[Dedicated to Nate Adams. Sometimes I DO like new bands, ya handsome jerk.]
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.
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.