Friday, 6 June 2014

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Days Of Abandon

Album review by KevW for www.soundsxp.com


It's likely that The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart know what it's like to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Those early singles and their 2009 debut album were a mixture of melodic indiepop and fuzz-coated C86 guitar songs. With half of the alternative music world adopting a lo-fi approach shortly after, them repeating the same trick wouldn't just seem like the easy way out, it would dilute them in a sea of similar-sounding bands. Yet brushing up the sound would put off the indie fans who always “prefer their early work” and potentially lead to accusations of selling-out. As it turned out, 2011 follow-up 'Belong' did up the “fi” ratio, but it also contained some very fine tunes. Was it as good as the debut? No. But not because of the slight evolution in sound, simply because the standard of songs, although high, could never match a record so universally loved.

So where next? The outlook didn't look great when it was revealed that TPOBPAH were now essentially Kip Berman and guests, with much of the original band having left. As it turns out, 'Days Of Abandon' is anything but a fall from grace, rather, it's a reaffirmation of what excellent pop songs Berman can pen. Fuzz fans will be left wanting, but this is no sell-out, no shot at the top of the pop charts; 'Days Of Abandon' is a beautifully-crafted indiepop album that removes the focus away from guitars a touch, further evolving the band's sound, and brings in more synth. It's been over five years since they came to most people's attention, and to expect them to have remained stagnant would be expecting them to be complacent or devoid of ideas. The crucial factor about their third LP is that the writing is fantastically good. Instead of toning things down or opting for a less full sound, Berman has produced a lush and, at times, life affirming set.

Maybe the suggestion that the group could now sound more like the work of a singer-songwriter was the reason behind picking 'Art Smock' as its opener; this is an acoustic, strummed number that may trick you into thinking TPOBPAT had radically changed, although it's really quite pretty. After this perhaps deliberately misleading opener, it's straight into single 'Simple And Sure', a melody-fuelled, glistening indiepop track that is much more indicative of what's to come. For more of the same irresistible goodness then head for 'Eurydice' and the magnificent 'Until The Sun Explodes' (if you preferred the scuzz, then this one's as close as you'll get). The transformation in sound may be continuing, but the female-led 'Kelly' shares musical DNA with earlier songs like 'A Teenager In Love' and even calls to mind The Smiths. This strong female vocal adds another dimension to 'Life After Life' too. 'Masokissed' is another that's unmistakably TPOBPAH, despite their natural progression. There's an anthemic edge to the summery, twinkling 'Beautiful You', the sky-scraping 'Coral And Gold' and brass-laden closer 'The Asp At My Chest': these really are wonderful tunes.

So, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart in 2014 then. Distortion? No. Sound like they were recorded on a Dictaphone for 50p? No. As good as the debut? I'd have to go with a no on that one too. But... masterfully written songs? Heaps of melody? Still an underground treasure? Looking ahead, evolving and not diminishing the quality of their work? Yes to the lot. Berman has shown talent, adaptability, resilience and also that he's one of the best there is when it comes to taking the sounds of classic underground bands and making them his own. Ably backed by a new set of musicians, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart can still be considered, now as much as ever, big-hitters when it comes to the world of indiepop. A dazzling collection.





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