The Pains of Being Pure at Heart The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Every few months a band who is unknown even in its local music scene defies the work ethic of its peers and finds listenership across the country thanks to a wave of marketing and media coverage. These indie Hannah Montanas incessantly nag us on every blog and online magazine for a few weeks until they are pushed to the side, typically for a legitimate release. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart from Brooklyn, New York are the most recent example of independent media buzz.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sounds like Lush had written Gala to be a Ramones cover album. All ten tracks are by the book pop songs straight out of Green Day’s repertoire. The second track, Come Saturday, uses a four chord theme and the rest of the album varies infrequently from that formula. Thankfully, the high school punk band guitar work never tries to overpower a song and serves as a vehicle for simple but catchy guitar solos or singer, Kip Berman’s, excellent vocal melodies, which are the strongest part of the album. Berman approaches the microphone with a Let it Be era Replacements emulation that fits well with his own habits and is a perfect fit for the band’s juxtaposition of jangly guitars and melancholy attitude. The vocals make each song instantly recognizable the second time through and drill the choruses happily into your head. The coda that finishes off Young Adult Friction stands right behind Animal Collective’s My Girls as the peskiest earworm indie rock has seen all winter.

Although playing errors are few and far between, Pains leave much to be desired as musicians. The pedal-laden guitar tones change rarely and provide little more than the band’s Jesus and the Mary Chain aesthetic. Other contemporary indie rock bands like Deerhunter or fellow Brooklynites A Place to Bury Strangers use guitar tone to create depth and atmosphere, which makes Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s clean plus fuzzed-out guitar combo comes off as little more than a gimmick.

The rhythm section is adequate. The bass work is fine, and luckily provides some counterpuntal significance to the instrumentation, which holds my attention and prevents the second half of the album from turning into a staring contest when the verses become more difficult to sit through. However, following the form of the band’s Goth and Dream Pop influences, the drumming provides little more than timekeeping services and manages to stay irrelevant for the majority of the album. The uninspiring drumming does not compromise the quality of any of the songs but could have certainly spiced up some of the more tiresome instrumental parts where the band uses soaring synth leads that sound like samples from Greatest Hits of the 80s Vol. 1 (URL=

All of my instincts tell me to not enjoy this record but for some reason I cannot stop listening to it. The late 80s influenced guitar tones, the predictable songwriting, and the familiar hooks and choruses make The Pains of Being Pure at Heart a record that I feel like I have heard a million times before, but that is exactly what I like about it. The band’s formulaic approach to songwriting was the first thing to put me off and it is the thing that keeps me coming back. It isn’t the most technical, or even the most interesting, but The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is instantly accessible and fun to listen to.

In spite of the shortcomings of this debut full length the bright spots are very bright. We are definitely inundated with fuzzed-out rock bands these days, and with the huge amount of internet hype around the Pains it is difficult to judge if they are going to distinguish themselves from bands like Vivian Girls, Titus Andronicus, or label-mates Crystal Stilts. Their voice is not unique, but the accessibility of this record is going to make it a lot of people’s favorite this Spring. Even though it might wash away into obscurity in the coming years, its fans will remember it very fondly on a personal level.


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, reviewed by mcelroy on 2009-02-27T22:29:14-08:00 rating 3.8 out of 5

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