The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon (Fierce Panda)
An enjoyable, if patchy and underwritten, third LP from the Brooklyn indie-popstars.
As opener Art Smock dribbles into being, it’s hard to believe I’m listening to the same frontman who, to only slightly paraphrase his own words, once declared stepping on his fuzz pedal, playing the E chord and singing about love to be the full extent of his musical ambition. These days, it seems Kip Berman is so over paying homage to Sunny Sundae Smile-era MBV that he’s almost ditched the distortion altogether, at times settling for little more than solitary acoustic guitar, fleeting jangly overdubs and vocals so featherlight they almost escape making the journey from speaker to ear.
What made everyone fall for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart five years ago hasn’t completely disappeared (even if all but one of the band’s original members have) – there’s even an echo of The Valentines’ To Here Knows When on Beautiful You – but it has been heavily scaled back, to mixed results.
There are points where Berman’s guitar playing benefits from the lack of pedal-stomping interference, like on lead single Simple and Sure. Chords are left to ring out sharply in a way that recalls the incongruously fuzz-less debut album track Teenager In Love. It’s a shame the lyrics are of so little density in comparison – “It might seem simple but I’m sure/I just wanna be yours/I just wanna be yours.” “A teenager in love with Christ and heroin,” or any other such tragic figure, is nowhere to be found among the parade of generic love interests that make up Days of Abandon’s subject matter.
Elsewhere, it’s the mixing that leaves a lot to be desired. The high end frequencies of Eurydice are so overloaded it clouds what are actually some quite decent riffs. For the song’s closing minute, in sharp contrast to ex-keyboard player and backing vocalist Peggy Wang, it’s left up to newbie Jen Goma to cut through the relentless squeal-pitched instrumentation with perhaps the cloutiest vocals of any Pains record.
DOA isn’t without its joys, though. Until The Sun Explodes is a thundering two-and-a-half minutes of dumb, fun indie-pop, even if it does borrow a little too much from Just Like Heaven’s chord progression. Masokissed, meanwhile, serves to showcase just how far Berman’s guitar skills have come since discovering the magical combination of E chords and overdrive, impressively close to Johnny Marr at his most melodic and life-affirming (imagine Ask minus Morrissey’s warbling).
Ultimately, Days of Abandon will be a test of patience for fans and non-fans alike. Kip Berman can still serve up a sugar-sweet melody and catchy riff when he wants to but here you’d be forgiven for missing them among the pick ‘n’ mix of ’80s pop pastiche (plus a couple of tracks that edge dangerously close to Mumfords territory, horn sections and all). My guess is that it might take another album before he can recapture The Pains’ original appeal with this new incarnation of the band, and he could do far worse than to start by dusting off his distortion pedals.
All words by Will Dix. More writing by Will can be found at his author’s archive.