Release Date: Feb 3, 2009
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have the kind of band name that breeds skepticism. It’s long-winded and melodramatic, augmented, possibly, by the fact that the members are totally adorable. But the fact that they are well aware of these proposed adversities and still don’t particularly care goes a long way in making them endearing. It’s as if their name is a faint and literal cry for help, certain that their honest simplicity will have them torn apart in the process.
It feels like we may be on the crest of a new-wave, noise-pop re-birth that’s been looming for a while now. And with groups like Vivian Girls, Times New Viking, and Crystal Stilts, the revival is most assuredly welcome. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart can easily be at the forefront of this scene because, simply put, they have the best hooks. .
What a difference a couple of years can make. If The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart had released this record back then, you could almost guarantee that it would have slipped by concertedly unnoticed. Indeed, one look at the artists name and it's fair to say a host of potential suitors would have switched off immediately, no doubt nonplussed by the moniker's emo connotations.
The New York indie pop quartet the Pains of Being Pure at Heart built up a pretty rabid fan base in the indie pop community prior to the release of their self-titled debut record in early 2009. For this, they could thank a string of excellent singles and EPs that began in 2007 (songs from which appear on the album) but more than that they can put it down to the fact that their sound melds together the trademarked sounds of many beloved indie and noise pop bands into one shiny ball of sound and melancholy. Mixed in skillfully are the sonic assaults of early My Bloody Valentine, the hazy sweetness of Ride, the introspective and usually morose lyrical approach perfected by the Field Mice, the sensitive and tender vocals purveyed by most Sarah records bands, and the rhythmic drive of early-'90s Amer-Indie bands the likes of which more often than not found themselves on Slumberland (Lilys, the Ropers, Velocity Girl -- whose Archie Moore ably mixes the album).
Everything about NYC's the Pains of Being Pure at Heart drips with references to early-90s pre-grunge indie pop. They've got that pseudo-collegiate look as well as the soft vocals and fuzzed-out blissful melodies that marked so many bands of the era. [rssbreak] These kinds of shameless retro-isms would usually be cause for a scathing review. But as much as we'd like to snub their lack of originality, it's hard to deny that the Pains do what they've set out to do quite well.
Too shy to release their debut album when they recorded it in 1986, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart hid the masters in a time capsule, which was uncovered by sheer chance. OK, that isn't true, but listening to this collection of fuzzy-edged, jangly indie-pop, such a provenance is no less believable than the real story: that this is the work of four twentysomething New Yorkers who worship the Wedding Present and think that "the Pastels are the coolest band ever". Like their heroes, singing guitarist Kip Berman and harmonising keyboardist Peggy Wang marry sweet melodies to sour lyrics with aplomb, as on the cutesy This Love Is Fucking Right!, about incest, and A Teenager in Love, about someone addicted to "Christ and heroin".
Name the influence. It’s a fun game for both critics and fans of music to play, and we play it often. Over conversations at the bar, it’s good to talk about who sounds like who, where new bands are coming from and where the next hip trend may be popping up. But when we rely on influence-naming in criticism, aside from being sloppy, it can be a bit misleading.
Like a summer crush circa 1989, Brooklyn's Pure at Heart churns out precocious twee pop served sunny-side up. A fleshed-out collection of singles, the quartet's eponymous debut nestles up nicely beside that of its Slumberland forebearers (Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine), not to mention early Joy Division and the Jesus & Mary Chain. Where the latter's distortion served as a repellent force, here it's warm embrace cushioning the melodrama of "Come Saturday" and "Young Adult Friction." Standout "Everything With You" exemplifies all the band does well: shimmering guitars, engaging tempo changes, catchy delivery from Kip Berman, and, with keyboardist Peggy Wang-East's harmonies, some honey atop the haze.
I picture the members of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart handing each other unwrapped gifts, while merely passing along, “Here you go.” They’re not dicks or anything, that’s just sort of who they are. That’s a fair representation of their self-titled debut album; a no-frills pop affair—Here you go. They deploy a standard pop music approach and they never deviate from the plan.
Really, what can you say about a great pop record? You can break it down into mechanical details, figure out why it works, compare it to older bands from which it takes influence, chronicle how it rights the wrongs of past efforts, or builds upon an existing sound for the benefit of those who can experience it. Or you can let it speak for itself, obviating the need for a formal review. Since the former has been done to death, and the latter not only doesn’t help matters on your end, but puts me out of work, I’m going to talk about some other aspect about and around the debut album by the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.