Young and Lovely
The word that resonates throughout The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s sophomore album Belong is “dream.” Besides appearing in two song titles, it describes the album’s atmosphere: a dreamy, youthful spirit that reaches back a decade or two to a time when “everyone is lovely and young,” as vocalist Kip Berman croons over irresistibly happy synth melodies on “My Terrible Friend.”
Despite fears that working with industry greats Flood and Alan Moulder (producers for artists like Smashing Pumpkins and PJ Harvey) would diminish the band’s authentic raw energy, Belong manages to retain a bright-eyed honesty. It may be full of sugary-slick pop hooks, like those of “Too Tough,” “Heart in Your Heartbreak,” and “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now,” but the band takes its radio-ready tracks and opens them up, enlarging them, sidestepping cliché.
Belong has a bigger, more expansive sound than the Pains’ first album. The first and last tracks, “Strange” and “Belong,” are bright and poppy with just the right amount of gritty distortion—polished, but still noisy and a little raw. “Girl of 1,000 Dreams” is a prime example of this balance: it’s a loud youthful romp with raunchy guitars parading over driving percussion, pulling back into a distortion-heavy, catchy chorus that sounds like something out of the early ’90s rock scene.
This sophomore album shows more attention paid to the power of dynamics. On “Anne with an E” the Pains experiment with a big, orchestral sound complete with slow, echoing drums, waves of synths, and an arrangement of languid, airy guitar riffs. “Even in Dreams” is more traditional sugary pop, but it too shows the band’s regard for dynamics and structure, moving between a softer chorus garnished with Berman’s smooth vocals and a loud, energetic chorus.
While Belong is full of adolescent yearning and stylistic throwbacks to a past decade, its saccharine pop manages to be irresistibly catchy and avoid the pitfalls of studio production. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart stay true to their name—Belong is the product of the band being pure in its bright, youthful musical heart.