The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Echo of Pleasure

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After the letdown of Days of Abandon, where Kip Berman stripped the band's sound down to a merely pleasant shadow of its former self, 2017's The Echo of Pleasure is an impressive comeback that sees the Pains of Being Pure at Heart recapture the sonic thrills and drama that they have when operating at their best. Berman mostly handled all the music himself, though vocalist Jen Goma plays a large role, and he had some help from bassist Jacob Danish Sloan and horn player Kelly Pratt. This small crew does a fine job of balancing the fuzzy noisegaze of early Pains records with a glossy, very '80s approach that owes a great deal to "Lips Like Sugar"-era Echo & the Bunnymen, with a little Psychedelic Furs circa Mirror Moves added for good measure. The songs are overloaded with sound -- buzzing guitars, crashing cymbals, sugary vocal harmonies, various synths, and thudding drums -- while Berman's vocals are the most mature they've ever sounded (most likely because this is the first Pains album that deals with real-life adult concerns like fatherhood and marriage). His voice is the tender heart at the center of the sonic storm, and he holds it together admirably. Goma's vocals are a perfect counterpoint that adds some earthy balance to his wispy soul, and she sounds fantastic on "So True," the glittery dance-pop song she sings solo. It's the poppiest moment on the album by far, though other songs come close. The cute and frothy "When I Dance with You" comes off like a bubbly radio hit, "My Only" is a sunny version of Darklands-era Jesus and Mary Chain with an uplifting chorus, and "The Cure for Death" jangles with all the grandeur of the Church. Along with all the pop, Berman sprinkles in some moments of fragile melancholy and tenderness too, like "Anymore" and "Falling Apart So Slow," two slices of seriously sad nostalgia with heartbreaking guitar lines. It's a fine mix of smiles and tears throughout the album, and the heady mix of shoegaze and new wave hits a sweet spot that lots of other bands have aimed for and missed. Berman and the Pains may have stumbled on their previous record, but on The Echo of Pleasure they shine like stars and explode like a rainbow of brilliant colors. It may not pack the same sonic punch as their early singles, but it has an overall more interesting sound, and the hard-won wisdom and feeling Berman injects into the songs now means that the Pains have transcended their struggles to find a sound, and have truly arrived at last.

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