REVIEW: PURE REASON REVOLUTION – “Eupnea”
The early and mid-2000s saw a true rebirth in the progressive rock genre. Increasingly popular bands such as Porcupine Tree, Coheed and Cambria, and Muse took the next step in mainstreaming the genre and inspiring younger musicians, all while selling a good number of albums. These were bands that had one finger on the pulse of the prog glory days of old, and another on waves of modern rock music. One of my favorite albums of the period is ‘The Dark Third’ (2006) from Britain’s Pure Reason Revolution. The band consists of the duo of Jon Courtny (vocals, guitars, keys), and Chloë Alper (vocals, bass, keys). They combined the spacy prog of Pink Floyd filtered through the lens of dark electronica, with perfectly executed vocal hooks and harmonies, making for a truly unique album. The band released only two more albums, each heading deeper into electronic music before fading off the map as members explored other interests. I was therefore surprised and thrilled to learn they were releasing their first new album in 10 years ‘Eupnea’ which drops on April 3rd. The press release called it a return to their prog roots while exploring their future. The results were better than I could have hoped.
The album only contains six songs, but they run the gambit clocking in times ranging from four and a half minutes, to over thirteen, and I don’t think a second is ever wasted on filler. The album starts off with “New Obsession” and slow electric pulses. The song soon morphs into what fans of TDT could well call classic PRR. The song is a slow build but all the hallmarks of the past are present, while not sounding old hat, spacy and darker veined electric music, crunching guitars, and the pop fused sounds of a perfectly matched vocal duo. The song gains momentum, and heaviness as it goes, and it was truly great to hear the band produce such music after so long a wait.
They go harder into prog territory with the lengthier songs “New Genesis,” and “Ghosts & Typhoons” which have a greater emphasis on guitar work, beefy riffs, and driving drums. The band has always been on the atmospheric side of prog rather than on the fast and technical side of the genre. This hasn’t changed, but the playing on these songs is continually on point and is never simple or uninteresting. The amped-up drums and guitar work together especially well on “Ghosts & Typhoons,” where, combined with deep throbbing electronics and more aggressive vocals (which is not to suggest screaming), create some of the heaviest moments in the band’s history.
On the other side of their sound are songs like “Maelstrom” and “Beyond Our Bodies” which are firmly in the lighter pop realm. This is not to say they’re simplified or boring, but the focus is on melody and hooks, and of course, the way Jon and Chloë blend their voices together. The result is quite infectious, and along with some “wall of guitar,” moments bring to mind the soaring, crunchy sounds of the mid 90s Smashing Pumpkins, the fact that Jon’s vocals are eerily reminiscent of Corgan’s at times adds to the feeling, which I don’t think is at all a bad thing.
The album closes with the title track “Eupena” which comes in at over 13 minutes and is the longest of the album. In it the band hearkens back to ‘The Dark Third’ in both tone and approach. I won’t go so far as to say it is a rehash of the sound, but it could have fit comfortably on it, and not seemed out of place. That is perhaps my one real critique of this album. Musically it really doesn’t do anything that they didn’t already do back in 2006. The writing approach has obviously matured, but nothing on here comes as a surprise. Granted they aren’t obliged to surprise us either; good bands and writers have their own unique tone and style, and no matter how they tweak their art or change directions, you can tell it is them. And PRR are excellent songwriters, so perhaps this critique is also their greatest strength.
“Eupnea” starts out with the more Floydlike spacy guitar sounds and lighter keys before picking up speed and ambition. The song is filled with small guitar and key “solos” that aid the atmosphere and bring the song together. Most importantly the song feels a bit like a journey and one that the band is in no rush to end. They build slowly, with gradually increasing loud and heavy moments, until at last there is a euphoric release when it finally comes. It brings the album to a satisfactory, and logical conclusion.
Fans have been waiting for over a decade for Pure Reason Revolution to make their return. And they’ve waited even longer for the purer form of prog rock to reemerge. ‘Eupnea’ is a highly successful return for both the band and their unique style that put them on the map. Existing fans of the band will be more than happy to dive into the music here, and unfamiliar prog fans who want something outside of the million notes a minute vein, while still proudly showing a prog heritage, should find a lot to love here as well.