Sincerely yours,

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's new homonymous album is filled with well-worn lyrics.
By DEVIN KING  |  March 12, 2009

MY PHONY VALENTINE: "So many bands spend time trying to deny something — to not be like something else," says Kip Berman.

Last year, DJ /rupture's Uproot pitted dub-step singles against modern classical and experimental music. Meanwhile, TV on the Radio continued to introduce Prince-isms and Fela-style funk into Pixies-esque post-punk with doo-wop vocals. There is a surge in polyglot music, but despite its force, a strain of conservatism (one that has always run through indie rock) is keeping pace. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (along with a handful of other bands — Vivian Girls and locals Pants Yell! spring to mind) are less interested in opening their music toward other languages than in focusing inward and capturing the breezy teenage energy of now-classic American and British twee pop.

With roots in what critic Simon Reynolds calls "the exaggerated wimpiness" of '80s Scottish bands Orange Juice and Josef K, twee came into its own with UK label Sarah Records (Heavenly and the Field Mice) and Oregon-based K Records (Beat Happening and Tiger Trap). The Pains of Being Pure at Heart continue this lineage with trademarks of the genre: jangly and often distorted guitars, fey-boy/whispering-girl trade-off vocals, straight-ahead verse-chorus-verse song structures. More simply, in singer/guitarist Kip Berman's words, their music is "a blast of noise and pop."

Talking about this pop conservatism via e-mail, Berman tells me: "So many bands spend time trying to deny something — to react against what they feel is some corruption of pop ideals, to not be like something else. We feel the opposite — that we're not a reaction against anything. We don't want to define ourselves as what we're not [e.g., by adding horns, a laptop, or a South African guitar player] but as what we are."

Which, if you couldn't tell by the band name, is a bunch of geeky kids trying to have sincere fun in the city. Their new homonymous album is filled with well-worn lyrics: there's the usual anxiety over love and feelings, the nights of woes and triumphs, plus the guilt-ridden morning-after tropes familiar to indie rock, all delivered with an ironic wink. A little bookish pleasure? "Young Adult Friction" is a seduction story set "between the stacks in the library . . . among the dust and the microfiche." Self-conscious pleading for a make-out sesh? The narrator of "This Love Is Fucking Right" asserts, "In a dark room we can just do as we like/You're my sister and this love is fucking right!"

Throughout, Berman eschews proper names in favor of a he-said/she-said impersonality that recalls '60s pop as much as it does the high-school cafeteria. "At times, the ambiguity allows a listener to assume the roles of the characters. In others, it's out of simple politeness to real people." Makes sense — he gabs about friends hooked on Vicodin and heroin. "The songs are about things I've directly felt, seen, or been through. I know it's not quite as 'literary' as, say, Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but I hope people can appreciate that our music is something real and not an ephemeral word-association exercise or creative-writing project."

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: No sleep ’til Brooklyn, Crime In Stereo | I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone, Born Ruffians | Say It, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Music, Pop and Rock Music,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   FATHER MURPHY | ... AND HE TOLD US TO TURN TO THE SUN  |  July 29, 2009
    Harking back to an America where one's own lonely voice was the only radio and a BBQ meant a spit in the middle of the desert, Torino's Father Murphy hide detuned industrial textures within stripped-down, spacy folk instrumentation, like a man in a black hat picking up a bullet-riddled guitar with which to serenade his captives.
  •   SOUNDCARRIERS | HARMONIUM  |  May 27, 2009
    The first album from this Nottingham-based band is California dippy: whispered female/male harmonies, slack flutes, swinging drums, comping Hammond organs, and a bass player who finds basic funk riffs in every progression.
  •   THE MOVING PICTURES  |  May 12, 2009
    If one way that bands tie themselves to the past is through sonic reference — Fleet Foxes calling forth Crosby, Stills and Nash, or Animal Collective channeling the Grateful Dead — then there's been a number of bands who tie themselves to the past through cultural reference.
    Over the past year, Honest Jon's has released three compilations culled from more than 150,000 78s of early music from the EMI Hayes Archive: music from 1930s Baghdad, early West African music recorded in Britain, and a more general compilation that moved across country lines and the first half of the 20th century.
  •   PAPERCUTS | YOU CAN HAVE WHAT YOU WANT  |  April 14, 2009
    Hidden under reverb and aggressive analog production, the first sung lyrics on You Can Have What You Want belie what seems to be a cheery record title: "Once we walked in the sunlight three years ago this July."

 See all articles by: DEVIN KING