The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – The Echo Of Pleasure

The story of Brooklyn’s Pains of Being Pure at Heart is a familiar one to guitar buzz bands of the internet age. Emerge with a handful of buzzed about singles, then release some EPs, get signed to a larger label, dilute your sound, most of the original line up leaves. I joke but The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are a very different animal to the raw fuzzy indie pop band that charmed us so with their self-titled debut album, released way back in 2009 on Slumberland. In contrast their fourth album ‘The Echo of Pleasure’ is as glossy a record as they come, a wistful 80s pop dappled soundtrack for an unreleased John Hughes film, there are nods to Belle and Sebastian harmonies, New Order (at their most commercial) style marriage of guitars, synths and sheen.

With an ever changing line up and various guests, one man has remained a constant throughout the Pains…story main songwriter and singer Kip Berman, given the albums plush sound it’s perhaps surprising that it was written in a period of uncertainty. “What’s going to happen when I have a kid? Am I going to be able to go on tour? Is this the last record I’m going to get to make? It’s not a bad thing to be worried when you’re expecting this huge transition of life. If you didn’t feel scared, you’re probably not feeling the right emotion. I tried to make the best record I could, knowing it might be the last time.” Thus the album’s lyrics are at times joyous at others regretful and concerned with the duality of relationships.

Second track and the absolute standout of ‘Anymore’ with its widescreen pop swoon, that sweeps by deliciously in a haze of ‘ooo ooo’ backings, masterful gazing-guitar banks, Peter Hook-esque baselines. ‘I wanted to die with you’ sings a quivering Berman in a darkly bittersweet chorus that is redolent of M83‘s ‘Graveyard Girl’ by way of the Psychedelic Furs, a lyric feeding into a theme about the obsessional almost nihilistic life long obsession with love. Elsewhere opener ‘My Only’ is a charming chiming, love lorn chamber pop song lifted by the fabulous female backings and bass guitar of Jacob Danish Sloan (Dream Diary) it sounds like a shinier Belle and Sebastian number which is no bad thing. While the deft title with its rippling synth lines and percussive space, a track taps into both sides of love and parting even hinting at the yearning anthemicness of an early Arcade Fire, if only let down by a rather obvious chorus.

So far so ‘nice’ unfortunately, there are more than a handful of tracks that fall into the archetypal, stereotype of a The pains of being pure of heart stock sound since their Belong album. The Garrett and When I Dance with You are particular offenders of the forgettable disease here, with an over produced tweeness accompanied by a vague 80s sheen and slightly obvious lyrics that fail to hook you in or distract you from the underwritten nature of the songs. Berman has an interesting voice part wistful sigh, part conflicted forever teenager part joyous epiphany, unfortunately, he doesn’t reach the last place nearly enough here. Thankfully then for guest vocalist Jen Goma enlivens ‘So True’ (A Sunny Day in Glasgow), another glistening slice of bittersweet indie pop built upon a bed of organs and horns by Kelly Pratt (Beirut, David Byrne, St. Vincent) although lacking that.

Ending the album on a high with the rushing ‘The Cure for Death’ and taking things down a notch or two with the more sedate balladry of ‘Stay‘ that’s the earnestly muted sound of a man promising to never let a significant other down and pleasantly tugs on the heartstrings. As a snapshot of where the Pains of Being Pure at heart are now, with Berman as the central mastermind, and a well honed studio sound that harks back to the 1980s ‘The Echo Of Pleasure’ is an accurate and at times enjoyable listen, but one can’t help but hark back to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart line up from 2009 and that ramshackle raw, C-86 sound that so excited. Sure it’s commendable to see a band and artist, move on and reflect where they are now rather than try to reclaim past glories. But time waits for no man, and in 2017, ‘The Echo of Pleasure’ is merely a ‘pretty nice’ opposed to the excitement and addictiveness of that debut record.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.