Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
The long-forecast “new sincerity” isn’t just on its way; it’s already here. That mythical reaction to an overdone culture of irony and self-reflexivity comes in very human form with Texan three-piece Pure X, as front man Nate Grace suffers through the despairing lyricism of ‘Crawling up the Stairs’, purged from an agonising self-doubt indelibly linked to his body.
In a time where an abstracted sense of reality has loosened our grip on that outdated notion of universal truth, Grace’s uncertainty resonates. Counteracting that anaesthetised interaction with the world outside, through operating systems, browsers and data processors, there’s a sense of desire for something of consequence, something real. For some people, that liberation can come in pre-appropriated rock music, the kind that wasn’t commodified, packaged and presented alongside lounge music compilations and Starbucks coffee. Opting for the bodily purpose of handling their instruments –drums, guitar, bass –in that unceremonious way they were made for and reading like a crash course in its combined history, Pure X’s second album revives an old genre in the best possible way.
From the eerie psych-folk of one of two tracks called Shadows and Lies, where Grace’s forlorn affirmation of “I’m never alone” ripples through a an unsteady vocal effect, to the jugular angst of its homonymous counterpart, there are echoes of The Beatles’ Nowhere Man and Ziggy Stardust, and even Courtney Love’s curdled, atonal moan circa 90s Hole. These might sound like reference points from someone who’s only just discovered guitars, but it’s more a rediscovery of a long forgotten form and everything that was good about it in the first place; its dormant brilliance explored in a space of fragile ambience and mottled sonic adornments.
Confronting the joys and discomfort of a spectrum of human emotion, a groaning bass line boldly lumbers through an exquisitely sombre opening into an almost-but-not-quite joyful sashay for the album stand-out, I Fear What I Feel. The trundling acoustic guitar of Thousand Year Old Child confronts mortality and aging, as bassist Jesse Jenkins (who sings on this one) muses, “What am I doing with my life?”. Meanwhile, a mournful surrender to life’s harsh realities comes in “we’re only here for a short time”, heard through the ultraviolet haze of Things In My Head and begging comparison to other neo-psych North Americans like Kurt Vile.
Almost embarrassingly earnest lyrics reveal Grace’s damaged state of mind as he shrieks about wanting to rip out his fingernails and scream to the sky, while melting into a shroud of distant harmonies and crushing reverb. Anxiety over a seriously injured leg and the grim possibility of never walking again is disgorged through the bitter acceptance of life as an awareness of death, and always unfinished in All of the Future (All of the Past). It’s here that Pure X’s ‘Crawling Up Stairs’ reveals itself for being simultaneously grounded and ungraspable, a wistful glance at a forgotten past and a future out of reach.