The Blue Nile’s 1989 album Hats is the kind of lost treasure that, upon discovering it, you wind up breathlessly evangelizing to anyone who will listen. Though their name seems to pop up more and more these days, they’re still a cultish concern in the grand scheme of ’80s revivalism. And Hats in particular deserves renewed interest. Lush yet restrained, it’s an impressionistic and heartsick transmission from a city at night, smoke hanging in the air over rain-slicked streets. You can listen to it dozens of times, and there’s still this enigmatic quality that lingers, this feeling that the Blue Nile crafted their music in some reality adjacent to ours and that there’s still something left to divine within Hats almost three decades later.
As it turns out, the Portland duo Pure Bathing Culture are one of the contemporary artists that have found the album, that have been caught up in its gravitational pull. So much so, in fact, that they decided to cover the entire thing. Pure Bathing Culture’s tribute to Hats is the latest in a series of exclusive vinyl-only releases via Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious subscription service. On two songs, they’re also joined by Ben Gibbard — who, incidentally, offered his own contribution to the Sounds Delicious series when he covered the entirety of Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque.
Artists commonly take on pretty beloved albums in this series, but the idea of tackling Hats seems particularly daunting and ambitious. As it turns out, Hats was a pretty crucial revelation for Pure Bathing Culture in their early days. Here’s what vocalist Sarah Versprille had to say about the project’s origins and how it all came to fruition:
We moved to Portland, Oregon in January 2011 and shortly after we borrowed a car to drive to Richard Swift’s studio in Cottage Grove to record the first Pure Bathing Culture songs that would soon become our first release. Richard has a way of knowing things without knowing them and one morning before starting the session he asked us if we had ever heard The Blue Nile and played us a few tracks. We became immediately obsessed with their world of nostalgia and longing and the way the songs were simultaneously extremely sad at times but also intensely romantic and modern. It made us feel like the music we wanted to make was validated in some way by the fact that their music had already existed in the universe.
Soon after we had the dream to cover all of Hats. It took The Blue Nile about four years and what sounds like a lot of pain and heartache to make Hats and it’s palpable in the recordings. We read a quote from Paul Buchanan where he said he felt “We were up against a wall” in regards to the stress and pressure they were under the entire time they were first trying to make the record. This feeling is something we’ve been familiar with over the course of the last couple of years in our career and it wasn’t lost on us while we were working on our versions of these songs.
Daniel recorded it in our home studio over the course of this past fall and also played almost all the instruments on the record. While we were working on it we were in touch via email with Ben Gibbard and when we told him we were working on this project, he told us it was one of his favorite records. We were totally thrilled when he offered to sing backing vocals. It was already something really special to us and his involvement took it over the top. We are huge fans of Death Cab For Cutie and Ben is truly a real life hero to us.
We’re so grateful for the inspiration and courage The Blue Nile has given us. We’re also totally indebted to synchronicity in our lives. Our whole experience so far making music together as Pure Bathing Culture has felt like a product of something inside of ourselves that we needed to let out into the world but also something completely beyond us as well. The feeling continues for us with The Blue Nile and maybe not so surprisingly, it was first released into the world on my 8th birthday.
Multi-instrumentalist Daniel Hindman added:
Sometimes it was easy and effortless to recreate our own versions of the songs, while other times it was really challenging for us. The songs on this record are by no means simplistic, concise pop songs but more often than not there is some type of sprawling emotional top line that takes place over changes that can seem more repetitive than they actually are. There seems to be a never-ending feeling of forward motion but when you dig deeper into the arrangements you discover aspects that are more angular or complex than they seem at first listen. There are lots of subtle shifts throughout the album, the same chord progression will repeat itself while the bass parts of a section won’t necessarily stay the same. Overall, it was one of the most incredibly rewarding experiences of my musical career. It was a dream to dig into this record and at the same time create our own mirror image of it. To have had this opportunity to find ourselves within this incredibly inspired music and honor it as much as it deserves, but still figure out how to somehow authentically make it our own, is something for which I am extremely grateful.
Along with the announcement, Pure Bathing Culture have shared a track from their version of Hats, the album’s gleaming swoon of a closer, “Saturday Night.” They stayed pretty faithful to the instrumentation and tones of that track here, the main difference being that it’s now a duet where Versprille and Gibbard trade verses. (The other song he appears on is “Downtown Lights.”) Check it out below.
01 “Over The Hillside”
02 “The Downtown Lights”
03 “Let’s Go Out Tonight”
04 “Headlights On The Parade”
05 “From A Late Night Train”
06 “Seven A.M.” (Feat. Benjamin Gibbard)
07 “Saturday Night” (Feat. Benjamin Gibbard)
08/21 – Los Angeles, CA @ Gold Diggers
08/22 – San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
08/24 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
08/25 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
Pure Bathing Culture’s take on Hats is available now via Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious series.