The New Zealand sister duo offer a self-contained suite of dream pop, folk, and cosmic jazz that’s far more evocative than the few words they sing.
Purple Pilgrims evoke familiarity with a distant world—specifically, the woods of Tapu, the scenic coastal locality on the North Island of New Zealand where siblings Clementine and Valentine Nixon record their music. On Perfumed Earth, the pair spin their songs into myth, offering a self-contained suite of dream pop, folk, and cosmic jazz that’s far more evocative than the few words they sing. The album’s real triumph is in its lush melodies, strands that wind and splay like a carpet of vines. What the Nixon sisters sing is secondary to their rich harmonic brocade.
As on their 2016 debut, Eternal Delight, Purple Pilgrims’ music conveys the region’s misty, fantastical appearance: fluorescent green sulfur pools, spouting waterfalls, and mossy cliffs. Though electric guitars and synthesizers appear throughout, many of these songs elicit an almost mystic appeal. The Nixons seem to inhabit another era; both women wear their hair long, with wardrobes worthy of Stevie Nicks. As they glide between a breathy middle range and unblemished soprano on “How Long Is Too Long,” their voices gently braid with filaments of synthesizer and pillowy bass. It’s hard not to dream up lofty, folkloric imagery to accompany titles like “Ancestors Watching,” a simple dirge that finds the sisters swapping lines of verse.
Purple Pilgrims’ vocals provide more texture than context, but perhaps unintelligible lyrics are to their advantage. On “Sensing Me,” they sing of a man “as smooth as avocado” and ask him: “Where are you from and what’s your sign?/And do you think you could guess mine?”—the type of pick-up line likely to break the spell of even the most pristine beach. One of Perfumed Earth’s best songs has no words at all: On the five-minute astral jazz interlude “Delphiniums in Harmony/Two Worlds Away,” spare guitar frames a lean saxophone, and they trail off together like ripples across a pond. The drifting “Ruinous Splendour” allows experimental composer Roy Montgomery’s de-tuned guitar plucks to balance the Nixons’ coos with a necessary tartness.
This modest collection of songs allows ample time to wander a strange and beautiful place, if only in the imagination. Purple Pilgrims may have no particular destination in mind, but their incantatory voices have the power to transport.
Buy: Rough Trade
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