The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Days of Abandon

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If the Pains of Being Pure at Heart made a big leap forward sonically with their second album, 2011's Belong then 2014's Days of Abandon is an attempt to consolidate their newly slick and streamlined approach into something even more shiny and radio-friendly. Stepping back from the arena-sized sound and dynamics of Belong, Days takes a more thoughtful and considered path that leads to a similar destination, only with less impressive results this time around. Working for the first time without founding members Alex Naidus and Peggy Wang, singer/guitarist Kip Berman relies on longtime collaborator Kurt Feldman for musical support and also drafts in A Sunny Day in Glasgow's Jen Goma to provide backing vocals as well as the occasional lead. The resulting changes in direction and personnel mean that the band sounds more like the Sundays now instead of Ride. Both are good-to-great bands, but they deliver different listening experiences. The thrilling whoosh of sound and sometimes breathtaking power in the music (Ride) has been replaced with tenderly introspective lyrics, gently layered guitars, and a focus on Berman and Goma's vocals (Sundays). This shift in sound doesn't serve the Pains well, however. Berman's more personal lyrics are sometimes too personal and therefore hard to relate to, the guitars lack power and punch and don't make up for it by doing anything interesting, and Goma's vocals are a little too perfect, which make them a poor fit for Berman's bedroom warble. The songs where she takes the lead, "Kelly" and "Life After Life," sound like the work of a different band entirely, one that is less interesting than the Pains ever were. True, there are occasional moments where the revamped sound does work, like the uptempo pop song "Simple and Sure," and the song that hews closest to the old Pains sound, "Until the Sun Explodes." Mostly, though, the album is moderately enjoyable and forgettable, made up of songs that sound nice on the surface but don't have much impact beyond that. The group have never been innovators or particularly original, but they always had enough energy and enough catchy, very fun songs to get past that and be a band worth following. Without the energy and the sonic thrills, they are just another pop band making music that's little more than a momentarily pleasant diversion.

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