The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
For a band that the majority of the indie-rock community seems to overwhelmingly enjoy, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sure have cultivated a bizarre amount of dissension with their debut record, albeit in in a diluted, amiable sort of way. Somehow, amongst the early buzz for their eponymous debut, the group has become a veritable curio, a lovable yet anomalous talking point trapped within the debate over the rapidly expanding boundaries of pastiche.
As they continue to ride a wave of hype out of their home in New York City, it seems that the most prevalent grievance levied against the Pains is one of simple attribution. There are those, for example, that hear the instantly catching “Everything With You” and then begin almost immediately with dismissive chants of emulation, throwing around allusions to”Ride” and “My Bloody Valentine” as if to say in so many words that hazy guitars and dour vocals were patented for exclusive use circa 1989. No doubt that the word “nostalgia” has been sharpened into a double-edge in recent years. Sentimentality has somehow managed to become the crux of whatever mercurial sentiment it is that dictates trend, while also serving as the contrasting crutch that holds modern music in limbo.
Fittingly enough, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s greatest strength emerges directly out of this exact slight. Of all the new indie-pop bands toting a shoegaze underpinning (and there are many), the Pains take the most interesting, perhaps bravest approach to interpretative homage. Instead of using the ethereal calm of shoe-gaze to embark on a trendy, en vogue digital infusion, they instead choose to apply the motif backwards. While bands like Cut Copy or M83 seem to view the seminal shoegaze records as bygone portents finally taking their turn towards inevitable fruition, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, rather, have released an album of melancholy pop anthems more reminiscent of the early Cure records. In doing so, the Pains have taken the shoegaze mentality and employed it under the very backdrop that its marquee members were so intent to leave behind. What results is an album true to its influences, yet still somehow unique in temperament, reinventing the soundtrack of old at the behest of a more cynical 21st-century audience.
And The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is just that— a summertime soundtrack. It’s the kind of album that plays through your mind during the sort of blissfully mundane moments that might go otherwise forgotten. And if this sounds even a little bit corny, then maybe that’s the point. This record is very much of indicative of its own time in that it manages to dance across a rather shaky tightrope, flirting back and forth between the discord of somber sentimentality and a snowball of optimism. The upbeat, toe-tapping nature of songs like “Stay Alive” and “The Tenure Itch” are matched with subdued, at times mournful lyrics. Yet Kip Berman’s vocals are endearingly precious - especially when harmonized with the equally sugary voice of Peggy Wang. This combination makes for an entertaining if not slightly repetitive discord, a basic framework that never loses momentum through its breezy 35-minutes.
While no one can argue that the band does owe much of their success to earlier works from arguably greater artists, the fact remains that the dreamy pop songs captured on The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are instantly gratifying. Even in its most somber moments, the album manages to promote an overriding sense of escape through simple perseverance. And ultimately, it’s this interplay - between adult practicality and youthful optimism - that results in a rich but accessible record, easily one of the best of the young year.
By Daniel Crown