April 23, 2009

Heartbreak, Hipsters and Harmony

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Despite the fact that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart seemed to have picked their name in a fit of emo melancholy, their music isn’t superficial — it’s actually pretty awesome. The Brooklyn trio, who will be playing at Risley Hall on Saturday, have been lauded across the music blogosphere for being the next hot thing. They’ve been compared to so many bands (My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, The Verve, Jesus and Mary Chain, etc.) that you might worry that they’ve got little heart of their own. Is this a band that — as the all-holy Pitchfork Media seems to suggest — might have picked the right influences and cruised on that success?
While some of their influences are pretty damn esoteric, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have chiseled out a sound of their own, a little unfinished but poignant nonetheless. Their incredibly brief self-titled EP released in 2009 (which totals a whopping 34 minutes) reveals a hipster-glasses-wearing, library-sex-having, pulsing beat all their own. I won’t try to compare them to bands that they’ve yet to be compared to (since damn few probably exist), but Kip Berman, lead vocalist and guitarist, spoke to Will Cordeiro grad (Artist-in-Residence at Risley and a Sun staff writer) about the bands influences and goals in a recent interview. Of his own tastes, Berman said, “I mean, I’m a big fan of the Pastels, late 80’s early 90’s Glasgow scene. Orange Juice. A more recent band like Camera Obscura. I like Teenage Fan Club. Strawberry Switchblade.”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is comprised of four talented musicians, each of whom has their own distinct vibe: Kip Berman on vocals and guitar, Kurt Feldman on drums, Alex Naidus on the bass and the coolest Asian girl you’ve ever seen — Peggy Wang-East on vocals and guitar, whose voice rises from the tracks like a heart beat all on its own. Despite Berman’s own prolific knowledge about such topics as anti-punk versus punk rock and the ’80s Brit music scene, Kip spoke frequently about how important it is for him to stay geniune. “Be the band you are. Be genuine,” Berman told The Sun. “If you’re not the kind of band that smashes stuff, don’t smash stuff. If you grew up in the suburbs and don’t hate your parents, then — don’t pretend to hate your parents. We’re making music that sounds like our lives. We’re not trying to make it dark or smart, just emotionally and intellectually honest with insights that reflect our own life. We wouldn’t try to write Leonard Cohen songs, as much as I like them. Or Nirvana, for that matter.”
So what is close to the heart for these three from New York City? One of their cutely pun-titled songs, “Tenure Itch,” explores the story of a clandestine hook-up with a professor. Berman sings, “He says your thoughts need form / but your form’s not that hard to find.” Another song romanticizes sex in the stacks, and yet another adolescent incest. Strangely, despite the off-the-beaten-track content, all their songs sound like love songs. The Brooklyn band’s sound can easily be imagined as the soundtrack to these cardigan-clad love affairs: A low, humming guitar and a gently rolling bass form one level while vocals in a half-whisper, half-croon run sidelong to the instrumental track.
Berman doesn’t shy away from the fact that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart has as much pop as punk in its foundations. He told The Sun about his own influences growing up, saying, “Really, I had the normal teenage experience with punk, Sonic Youth and Nirvana. I love pop music a lot. I wasn’t always into obscure indie pop. I like the noisy kind of pop music, where the personality of the people making it comes through. We want our album to sound like us: not super polished or professional. It’s us.”
With a general sound not unlike Broken Social Scene’s “Anthem for a Seventeen Year Old Girl,” The Pains of Being Pure At Heart seduce through melancholy indie ballads. Their music is, as their moniker suggests, tongue-in-cheek romanticism. It’s the sort of music you want to listen to driving in an old car with the windows rolled down on California’s Highway 1. So put your stunna shades — er, Wayfarers — on: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will be playing at Risley Theater on April 25 at 9 p.m. with Caution Children.
You can check out the band’s music online at http://www.myspace.com/thepainsofbeingpureatheart. The Sun’s exclusive interview with the band by Will Cordeiro grad can found at http://www.cornellsun.com.