The news that post-apocalyptic-chaos-maker Gary War (occasionally known as Brooklyn’s Greg Dalton) would be pairing up with Purple Pilgrims – heralded as an up & coming dream pop duo – for a European tour and a split-LP that would serve as the band’s formal debut was, well, a little baffling. Then, as more details began to emerge about Purple Pilgrims, things started to click into place—most importantly, that “dream pop” is just a convenient blanket term for the hard-to-pin-down New Zealand duo, whose ethereal sounds share nearly as much in common with the of post-rock and freak folk. Their music harbors a sort of distempered ambiance, a tone and tension not so much unlike Gary War’s, but carried through different stylistic vehicles. Where Gar War’s segments find themselves tersely nestled in the eye of the storm, embraced by cataclysmic hypertension, Purple Pilgrims’ encapsulate the disparate aftermath of a hope-ravished epilogue.
Gary War’s four cuts showcase a more reserved approach than the rampant spastics displayed on his 2012 LP Jared’s Lot. Here, Dalton highlights a sort of blissful serenity at the heart of destruction (again, the “eye of the storm, “if you will), as his melodies, instrumentation and voice lay heavy at the forefront of these four songs. His signature futuristic pangs are still very much in use, only they now dwell in the music’s perimeter, ebbing and whirling to create a sort of background tension around the songs’ driving melody lines.
With opener “Alone at the Box”, Dalton puts up some of his old tricks -warped, yawling vocals and ascending synth pangs—over a rather groovy bass-and-beat combo. This is the only Gary War installment that doesn’t veer too far from the course of Jared’s Lot. But with “Wasted Place”, things start to come together anew as synths draw out distinctly eastern melodies. Dalton sings a pretty straight-laced pop tune in a heavy whisper accompanied by some light-handed, guiding guitar chords before his own otherworldly, distorted vocal echoes unfold upon him. Both “Can’t Breathe” and “Silver Beams” follow suit with this new rubric, melding the post-apocalyptic pangs and wails with otherwise seemingly to-the-point pop tunes.
Purple Pilgrims’ “side”, engineered by Gary War, opens with “Druidical Dreamer” – and there’s an immediate transparency in the type of band you’re about to hear from the title alone: dark, spaceous, fantastical music rooted in mysticism and wonder, weaving ethereal tales of ancient, mythological grandeur. Guitars and light percussion provide subtle accompaniment to the sisters’ sweeping wails as they echo with a seemingly endless reverb. “Skin Sight” and “Earthly Heaven/Joon” ring in similar style: light, echoing accompaniment swathing extended, siren-like bellows, creating a desolate atmosphere of spectral, haunting tones. If Gary War’s cuts showcased an ensuing catastrophe from the sanctity of a fallout shelter, then Purple Pilgrims’ is those first few steps into what has become a new unknown—careful, cautious and ever grateful to still be intact.