Thursday, September 24, 2009

Release: Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Higher than the Stars [EP]

Higher than the Stars (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart)
Release: Higher than the Stars [EP]
Slumberland, 2009
Rating: **** (4/10)

Tweegazers the Pains of Being Pure at Heart put out a surprise hit (or at least "hit" in the indie world) record this winter, but it's eight months later and for a pop band in the internet era, buzz never lasts that long. So, with an ongoing tour and year-end lists drawing ever closer, the Pains need to do something to keep their name in the press.

Sadly, instead of getting themselves arrested for doing something ridiculous or pulling some other dangerous publicity stunt, the Pains decided to call people's attention with a new release, a five song EP out this week.

The EP is thoroughly disappointing. With more electronic beats and synthesized sounds, the band sounds more and more like an 80's throw-back, which is, of course, what they always were, but more subtly than this. The Pains may have been the best twee band since the heyday of Sarah Records, but "Higher than the Stars" and the Cure-esque "Falling Over" sound like any of dozens of New Wave revival bands. They lack Kip Berman's signature guitar sheen, replacing that with overused pop sounds.

"103" and "Twins" sound more like the Pains we know and love, with Berman's guitar making a buzzy, fuzzy wall from start to stop. But here, the melodies don't match those the Pains have written previously. "Twins" is, well, boring and "103" is catchy only in that it has nearly the same riff and melody as their previous single "Come Saturday." Resorting to recycled melodies only two years into their career doesn't bode well for the band. Then again, a lot of people won't notice.

The lyrics are Berman's usual fucked up, creepy words that you don't understand and assume to be sweet until you look at the lyric sheet. The dark themes should be an asset, but for some reason - perhaps because there is nothing in the music, including in Berman's singing, to indicate anything sinister - it just doesn't amount to anything.

The "Higher than the Stars" remix that closes the EP is better than the original, delving into the deeper sounds and far more interesting rhythms, thanks to dub-inspired producers St. Etienne. Still, a remix can't make an EP worthwhile, under any circumstances.

The Pains must decide whether to wallow into their indie pop until they become generic or to pursue more innovative ideas. The band has influences far broader and more interesting than the music lets on and they have the potential to evolve. If they don't, they'll have to face being forgotten as quickly as they were discovered this spring.


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