It seems like the biggest buzz phrase in indie rock right now is “lo-fi noise pop.” Bands from all over the globe are incorporating feedback and fuzz in ways not seen since the heyday of groups like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain. What I find most interesting about this trend is the way that different bands choose to employ this technique. Some, such as No Age, A Place To Bury Strangers, and Wavves, take the noise to extreme levels, at times seriously obscuring the songs that lay underneath. Others, like Glasvegas and the Vivian Girls, use a lighter touch when peppering their songs with noise, choosing to use the sound as window dressing rather than an all out assault on the senses. Somewhere in between these two extremes lay New York band The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.
Right from the beginning of their self-titled debut album, TPOBPAH (abbreviated for the sake of carpal tunnel) greet the listener with a brief and light squall of feedback before launching into opening number “Contender.” The fuzz persists throughout the song, but not so much that it overpowers the surprisingly sweet pop melody underneath It’s a pretty little song, and a perfect introduction to what TPOBPAH do. TPOBPAH frequently combine upbeat, jangly guitar pop with depressing lyrics, creating simple, tight power pop in the vein of the great alternative acts of the late 80’s. At times reminiscent of The Cure, the Smiths, or Echo and The Bunnymen, TPOBPAH can also recall some heavier acts like the aforementioned MBV and J&MC, especially towards the end of the album on tracks like the rollicking stomp of “Hey Paul” and the anthemic grandiosity of album closer “Gentle Sons.” Interestingly, some of the songs, like “Young Adult Friction” and “This Love Is Fucking Right!”, could also pass for fuzzed out emo hits by more recent bands like Death Cab For Cutie or Bright Eyes.
After having trotted out the myriad influences that TPOBPAH wear on their sleeves with no shame, I would not be surprised if anyone reading this review thinks that this band must be incredibly derivative and unoriginal. In the hands of a lesser band, this may be true, but what allows TPOBPAH to overcome being tagged as a just another knock off band is their consistently strong songwriting and gift for melody. There is not a clunker of a song on this album. The only misstep I can think of is the admittedly awkward lyrics found in the chorus of “A Teenager In Love”: “You don’t need a friend when you’re/a teenager in love with Christ and heroin.” Yikes. Also at issue is the slightly affected faux-British vocals of lead singer Kip Berman, but it works well enough in context considering the source material from which the band is drawing.
Noise pop is all the rage right now, and sifting through all of the bands saddled with that label can be a daunting task. Often bands can hit or miss in this genre as each wrestles with using too much noise or not enough. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have found what feels like the perfect balance of upbeat rhythms, melancholy lyrics, and background fuzz to not only pay proper respect the the bands that pioneered the sound in the 80’s, but also to establish an identity for themselves as a great pop act with an ear for melody. This is a fun album from a talented young band.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Stay Alive”