The Pains of Being Pure At Heart Strike Synthy, New-Wave Nostalgia on 'The Echo of Pleasure'
By Brody Coronelli
When it comes to big-hearted, colorful pop songs, nobody does it like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The band’s expansive, glitzy, and colossally affectionate songs have been landing with ease since their self-titled, 2009 debut, a guitar-driven collection of pop theatrics that called back to flagrant, youthful new-wave anthems from bands like The Jesus Mary Chain and the blissful ambience of The Cocteau Twins. This formula never seems to grow any less infectious when frontman Kip Berham and company are behind the wheel, churning out songs that are just as emotionally bare as they are unapologetically wide-eyed and heartening. Their fourth LP The Echo Of Pleasure takes their focus on soaring, no-frills pop/rock songs and integrates a danceable arsenal of beats, warm, reverb-laced production, an assertive array of '80s influence, and irresistibly anthemic melodies, resulting in a record that will send you spinning through colorful dreamlines and lush, light-headed bliss.
One of the most admirable things about The Echo of Pleasure is that it never tries to be anything except warm and infectious. At the heart of these songs lies a calm, collected bliss that’s comforting even at its brightest and most driving moments. On the opener “My Only”, a glimmering proclamation of love that could fit right in on a CHVRCHES record, Berham’s vocals trail over a bountiful array of neon-stained synthesizers, a driving kick drum that calls back to the glory of Simple Minds, and brief guitar interjections that tastefully enhance the bright vocal harmonies rather than steal the show.
This ‘80s grandeur ends up framing much of what makes this album so infectious. In it’s best moments, The Echo Of Pleasure feels like a love letter to the luminosity of ‘80s pop and new-wave. “The Garret” is carried by a guitar lead that evokes The Smiths circa Meat Is Murder, echoing the irresistible opening to “The Headmaster Ritual”. “Falling Apart So Slow” makes itself known in a similar fashion, relying on tasteful yet-subtle guitar leads on the verses, only to crash into a sugary, multi-colored crowd of synthesizers and warm, starry ambience on the chorus. Other songs do away with the guitar antics altogether, like the pulsing, synth-heavy “When I Dance With You”. This irresistible song sounds like something you’d find on a former new-wave kid’s cassette tapes, now bearing the dust years spent growing older. The song would fit seamlessly into the pop landscape in the mid ‘80s, now basking in youthful, dancefloor nostalgia.
It isn't to say that these comparisons always work in the band's favor, though. '80s pop and new wave influences--arguably the album's most redeeming quality-- can also be it's biggest downfall. For most of this record's run-time, these songs seem to spend more time chasing nostalgia of an era only alive in spirit than they do making any kind of contemporary statement. This back-in-time approach to writing has been part of the band's shtick since they started out, but it shows through more than ever on The Echo of Pleasure.
However, this doesn't change the fact that these irresistibly crafted, shimmering anthems of pop glory are some of the most infectious released this year, and the perfect soundtrack for a top-down dip into the throes of affection and nostalgia. The Echo of Pleasure plays like a daydream, and although it's sky is thin, it's enough to sweep you off your feet for some time.
Listen to: "Falling Apart So Slow", "So True", "The Cure For Death"
The Echoes of Pleasure is out now on Painbow Music.