Is it too early to start compiling a best-records-of-the-year list? Probably, but since the remaining five months of 2009 are unlikely to produce an indie-pop gem that sparkles with the brilliance of the Pains of Being Pure of Heart's self-titled debut, it's a safe wager that the New York band is going to make the cut. All treble-charged guitars and reverb-saturated boy-girl harmonies, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sounds on first listen like a lost Creation Records release, unearthed from some 25-year-old time capsule. The twee jangle and hiding-in-the-library narrative of “Young Adult Friction” would be a natural fit alongside the House of Love and the Pastels on a mix tape slipped into the book bag of a secret crush. Noisier offerings, like the feedback-strafed “Gentle Sons”, will appeal to anyone with a well-cultivated taste for psychocandy.
Pains singer-guitarist Kip Berman doesn't deny being influenced by all of the above, but he says the quartet never set out to be Alan McGee's wet dream. Reached by telephone at his Brooklyn home, the 29-year-old musician notes that one of his musical touchstones emerged not from the U.K., but from Bleecker Street circa 1974.
“One of the things we strive for, especially on this album, is a real immediacy, and a sense of instantly engaging with a song,” he says. “There's not a lot of long intros in our songs. You kind of know what the song's going to sound like right away, and whether you're going to like it or not. And I really appreciate the immediacy of the Ramones and how they put themselves right out there from the get-go.”
In the Pains of Being Pure at Heart catalogue, the most instantly appealing entry is “Everything With You”, an impossibly perfect summertime single complete with teenage-death-wish lyrics and a succinct, crystalline guitar solo seemingly cribbed from John Squire's playbook. Most of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, including “Everything With You”, was recorded on the cheap and initially released on singles and an EP over the past two years. The band then got Archie Moore, formerly of American indie heroes Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl, to mix everything together and make it seem like an album.
“He understood the sound we were going for, even if we totally didn't,” Berman admits. “If you listen to how we recorded these songs and how they finally sounded when they were mixed, it was a pretty big difference.”
And just because their sound harks back to an era before Pro Tools and Cubase, don't assume that the members of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart are analogue fetishists. Berman says they're far more pragmatic than that. “It's 2009, and we just want to record things as cheaply and as efficiently as possible,” he says. “We don't have the money to record on, like, two-inch tape. It's a luxury. Recording on a computer sounds fine. I understand people want to say things like ”˜analogue warmth', but to be honest it sounds just fine the way we've done it.”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Friday (July 24).