Thursday, January 29, 2009

Album: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Album: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Slumberland/Fortuna Pop, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

There's probably a good reason the "twee" movement died out in the UK in the early 90's - the style, a tiny sub-sub-genre within indie pop, known for its self-consciously innocent lyrics and general cutesiness, was called "twee" after British babytalk for "sweet." (I didn't know British babies talked differently from American ones, but apparently they do.) The approach was fun, but like all small musical movements, it ran its course and had long grown stale by the time patron label Sarah Records shuttered in 1995.

But just as there came time for the "twee" fad to end, there has come a time for it to be revived. All the other movements of the late 80's and early 90's are being brought back to life these days, and that's not just out of nostalgia, it's also because enough time has finally passed to allow them to sound fresh again. With grunge, shoegaze and lo-fi on the rise, a return to indie pop is certainly due.

And if proof was wanting that it's time for a second generation of twee, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is it. With disgustingly adorable song titles like "This Love Is Fucking Right!" and "Young Adult Friction," the Pains aren't shy about their indie pop heritage. Their melodies and boy-girl vocals are shamelessly sticky sweet, but so good that you pretty much have to love them.

photo by Annie Powers
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Moreover, unlike many of the band's indie pop forebearers, the Pains aren't totally sissy - their songs may be self-awarely cute, but they bury it under layers of shoegazy, fuzzed out, super-loud guitar. To get the full effect, you really have to crank up the volume. Trust me.

The Pains aren't the first band to combine shoegaze guitar noise with indie pop melodies - in fact, the two styles were always closely linked and many bands (Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, etc.) straddled the line. But the Pains could run with the best of those - their pop is nothing short of infectious, and their noise is well thought-out, masterful and very delicious.

There are some songs on the album that I find annoying and undoubtedly most listeners will be put off by one track or another. "A Teenager In Love" misses the "catchy" mark by a ways and is just irritating, while some other songs, like "The Tenure Itch," seem to lack focus. But the best tracks, "This Love Is Fucking Right!," "Come Saturday," "Everything With You" and "Young Adult Friction," make the whole album worthwhile.

It's retro, it's revivalist, but it somehow still sounds fresh and is, if nothing else, a damn good pop album that will make you smile and tap your foot.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will be released everywhere this Tuesday!

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