Album Review: Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Very Good, Based on 14 Critics
Rolling Stone - 100 Based on rating 5/5
You know that indie kid who would mumble through his bangs and stare at his Doc Martens? The one who came back from winter break with a swagger and a few hickeys? This Brooklyn band has gone through the same transformation — its sound is now massive enough to match its big-hearted emotion. On the Pains' second album, Kip Berman's voice floats atop layers of guitar fuzz; think early Smashing Pumpkins or "Friday I'm in Love" Cure. As punk love songs go, it's hard to top "Anne With an E," where he sighs, "Take your sweater off and wear your spikes again." Listen to "Heart In Your Heartbreak": Gallery: Random Notes, Rock's Hottest Photos .
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart landed with a bookish and fuzzy aesthetic, the sound of ace indie pop students mimicking their heroes. Yet the band has been forthcoming in their love of crossover alternative rock, and on their second LP, Belong, Pains link up with Flood and Alan Moulder, the superproducers who manned the boards for a number of 90s titans-- Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, U2, Depeche Mode, and PJ Harvey just to name a few. Coming after a scrappy, low-profile debut, this is the sort of power move that used to have cred-conscious listeners crying "sell-out!" (remember that word?), but fortunately, Belong is a bigger, bolder, and brighter follow-up that adds new dimensions to the Pains' sound while nearly equaling the songwriting of their debut.
When contemplating an album that could be considered a worthy successor to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's debut, a few things will seem vital in our desires: It should be energetic, emotional, and it certainly should have a good deal of texture. Wouldn’t you just know it, Belong has those things in droves. Droves! But gone are the refrains, the pop-laden outbursts (there’s nothing really akin to "This love is fucking right!” here) — those defining bits that made the band’s self-titled first burst at the seams with youthful vigour.
After the release of their self-titled debut album, the Pains of Being Pure of Heart shot to the upper reaches of second-tier indie rock success, showing up on every website and blog imaginable, appearing on late-late-night network TV and playing bigger venues. After releasing a couple of singles that were slicker and more streamlined than the album, the Pains took a headlong dive into legitimacy by hiring legendary alt-rock producer Flood and equally legendary mixer Alan Moulder to helm their next album. The two of them have the kind of track record many young bands would die to become part of: everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to My Bloody Valentine and one of the Pains' main influences, Ride.
They say that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart came out-of-nowhere to release their self-titled debut in 2009. While this isn’t true, it would be an act of tepid historicism to go on and on writing about the splendours of their self-titled EP from 2007, from which “This Love Is Fucking Right!” and “Hey Paul” were re-recorded for the debut album, and the two split 7” singles they made in 2008 with the Parallelograms and Summer Cats. Luckily for the innards of our ears, getting to grips with the band’s biography is kind of important, so we can trace their progress from the macrobiotic noise pop of their early material to the golden thrashing nu-gaze sound of Belong.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are so fucking cute I can barely even deal with it. Press photos courtesy of Slumberland (cute!) Records show the three guys in the band posing in crewnecks and cardigans, trying in vain to outshine their adorable Asian keyboardist (named Peggy Wang!). Should you suppose that any of this is at all a put-on, well, just give Belong the minute or so it needs to hit its first giddy chorus and try to resist feeling a little punch-drunk yourself.
Very much to their own surprise and delight, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were one of the biggest breakthrough bands of 2009. Their self-titled debut is a testimony to awkward adolescence, and in an Internet age where band names usually intertwine with the genres they associate with, theirs was spot-on: an emotional, melancholic entity focused on heartbreak and coming of age. With a devotion to capture that 80’s dream pop context, Pains were painstakingly indie, coming out on a label with a history as vital to the movement as Slumberland, and most likely to appeal to the hard-line indie kids in Brooklyn who were just as depressed and confused as they were.
In an interview on Pitchfork The Pains of Being Pure at Heart revel in their music being mistaken for the Clueless soundtrack; singer Kip Berman exclaiming, “Clueless is one of the best movies ever”. Indeed, The Pains… are the ultimate high school movie band, full of surging melodies, un-self conscious hooks and riffs, their early songs peppered with smutty puns and heartfelt, groping imagery. Their self-titled debut record was a glorious cavalcade of unashamed tunes, from the surging, shambolic 'Come Saturday' to the rolling indie of 'This Love Is Fucking Right'; put simply, The Pains… are a pop band with songs about young love and teenage misadventure.
THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART play Sonic Boom on August 1 and the Opera House August 2. See listing Rating: NNN The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's second album perfects that loud/quiet balance popularized by 90s college rock purveyors like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Teenage Fanclub. No surprise, then, to discover it was produced by Flood and mixed by Alan Moulder, the team behind Nine Inch Nails, U2, PJ Harvey, Depeche Mode, the Killers and so many others.
Rife with children's book references and pop hooks as fuzzy as a knit sweater, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart are twee to the core -- as evidenced by the band's 2009 debut, a refreshing, indie zeitgeist-defining gem of 21st-century shoegaze. For Belong, the Pains' much-anticipated sophomore album, they roped in legendary producers Flood (Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails) and Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Ride) to get just one step closer to their influences, and perhaps to give their indie-pop a bit more crunch. They've clearly absorbed the influence of their producers, and fans of Alternative Nation-era records will find something to love.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s second album is a lot like that scene in She’s All That when Freddie Prinze Jr. comes to pick up dorky Rachael Leigh Cook and she walks down the stairs wearing a sleek black dress, not her paint-splattered overalls, and Freddie realizes how conventionally attractive she is under all that geek attire. The feeling is unmistakable; Belong is a post-makeover reveal, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart look beautiful.
The Brooklyn indiepop bands who emerged a couple of years ago are now facing the same test their British mid-80s forebears faced and, in the main, failed: how do you build a career when your very reason for being was to make a single statement in opposition to the pop culture around you? The Pains of Being Pure at Heart opt to adapt, drafting in producer Flood and mixer Alan Moulder to polish and shine their second album. They nearly succeed: the title track is a valiant attempt at recreating My Bloody Valentine's eureka moment, when four-chord thrash suddenly became something odder and more interesting. Even In Dreams has the palm-muted guitar throb and keyboard washes of AM guitar pop before the wall of sound crashes in on the chorus.
New Musical Express (NME) - 30 Based on rating 1.5/5
When they first emerged in a whimper of pin badges and cardigan fray, [a]The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart[/a] managed to make [a]Los Campesinos![/a] look as sordid and intimidating as the Mohocks, an 18th-century gang of anonymous aristocratic ne’er-do-wells who rampaged through London deranged by drugs, slicing off people’s noses and rolling old ladies down hills in barrels. Their love of music from this side of the pond was clear, but the Brooklyn quartet’s repackaging of [a]My Bloody Valentine[/a] et al seemed to miss the point; it was curiously neutered, sexless and danger-less, like earnest, scented fan letters about [a]Morrissey[/a] lyrics that fail to realise that they were supposed to be funny. For [b]‘Belong’[/b], though, with Flood and Alan Moulder at the controls, we were promised a sea change.
A consistent second album of big choruses from the New Yorkers. Lewis G. Parker 2011 As every sound from the past 50 years becomes reimagined by contemporary bands, it was only a matter of time before somebody decided to create an act that recreates the sound of the 1994 movie Dumb and Dumber. The soundtrack to the Farrelly brothers’ movie is a template which The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, from New York City, have absorbed; and seeing as the people who saw that film as kids are entering adulthood around now, they may not be the last.