, siren-like croon featured on songs such as the turbulent 'Temples of The Moon', which relies on repetition and distant atmospherics like a The Dreaming-era Kate Bush's cut, to the joyous chanting on 'Only Lonely Lovers'. When feelings get too neatly distinguishable, the duo walk on a tightrope. The mythology-inspired 'Twins' heavily flirts with new age optimism and reaches stasis a notch too soon, whilst the chorus of 'Only Lonely Lovers' is so outrageously cheerful it almost feels like it's there to test your nerves. But fear not: it is the charming, ambivalent tension already found in the singles which prevails on the record, as the lilting 'Evergreen' and 'Seven 2 One' demonstrate.
Occasionally PBC accentuate their Eighties adult pop influences by taking layers away, such as in the standout 'Scotty', which sounds like Phil Collins in the best possible way. In a similar vein, 'Golden Girl' is quite stripped down compared to the rest, and comes out as a danceable, soulful little tune, where Versprille's vocals are more discernible than usual and Hindman's murmuring electric guitar lines rise and fall like a wave in the background. Whether it is a sense of longing or nostalgia at stake, Moon Tides is a solid, inebriating listen that will guide you through your personal transitions and leave you wanting for more.