The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Higher Than the Stars (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Higher Than the Stars (2009)


The Pains of Being Pure of Heart's eponymous debut was met with equal parts love and hate across the web. While Joe Pelone convinced me to check them out by comparing them to some of my favorite bands, others used these same similarities to cry ‘derivative!' and other still just said the band's name sucked and left it at that. Something you can't copy is impeccable pop songwriting, and their album had it front to back. They keep it coming at a frantic pace with this new four-song EP and a bonus remix.

It is, however, understandable that the band tries to keep from being pigeonholed. It's immediately noticeable on the title track, with no ultra-fuzz guitars to be found. Peggy Wang's keys were often buried on the full-length, but here we get layers of ‘em with spacey chords and a pulsing arpeggiated part. The guitars blend acoustic and jangly electric but stay out of the way as the drum's lightning-fast hihat propels the track. Skipping forward, we see "Falling Over" also forgoes the fuzz, and with the bass and drums locking into a bouncy groove, rather than JAMC we're hearing dancier '80s UK touchstones like the Stone Roses and the Cure's pop singles.

"103" hits the stomp box and gets the group back to that Black Tambourine / Yo La Tengo rocker side that made us fall for them in the first place. The verse/chord progression is a thoroughly recycled riff but the chorus makes up for it. "Twins" positions itself at a medium tempo matched with slightly toned-down noise that suits the group great. It's also got my favorite chorus hook on the disc.

As on their full-length, Kip Berman and Wang sing so sweetly they hide the not-so-sweet topics within. "103" is about someone's failed suicide attempts while "Higher Than the Stars" tells a tale of young sexual confusion and denial ("You can't think straight / Because you're not straight / In the back of her mother's car").

On the many formats of this release you'll find different remixes; the one on the CD|EP is contributed by UK producers Saint Etienne. Their take on the title track cools it off considerably by pulling back the tempo, mellowing out the synths and messing with the progression to give a more minor feel to the tune. It does all this while keeping a chill disco beat bumpin' along.

If you really focus you'll find that the Pains' full length actually had two tracks that lay off the distortion, but while two out of 10 just feels like mixing things up, two out of four on an EP feels like a shift in direction. Either way, the songs gel anyways due to the sweet vocal tones and melodies that permeate every track. Despite whatever criticism is flung at them, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart prove that they have more than one trick up their sleeve and that their overall mission is more pop than noise. I for one hope they retain the noise element as I eagerly await to be spoiled by more new tunes.