No band name so accurately captures its own essence as The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Their self-imposed credo is simply to be true to yourself and to your friends. Life and love hurt, but there’s always humor in the pain. Straight out of the 1980s with an affinity for shoegaze, the New York based quartet come at us with tales of lost/dumb love while emphasizing the silver lining of heartbreak more than its personal destruction. Their lamentable title isn’t as much a cry of self-pity as a personal affirmation of identity and character. The eponymous debut is about embracing the pain: harboring unrealistic expectations, being a masochist who keeps going back to him/her, and dealing with malaise and insecurity. Always beaten but never broken, POBPAH articulate relational pain and youthful generational anxieties impeccably.
“‘I’m a pretender,’ but you never were a contender,” sings Kip Berman on opener “Contender”, overtop wash guitars and enough reverb to strangle an acoustic guitar, but the lovely two-minute preamble is a perfect introduction. The main characters of the album are standard pronouns. “You” can be a long-distance girlfriend, an insecure teenager or a hopeless romantic; and “him” is often an unappreciative asshole boyfriend. At the end of the day, we know who to root for. “Can’t you see his arms are a hell and you won’t ever leave,” Berman sings to “her” on the quasi-anthemic “Stay Alive”. “Come Saturday” is the album’s launch pad as it follows “Contender”; its cheery power-chords and major-chord riffs compliment the syrupy lines like “you’ll come sway in my arms.” Just like Saturdays=Youth before it, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart finds its roots in thick and lush melodies anchored on memories of teen angst. The opening notes of “The Tenure Itch” are straight out of your high-school prom and the album’s b/w cover art evokes an aesthetic of the late 1980s. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that the music video for “Everything With You” looks filmed by its 19 year old counterparts while they read Cosmopolitan in bed.
Comparisons to My Bloody Valentine are inevitable and perhaps apt, but where Loveless retreats elusively into its own emotions, POBPAH wear their meta-hearts on their sleeves. And the million dollar question: does it do so originally? Not really. Does it do so seamlessly, timelessly, and effectively? Absolutely. Detractors will likely cite POBPAH as mere appropriators; but this sort of perfunctory lip service has no place in an age when all the greats borrow from their formers.
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is an album retroactively examining ”teen non-runaways” and the process of coming-of-age. It’s equally concerned with the frustrated loneliness of the American teenager and the comparably developed wisdom of a 20-something. “If you shut out the sun/ the day will never come,” Berman sings on closer “Gentle Sons” -- the line serving as a final teaching to his album’s characters, and probably to us as well.