The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (2009)


I'll start by saying that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's eponymous full-length debut sounds like a tribute album to the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Ramones by Belle & Sebastian, and finish by defending that statement.

Hailing from New York, the Pains have crafted a tasty 10-song collection that, while sorta kinda maybe derivative, is infectious and accessible. They've been tearing up those Interwebs lately, earning a slew of somewhat unearned My Bloody Valentine comparisons. While this four-piece doesn't explore guitar textures nearly as much as Loveless, they do share a lousy name and a penchant for borderline Gothic romantic pop songs like MBV circa Ecstasy and Wine, which is a roundabout way of saying they're not as noisy as the Jesus and Mary Chain circa Psychocandy, but they're not as cleaned up as the Chain circa Darklands either. The lo-fi vocals are fuzzed out a bit, obscuring specific lyrics (which might be for the best; nothing on "This Love Is Fucking Right!" lives up to such a great title) in favor of mood and melody. You can't always tell what co-vocalists Kip Berman and Peggy Wang-East are singing, but you can feel where they're going. I'm hesitant to use the phrase "noise pop" to describe the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, because at their heart, they feel a little too safe, a little too twee, a little too Belle & Sebastian to ever be dangerous or, ya know...noisy.

This band writes simple pop songs and then adds a lo-fi layer of atmosphere to the mix, making the tracks feel dark but quite danceable. That B & S comparison hangs over the album constantly, and might end up being the one deal-breaking quality for some. That's because these songs are secure and warm like your grandmother's embrace. Depending on your perspective, that makes the record either repetitive or cohesive; I'm leaning towards the latter. Truth is, sometimes I just don't give a shit about Dillinger Escape Plan's time signatures or Ponytail's anti-pop approach (that's not a dig at either band, mind you). But I'm always down for four-on-the-floor pounded-out love songs.

As for the Ramones bit, well, I know this stuff ain't pop-punk. But try to ignore that the Ramones "invented" punk. Forget the raw live shows. Go back to the studio recordings of "Don't Come Close" or "She's a Sensation" or "Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)"; you'll hear a budding pop mastery akin to what's going on in the Pain of Being Pure at Heart's songs like "Hey Paul" or "Come Saturday." Berman's guitar even has some of the same chugging rhythms as Johnny Ramone's style, albeit with different tonal results. which is doubly interesting (at least to me) since My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields lists Johnny as one of his primary influences. Everything is connected.

So that's what I hear when I play the Pains of Being Pure at Heart -- a bunch of bands I love, plus Belle & Sebastian. Somewhere in there, I even found some songs that stand out on their own. Opener "Contender" is a cute/fuzzy/warm ditty with a dash of tambourine and a splash of haunting vocals. "Come Saturday" is the surprise rocker that keeps the vocals twee but makes the music go bang. And "Stay Alive" is the epic and exciting pulse-pounder; Berman lets off some shimmering guitar pyrotechnics to make listeners swoon. As a 35-minute blend of dreamy pop music, though, there's little point in singling out tracks. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart works as a whole, so play it over and over.