The following review comes to us from guest blogger Peter Getty. Peter has a history in the music business that includes singing and songwriting as well as being the founder of the boutique record label Emperor Norton. More information about Peter can be found in the author credits at the bottom of this article.
With the release of their 2009 self-titled album, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were hailed as a noise-pop nostalgic throwback to the care-free, alt-rock 90s. Their third album, Days of Abandon, marks a turning point for the band, marked by maturing songwriting, a cleaner sound, and a shedding of the youthful whimsy that set them apart in the first place.
The saccharine vocals are still there, and upbeat tracks like “Simple and Sure” are still very much the old Pains. What’s different is the deeper level of craftsmanship here. No longer wearing naïveté as a badge (whether intentionally or not), frontman Kip Berman has evolved the production of his sound to include more dimension and richness. ‘Beautiful You’ may be the best example of this, with a soft choral melody over guitar pop that is at once nuanced and at full bloom, tender yet strong. It’s hard to imagine this effect being possible on their last two albums.
There’s more ambition here, and it pays off. On “Life After Life”, horn arrangements and angular melodies strike an imaginative balance against Berman’s aesthetic of guitar-centric pop. Skillfully executed, tracks like this never fall victim to the bombast of their alt-nostalgia contemporaries…or of their second album.
Berman’s songwriting is more canny here as well. “Coral Gold” is at once drunk on romance and a sober expression of love unrequited. “Coming down to where I’m found / your silent vows / steal the life from me.” Berman seems more than ever a songwriter who is reconciling his heartbreak, not just communicating it with starry eyes.
On the flip side, however, something may have been lost amidst all this evolution. Tracks like “Euridice” and “Art Smock” are so refined, they seem to lack the same raw heart that makes their earlier work so dynamic. While not necessarily sterile, there is a loss of the visceral here. Berman’s heart-pounding intensity is no longer the engine of his work, partially abandoned. Is this new sophistication is worth the loss?
What is gained here is more reflection, more grace, more subtlety. Berman is getting closer to finding himself as a songwriter, so Pains fans may do well to get on board with this finer-tuned version of the band. Less thrilling though it may be, this is also Berman’s most personal record to date, and certainly his most self-assured. Perhaps this will serve as a kind of recalibration, seeing the Pains through to something much more than their buzz band beginnings.
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