So frequent and so enthusiastic have been the comparisons between the eponymous creators of this record and My Bloody Valentine, even during the (as yet) very short career of the former, that it is quite possible to be wearied by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart before even hearing them.
Surprising then that the label, (Fortuna Pop), also choose to emphasise the similarities between the guitar sounds of the bouncy Brooklyn quartet and MBV. In fact, they also reference The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Smiths and C86 in the promotional material. This is a shame, because this record deserves to be judged on its own merits, and trying to place it in a wider historical context only serves up ammunition for detractors of the band.
If the joys of summer could be distilled into thirty-five minutes of fuzzy guitar pop The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have achieved it here. For a record released in winter the music is dazzlingly sunny, and it evokes the freedom of hot, hazy days with cloudless skies. You cannot help but be carried away by the exploding bomb guitars on Come Saturday and Everything With You, and the rousing chorus of ‘Tonight we’ll stay alive’ on Stay Alive is irresistible. There is the occasional bitter edge to the saccharine sounds, as on Young Adult Friction – a familiar tale of the highs and lows of a university love affair – when Kip opines ‘You’re taking toffee with your vicodin/something sweet to forget about him,’ but any souring of the mood is soon eroded again with delicate humour. ‘I never thought I would come of age/Let alone on a mouldy page,’ is the way an amorous encounter in a library is described.
Again, on Come Saturday, we are treated to the amusing thought that ‘Maybe there’s so harm/In a wasted summer, with no drummer,’ if you are staying in with a loved one. The themes are recognisable – first love, teenage angst, extricating oneself from suffocating relationships – and so are the sounds. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s drawing influence from a host of previous bands has been much remarked upon by reviewers and music fans alike. When the band is at their most derivative – as manifested in the screeching guitar on Gentle Sons – they are at their least interesting. Gentle Sons is a grand effort to end the album in a hail of noise, but it falls short of its target and in the event is quite a weak sign-off.
However, enjoying music of the past and bringing it into the present need not universally a bad thing – after all, the names of The Smiths, MBV, Ride and TJAMC have survived for a reason. The jangly pop of The Tenure Itch and the quick guitar lick on This Love Is Fucking Right are evidence that The Pains... siphon influence from their forebears and inject something of their own to craft songs which have a distinctive personality. That this band already have their own recognisable traits suggests, even if they are guilty of a little too much late ‘80s/early ‘90s shoegaze regurgitation, they need not have been.
So, the influences drawn together to make The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are obvious, but this should not preclude enjoyment of this record. It is fun to listen to, and even though some sounds are familiar this does not detract from the adroit word-smithery, subtle emotion and pleasing pop which characterise this band. The Pains… evidently enjoy what they do, and it would be fairly churlish to deny them a place on your 2009 playlist.
Words: Craig Pearce