The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

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Belong Review

by Tim Sendra

After the release of their self-titled debut album, the Pains of Being Pure of Heart shot to the upper reaches of second-tier indie rock success, showing up on every website and blog imaginable, appearing on late-late-night network TV and playing bigger venues. After releasing a couple of singles that were slicker and more streamlined than the album, the Pains took a headlong dive into legitimacy by hiring legendary alt-rock producer Flood and equally legendary mixer Alan Moulder to helm their next album. The two of them have the kind of track record many young bands would die to become part of: everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to My Bloody Valentine and one of the Pains' main influences, Ride. They also have been known to make huge, stadium-friendly albums that can overpower the subtleties in a band’s music. As the first track of Belong plays, the fear creeps in that this might have happened to the Pains. The guitars on “Belong” are metallic, the drums and bass way out front, and the melody anthemic, while Kip Berman's wispy vocals soar twee and proud. It sounds almost exactly like a Pumpkins album track, and regardless of how you feel about that, it’s a huge leap ahead sonically compared to anything the band has done previously. The entire album ends up having the same slick and clean production and is quite a change from the scrappy and overloaded (in a good way) sound of their debut. Perhaps thanks to Flood’s influence, the band spent more time arranging the songs on Belong, making sure to capture the essential quiet/loud (really loud!) dynamic that the alt-rock of the '90s was built on. This shift turns out to be a mere cosmetic effect that doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the songs. From start to finish, Belong is packed with hooks and strong modern rock songs that sound like radio hits. “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” is the kind of rollicking shoegaze rocker Ride used to crank out effortlessly, “Heart in Your Heartbreak” has an impossible to ignore singalong chorus and some nicely cheesy synth from Peggy Wang, and the charging “My Terrible Friend” sounds more like their early work than anything else here. Along with the sugary pop, there is an undercurrent of lyrical darkness that runs through the album. While the sweet pop is more fun, the bandmembers show they can do emotional just as well, as on “Anne with an E,” a dark requiem for a lost relationship. Really, they show a lot on Belong -- that they can take their sound to the next level, that they haven't lost any of their good-natured band-next-door charm, and most of all, that they can make a great-sounding modern rock album without selling their souls. It's a trick that far too few bands have been able to pull off, and the Pains do it nicely.

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