There is a great scene at the beginning of “High Fidelity” when John Cusack’s music-obsessed character contemplates the ramifications of a lifetime spent listening to “literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss.” He asks himself, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Such is the musical milieu that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have been born into, which makes their effervescent debut all the more invigorating. The album defies easy classification; it’s sort of a hybrid of noise-pop and shoegazing, an interesting mix of noisy guitar hooks and serene vocals. The band My Bloody Valentine has been the fashionable comparison, but these newcomers from New York City seem destined to find a sound all their own.
The band announces their arrival with the vibrant, fuzzed-out guitars of “Contender,” and things stay strong from there. “Stay Alive” is downright ethereal, with the vocals and instruments blending together in a dreamy haze. “Everything With You” is even better, as Kip Berman and Peggy Wang deliver the disc’s catchiest melodies over percussive waves and swells of distorted guitars. The luminous whirlwind of instruments gives way to a love song that is disarming in its simplicity. “I’m with you and the stars crashing through,” Berman sings; and then, as the song builds to its climax, “I want everything with you.” It’s not the deepest stuff in the world, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to listen to.
Things drag a little toward the finish (“Hey Paul” and “Gentle Sons” don’t do anything other songs didn’t do better earlier in the album), but only because the front-end is so dynamic. The biggest disappointment is the disc’s length, which clocks in at less than 35 minutes. Even with a short running time, the 10 songs all sound more or less alike.
Far from the agonized anthems their moniker would suggest, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart arm all their songs with an upbeat, irresistible charm. Even their use of bad puns as titles (“Young Adult Friction” and “The Tenure Itch” are among the most obvious) are forgivable in light of their infectious enthusiasm. The band is going to need to find a second gear for real staying power, but as far as first tries go, this one is more than admirable.