Personnel: Sarah Versprille (vocals); Daniel Hindman (guitar, keyboards, bass synthesizer, electric bass, drum machine); Zachary Tillman (electric bass, percussion); Brian Wright (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: John Congleton.
Pure Bathing Culture's debut album was a bewitching, home-cooked take on Cocteau Twins-style dream pop that cast a murky spell. Sarah Versprille's fluttering vocals and Daniel Hindman's warped layers of guitars were mixed to perfection by producer Richard Swift, resulting in a debut that was shockingly good and original. For the follow-up, the duo added members of their live band on drums and bass, and turned to producer John Congleton (who had worked with St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, and many others) for sonic guidance. Not too surprisingly, Pray for Rain loses some of the mystery and witchiness of the first record, instead streamlining their sound into something much poppier and more easily assimilated by the average modern pop listener. With drums that are more pronounced, hookier choruses, and arrangements that have more punch, the album is full of songs that will sound great coming out of the overhead speakers in a mall clothing store. The '80s pop-inspired "Palest Pearl" sounds like it could be played back to back with HAIM; the laid-back, strutting beats and vocal gymnastics of the title track would fit seamlessly next to Tegan & Sara on the soundtrack of an MTV show, and "I Trace Your Symbol" has big-hearted vocals and the kind of simple power that bands like Quarterflash in the '80s would have killed for. It makes for a big change from the insular, inward-looking approach of the debut, but once you get over the fact that the band have set their sights on bigger goals and don't sound weirdly spooky anymore, it gets easier to enjoy the album. The immediacy and catchiness of the songs are contagious, Versprille's vocals are impressively entrancing throughout, and though Hindman's style has been muted somewhat by the production, his guitar playing is still Twins-y enough to hit the nostalgia button dead-on. Another step further out of the reverb-heavy murk would have been one too many, and they definitely shouldn't hire Congleton again, but it works this time. They may not be the kind of band to curl up with on a rainy night anymore, but they make the leap to a poppier, more expansive sound with stylish grace and keep just enough of the mystery intact to stay interesting. ~ Tim Sendra