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Record Review: The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’s Belong

By / Posted on 04 April 2011

BelongWhatever happened to indie pop?

Belle & Sebastian practically defined the term (though its differentiation from “twee” has always been a matter of semantics) but after that band fell out of fashion, so did the entire genre of wholesome guitars and sing-alongs. A number of imitators tried to simply do the same exact thing, but it never stuck, with only Peter, Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” making a noticeable exception as a crossover hit. Then, as if the entire sentient world became aware of the vacuous absence of catchy songs about personal angst without drum machines, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart emerged from the shadowy depths of Brooklyn. The buzz around the band was massive towards the end of 2008, and their self-titled LP the following year was full of lo-fi fuzzy guitar bedroom pop that would fit in on any teenage girl’s mixtapes from the past forty years. Everything about the band felt immediately familiar and comfortable, an astounding feat for a new band with an arguably pretentious name. The question remained, though, how long could the niche of indie pop sustain such a band?

Just over two years later, sophomore LP Belong answers with a resounding “not very long at all.” Belong is the textbook definition of evolution: production is crisper, instrumentation is tighter, singer Kip Berman is more confident, setpiece moments are unveiled with precision and intent. If Berman had a raspier voice, Belong could easily pass as a Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins b-side compilation (for those of you who were never into Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream was goddamn excellent). The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have transitioned from the light-hearted plains of pop to the deliberate and purposeful realm of rock, while simultaneously amping up their already existant levels of lush shoegaze warmth.

With all the atmosphere, it would also be easy to compare Belong to My Bloody Valentine’s rock-guitar-centric Isn’t Anything. Unlike Kevin Shields, though, Berman wants you to hear his lyrics, the plaintive decries of romantic hopelessness they are. The album opens with “What to do? Nothing new. We tried each other, let’s try another,” and continues with gems like “your friends don’t understand that the world could end and it would feel no worse than this,” “I can’t feel it anymore. Tell me again what the body is for,” and “you’re the one who’s breaking me, and you’re the one who just won’t leave. Still, I don’t want it to end. You are my terrible friend.” Belong is an album full of breakup songs wrapped in a layer of upbeat guitar pop rock and sprinkled with crushed peanuts.

As a whole, Belong feels like a remarkably well-handled throwback to the very best of 1990′s post-grunge alternative rock. Thoughtful and personal, compelling and hooky, introspective and inspirational, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have crafted a collection of songs that will undoubtedly survive the test of time and motivate a new generation of swoon-rockers in the years to come. It’s nothing revolutionary, but that won’t stop you from popping on your headphones for replay after replay.


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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.

There is One Comment about this post

  1. RG says,

    ‘Belong’ is a fantastic second album; the band have really embraced a fuller sound. Read my full review of the sophomore Pains of Being… disc here:


    on 17 April 2011 / 1:16 PM