After a great debut release, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart had set the bar pretty high. Their 2009 self titled record was an incredibly solid take on indie pop. Mixing together the heavily distorted guitars of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the effect heavy wall of sound of shoegaze, and the genre expected perishing alt rock voice. All in all, an enjoyable half hour of music.
In that same year, the “Higher Than the Stars” EP was released. It was kind of split as far as the sound. Some songs sounded like they could have been on the previous full length, but some were a little cleaner sounding. There was more straight forward pop songs to be found here.
In that vein, we have the new full length. Produced by Flood and mixed by Alan Moulder, this record sounds like it should have been released back during the 90’s post-grunge, alternative rock scene. This release has more in common with The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream” (or the more poppy stuff on “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness”), than it does The Jesus and Mary Chain (or My Bloody Valentine). However, this is all tempered with a heavy dose of new wave synthesizer, and a touch of the poppier side of The Cure.
The songs are still either slow or midtempo, the lyrics are still hit or miss, the general twee guidelines are still met, but it is a cleaner sound. Kip Berman shows he his vocals have range beyond a monotone drone. Peggy Wang steps up with the keyboard use. They have taken the next step musically while still falling well within the dream pop thing (by the by, how many subgenres does this type of music need?).
Lyrics are the tripping point here. With the cleaner production, comes clearer vocals. Realistically, the lyrics on these types of records are usually twee. But, with dense production, heavy music effects, and a general vocal drone, they tend to not stand out over the instrumentation. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. From the titular song (and album opener), we get the line “tell yourself / it’s not yourself / but, no one else / can make me know there’s no one else.” From “Girl of 1,000 Dreams” we get this “I know everything is so-so / I know you could just fly solo / But come on, we are gonna go go around the world, ’cause you’re the girl of 1,000 dreams.” Lyrically, this is what we are dealing with most of the album. But, pop music (indie or otherwise) has never been know for it’s lyrical prowess.
But, the album is not all bad. While “My Terrible Friend” suffers from dubious lyrical content, it more than makes up for it musically. It might be one of the catchiest songs on the album. “Heart in Your Heartbreak” is another stand out track for similar reasons. Catchy instrumentation might not save a record from poor songwriting, but it can certainly help.
Also, I want to make special mention of the album cover. It is simple, but good. Their last full length had this overly contrasted photo. It looked like something Tim Armstrong of Rancid would shit out for whatever band was releasing something on Hellcat Records. This is a major step up.
This is a generally good album. Maybe a little too poppy. Lyrically, it needs a lot of help. But, if you are a person who has a soft spot for twee, check this out. Not the finest example of indie pop, but certainly not the worst either.