If you don’t have a bloody valentine, you can still enjoy The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Do you ever worry that somewhere along the line you got the wrong impression about yourself and it wound up shaping the person you are today? Like suppose in 5th grade your teacher complimented a story you wrote and you took it to heart, and now today you find yourself writing when in reality you’d have been much better off as, say, an astronaut.
I feel like The Pains of Being Pure At Heart may suffer from a similar delusion. How could they help it, really, with all the positive press referencing My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, and just about every indie-tastic band just before the turn of the 1990s? And with months of buildup around the internet and the local media outlets about the release of their self-titled Slumberland debut, could the album itself possibly live up to its expectations?
A week after its release, critical opinion mostly holds that it did. I haven’t seen a lackluster review yet, unlike the pools of bands before them who have seen the spangle of their midnight press dimmed by the morning light. The album is a bit more subdued and less immediate than its preceding EP but ultimately it hits the mark. Not surprisingly it also sounds a lot more like those aforementioned bands than the EP, which had plenty of shoegaze charm but wasn’t quite as polished. The album picks up a bit of a compressed feel by comparison, with the exception of the exhilirating “Come Saturday” and “Everything With You.” Also on shameless, full-frontal display are the heart-skipping-a-beat nature of the drums, the octaved boy-girl harmonies, and the lazily fuzzed chords associated with your favorite late-80s acts.
A note on being called derivative: no it doesn’t mean your music isn’t worth listening to, but it generally doesn’t portend lasting success. While the Strokes and the Interpols of the world are more likely to be noticed immediately, they also have that much farther to fall, regardless of how good their second or third albums might be. As a music listener, I’m more likely to buy an album if I know what they sound like right out of the gate, but then two or three years later I’m more likely to be back listening to the people who made that sound twenty years before. If there’s something wrong with being derivative, it’s that more people listen to you for a cheap thrill than a lasting musical relationship. You’ve provided a touchstone for us to glimpse a romanticized era we didn’t experience firsthand, but it’s ultimately unreal and unfulfilling so we move on without much of a second thought.
At some point I intend to post more on this issue because it’s one of the most hotly debated in the blogworld today. But here isn’t the appropriate forum since The Pains of Being Pure at Heart haven’t merely reimagined the best music of the shoegaze era. Somehow no one finds it odd that, for a band who supposedly worships at the altar of Kevin Shields, their songs have far more to do with Sunny Sundae Smile than Loveless. More Automatic than Psychocandy.
Closer “Gentle Sons” so perfectly echoes “Just Like Honey” that it’s a reference, not a recast–no one in the band could possibly think people weren’t going to catch on to the similarities. Moreover, this band isn’t hiding their feelings behind walls of distortion or using noise to substitute for lyrics; they’re putting their words on full display. If you didn’t catch them in the song, they’re written in the booklet (something most of your late-80s hipsters never did).
And the puns are way better than “I’ll be your plastic toy”–despite their indulgently ironic name, this album actually has some inspired wordplay and knowing references (although the crass “Young Adult Friction,” about having sex in a library, is too funny to pass up). All of which leads me to believe The Pains of Being Pure at Heart aren’t trying to recreate a passe phase, but rather admit their influeces and jump off from that spot.
I think we can expect more good things from this band down the line. Their best material comes off like the never-recorded B-sides to some of the great singles produced by their heroes, which is one of the most promising things you can say about a new band because so many wonderful bands started out this way. So with that in mind, following are some tracks by bands, both large and small, who began their careers being tagged with that dreaded “d” word and soon became respected in their own right.
MP3: Elastica – Waking Up
Label: Slumberland Records
Release Date: Feb 3, 2009
1. Contender (2:40)
2. Come Saturday (3:17)
3. Young Adult Friction (4:08)
4. This Love Is Fucking Right! (3:15)
5. The Tenure Itch (3:46)
6. Stay Alive (4:56)
7. Everything With You (2:59)
8. A Teenager In Love (3:24)
9. Hey Paul (2:03)
10. Gentle Sons (4:32)
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