The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong
No longer content to jangle politely in the indie-pop underground
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's 2009 debut album was so well-versed in the arcane classics of twee, shoegaze and C86 guitar jangle that it seemed less like a rock album than a studied, masterful thesis statement. Having earned its cultivated, bookish-pop pedigree with clever songs such as "Young Adult Friction," the Brooklyn band has decided to shake the library shelves with the subtlety of a wrecking ball. This feat occurs 12 seconds into the opening title track of Belong, when an affable intro melody gets obliterated by a blaze of guitars straight off Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream. Butch Vig isn't responsible for the hulk-sized sound of Belong; the Pains recruited the production and mixing team of Alan Moulder and Flood who, coincidentally, also worked with Smashing Pumpkins as well as a sizable chunk of late-'80s U.K. shoegazers (Ride, My Bloody Valentine, et al).
As such, Belong asserts that the Pains are no longer content to jangle politely in the indie-pop underground; it explores a wider sonic palette without losing the band's familiar fuzzed-out hooks or Peggy Wang's astral synths. In fact, frontman Kip Berman's breathy vocals might be even wispier — at times to the point of inaudibility. What verbiage does come through suggests the Pains aren't quite as pure as they used to be — or at least not as tentative: "You try so hard to keep it together/ And you look so hot in fishnets and leather," leers Berman on "The Body." Meanwhile, "Girl of 1,000 Dreams" charges along with the Jesus and Mary Chain's sense of remote lust and primal reverb. The irony in all this newfound confidence — a sure-handedness that's easy to come by when your highly-anticipated sophomore album never stumbles over the course of 10 tracks — rests in the relative bravado of "Belong." Even if we hear it as the Pains' noisemaking arrival, Berman is quick to undercut that notion when he reaches the chorus: "I know it is wrong, but we just don't belong." The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are outsiders to the core who won't be hushed again.