It’s the 80’s again… again
It seems to be a general consensus among artists and critics that popular aesthetic trends experience resurgences somewhere around twenty years after they’ve peaked. So, going off that theory, the 80s synth-pop revival should’ve peaked around a decade ago. Anyone who’s ever stepped foot inside an Urban Outfitters should be acquainted with bands like Shiny Toy Guns, Neon Indian or M83. At the time, they were some of the most lauded indie outfits at the time, and they best exemplified the aesthetics of the revival. It wasn’t long before these synth-driven sounds and style began to leak over into the world of pop music, as evidenced by artists like La Roux and Owl City, and that mainstream exposure almost always precipitates the downfall of a genre.
As we progressed into the new decade, the more prominent synth-pop artists began to refine their music beyond the parameters of synth-pop, cultivating a sound we now characterize as chillwave (which has also all but died off). And while Pure Bathing Culture may have come to the synth-pop game a little late, they’re trying their damndest to keep the spirit alive. While all of their previous releases have indulged heavily in some of the revival’s most popular tropes, these are more abundant than ever on their newest album, Night Pass.
One of the biggest problems with synth-pop is how homogenous it sounds when consumed in mass. The reason that bands/artists like Washed Out or Neon Indian stood out amongst their contemporaries was because of their propensity to reach into other genres for inspiration. Besides tempo changes, Pure Bathing Culture doesn’t do much to differentiate the songs on this album. Each track bleeds into the next, as almost every single one ends with a fade out. Every song features the same shimmering synths, and the entire album is absolutely drowning in reverb.
There are a handful of songs on this album that definitely stands out from the rest, but not necessarily for the right reasons. For instance, track two, “Devotion,” is noteworthy mostly for the fact that the chorus is essentially ripped from “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Track five, “Ad Victoriam,” is interesting, but that’s mostly because it sounds like an amalgam of the first three tracks from U2’s Joshua Tree and the drum sounds from Toto’s “Africa.”
This record’s saving grace is undoubtedly the guitar playing, which lays down some serious funk on almost every track. Honestly, some of the leads on this album could give Nile Rodgers a run for his money! Listen to track seven, “Moonlight,” which features some of the most impressive guitar work on the whole album, maintaining a pleasant balance of blistering blues licks and silky smooth funk chord vamps. Or the outro to track six, “All Night,” where the guitar (which has been relatively resigned until that point) comes out of nowhere to throw down an absolute face-melter.
While there are a few bands from the synth-pop revival era who have managed to maintain a level of mainstream success through the subtle modernizing of their sound (Chvrches comes to mind), Pure Bathing Culture has firmly established themselves as part of the synth-pop old guard. That is not to say that their music doesn’t have a place or serve a purpose; any listener who might be trying to scratch that nostalgia itch (be it for the ’80s or the late-00s) will be more than satisfied with Night Pass.