I picture the members of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart handing each other unwrapped gifts, while merely passing along, “Here you go.” They’re not dicks or anything, that’s just sort of who they are. That’s a fair representation of their self-titled debut album; a no-frills pop affair—Here you go. They deploy a standard pop music approach and they never deviate from the plan.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is a bright, bouncy pop album that drapes itself in lo-fi fuzz that gives it quite a throwback feel. The guitar carries along rhythmic chord progressions that set the stage for Kip Berman’s sunny melodies. He minds his own business, beneath the thin fuzz, beside the accompanying music, if not a bit behind it. He never tries to soar above his band mates, often letting keyboardist Peggy Wang-East accent the melodies when they need a little sprucing up. Despite Berman’s contentment with sharing the spotlight, he delivers melodies that catch you and allow you the pleasure of singing along. Wang-East’s keyboard is even more reserved than Berman’s voice. It never quite stands out, but it helps warm each song by filling in space with moments of brightness. The bass pumps life into the music by running alongside of Berman, and holds everything together while Berman breaks to let the music sustain without him. The drums keep the up-tempo beat alive, which means every instrument involved is on the same page. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are steadfast in its efforts to create bright, up-beat songs, and quite honestly, it’s an album that would sound totally at home on an 80’s pop playlist alongside The Field Mice and The Smiths.
The album’s consistency is pretty ridiculous, which functions as an assistant and a detriment to the record, all at the same time. From track 1 to track 10, PoBPaH let you know what you’re getting. Never for a moment does a song stray from the formula, therefore, if you like “Young Adult Friction” it’s a safe bet that you’re going to like “A Teenager in Love.” In fact, if you’re a fan of respectable pop music (I’m assuming you are) I have a hard time seeing someone disliking this record. For every minute of its near-35 minute running time, this album makes sense. Its immediacy is transparent; there are no hidden qualities inside of this album. There lies its hindrances: there isn’t a surprise to be had here. At times the melodies between songs seem interchangeable. Listen to “Everything With You” and hear how easy it is to fit in the line, “You’re my sister/And this love is fucking right” from “This Love is Fucking Right.”
So how well does this album ultimately fare? Well, unless you demand pure, cutting-edge originality out of your pop music, this is a solid debut effort. It may even score some extra points with those struck by its 80’s nostalgia. Sure, its predictability and convergent approach isn’t going to land it on any 2009 top ten lists, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s debut serves up a cohesive batch of sunny lo-fi pop that will please most listeners, even if it doesn’t astound.