‘member?? You ‘member!!
British vocal sensibilities? Dreamy synths and rip-my-heart-out lyricism that give forlorn eighth-graders everywhere permission to fail at being goth and — ultimately — at becoming artists themselves one day? No need to sell new wave any more than it’s been bought, so by all means, indulging in The Echo of Pleasure by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is a joy. Is it a faithful recreation? Of course! But the world doesn’t need more Morrissey clones, to be honest — which is why it’s more fun to see how TPOBPAH can move the familiar sound forward.
What does the resurgence of music like this mean for the ongoing, all-encompassing wave of retro, as characterized by South Park’s member berries? In a time where one can quite literally watch the decades packed into nicely packaged episodes on CNN (i.e. The Eighties), TPOBPAH have a unique opportunity here to add a new spin on new wave. Spoiler alert, the last song is where they nail the emotional depth, going from cute romp to a falcon punch of mature nostalgia. It’s time to ‘member.
The Echo of Pleasure comes at a fun time, with lots of ’80s and ’90s themes being revisited in modern alt. Take bands like TPOBAH, Black Marble and a large chunk of SoundCloud remixes (Pro Teens, PALM SPRING, and cyberlust, to name a few) and one will find a spectrum of tribute, from love letters to the power decade to parody. “My Only” is a great addition to the simplistic love song angle of new wave tradition, while still having the nice and neat production to maximize on the adorableness that makes so much modern synth pop really shine. From the evenly-defined synth riffs to the feminine sighs in the background, “My Only” sounds like a Disney-fied version of its tortured predecessors, and, yes, that is a compliment.
The album doesn’t necessarily want to venture beyond this pleasant approach, and that’s alright — because it’s a great sound. The killer vocal/guitar riff on “Anymore” makes the listener immediately want to go on a radical drive to the local mall, with “I wanted to die with you” capping off the perfect sense of always-welcome, wilting flower irony. However, this feeling cannot carry an entire album. The poppy repetition of good ideas that makes the first two songs so strong makes songs like “When I Dance With You” and “The Echo of Pleasure” safe, and therefore the first songs susceptible to overplay-backlash. But just as the writing off begins, the intro to “So True” introduces new, creative texture that launches into a combination of “Starlight” by Muse and “Ray of Light” by Madonna that no one knew they wanted. Just in time, the reminder of TPOBPAH’s creativity starts the lead into the aforementioned noteworthy end.
The final song, “Stay,” is the only downtempo song on the album, and the welcome break of energy is surprised when the synths mix with horns to create a striking, buttery texture. Finally, it gives TPOBPAH’s sonic creativity much-needed breathing room. “Stay” is a slow burn, and it borders on perhaps too quiet. But something in that blend of horn and synth hits a sweet spot that cuts past the retro ironic sense of cheekiness, and allows the listener to stop for just a moment and…chill. Sit down with a loved one, and remember that happy music can genuinely be happy. Maturity is a great look on new wave, and that’s really the proposal from The Echo of Pleasure that sticks.