Earlier this year I received a mix CD in the mail and amidst The Kills and The Ohsees, there was one song that completely bowled me over. Who made this charming, exuberant track and where can I hear more? That track was “Young Adult Friction” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. After my initial scoff at the oh-so-twee band name, I remembered, `hey, that song was pretty kick-ass,’ and I gave them a chance. Their self-titled album was well worth the listen – filled with sweetly melancholic catchy pop tracks, POBPAH is an album that can shift your bad mood into a good one, while resisting anything cloyingly optimistic. Think Belle & Sebastian with a little bit more distortion and reverb.
Easing you in is “Contender,” a track that is cloaked in melancholy yet never comes off as sad or grating. Lead vocalist Kip Berman and keyboardist Peggy Wang-East harmonize the lines, “you never were, you never were a contender” and while it’s not the most uplifting thing to hear, there’s something warm in their tone and in the music that somehow makes it all right. “Come Saturday” is jumpy, pop filled with cascading guitars and adorable “ooh” harmonies. The buoyant bassline carry the song beyond noise and Berman’s vocals are wonderfully unaffected. The shimmering fuzz of the guitars makes “Contender” sound as if My Bloody Valentine covered The Ronettes – which is a damn high compliment. Better yet is “Young Adult Friction” – my introduction to the band. I can’t think of a song that gives me more of that extra bounce in my step. Mining Belle & Sebastian’s “Another Sunny Day,” the song has the best use of Wang-East’s vocals, lovingly harmonizing with Berman and transcending the song to another plane entirely.
Elsewhere the songs become more anthemic while retaining that standout single’s pop exuberance. The vaguely New Wavey “Stay Alive” wouldn’t sound out of place in the soundtrack of a John Hughes film. “This Love is Fucking Right!” is the one track that is almost too sweet to take, but the Johnny Marr-esque guitars that come in at the end of the track make up for it. The craft of each track is what makes POBPAH such a great listen. With one foot in the purposefully amateur posture and one foot in studio bells and whistles, the album is simply one of well-crafted pop songs. The best part is that these tracks never sound over-thought or over-manufactured, rather there is an ease and simplicity that really captures the pure joy of pop.
Given the appearance of Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and other like-sounding bands, it’s not hard to see how initial apprehension could stop one from giving The Pains of Being Pure at Heart a listen. While I enjoy both aforementioned bands, there’s only so much twee/noise one person can take. And the sweetness! Oh the cute melodies that stay in your head for days and the sincerity in which they’re delivered – it’s almost too sweet to consume in one sitting. Yet despite all that, I found myself really enjoying the album. The songs are too well crafted to be written off, and they’re too sly and disaffected to be saccharine. As I said earlier, it kicks ass.
Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
The Smiths – Hatful of Hollow