Thursday, April 28, 2016

Album Review: Purson - Desire's Magic Theatre

The passage of time is a funny thing. Sometimes, a moment can seem to last forever, and other time we blink and a lifetime has passed us by. When it comes to the occult rock renaissance of recent times, the latter is definitely the case. I remember reviewing Purson's debut album, which doesn't feel that long ago, and yet here we are with their second effort, as that particular sound seems to have run its course. Occult rock is still out there, but is no longer in touch with the cultural zeitgeist. Though that might sound like a bad thing, that might actually do Purson a world of favors, because now they can explore their music without the expectations of popularity that come along with being in the 'it crowd' of the moment.

That attitude makes "Desire's Magic Theatre" a more interesting album that what came before, exploring this, that, and everything else they can think of. The title track illustrates this, using its six minutes to throw dirty bass-lines, horn sections, and chirping birds into one big stew. All it's missing is eye of newt, and we'd have a recipe for a sinister potion. Perhaps it would be a time travel concoction, because the analog production of the record takes us straight back to the late 60s, with everything that brings with it. Personally, that's not an era of production I'm fond of.

"Electric Ladyland" is another weird mashup, taking a too much on-the-nose Hendrix riff, and using that as a way of branching off into a purely Beatles baroque pop song. It's so weird that it's compelling, and I think if the band decided to focus on that route, they could carve out an identity for themselves that no one else is even close to.

They don't do that, preferring to indulge their inner artists at every turn. From song to song, and even within them, you never know what you're going to get. Moods and tones change from minute to minute, as the record embodies the attention span of a psychedelic trip. While that means things never get old, it also means that the band is often too engaged in setting up a new sound to put them to good use. The sounds are interesting, but the songs seldom are. With the exception of when they channel the spirit of vintage Paul McCartney, the material simply isn't as compelling as the vision.

Rosalie Cunningham still has one of those voices that could entrance you, but a voice alone is rarely enough to sell an album. That's the case here. The songs give her so little room to put her voice to good use, reducing her to clunky melodies that are sung with little energy or charisma. It almost feels as though there's a concerted effort to not make her the star of the show, when she's the entire reason anyone has shown up at all. It's a mistake, and it hampers this record from ever taking off.

If that all sounds like I'm disappointed in the record, that's because I am. What I remember taking away from Purson's last record was a sense that there was a foundation there for immense growth, the potential for the band to become something both unique and extraordinary. "Desire's Magic Theatre" may be unique, but it's decidedly ordinary. It's a decent record, but in this crowded day, decent isn't good enough anymore.

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