New York’s premier pun-loving group, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, swept away critics in 2009 with their cutesy, adorable music that focused on the emotional conditions of the every-person of indie-class America. Today, the group opens a new chapter as it delves into new territory with its sophomore album Belong.
There’s an added reach to the songs on Belong, and it’s not just that the guitar is louder or that Kip Berman’s voice has more weight. It hinges on the fact that POBPAH, with the help of famed producer Flood (The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails), has traded in its twee origins for a more throwback '90s alt-rock sound. There’s still a youth-driven urgency to each song, but instead of light, airy pop jangles drenched in sugar, it’s a rich, embellished dense sweetness — like a dark chocolate version of The Smashing Pumpkins.
POBPAH caters to this change with a surprising amount of ease. Its sound overhaul seems to be a causal change of clothes for the group. Its knack for crafty lyricism stands as catchy as ever, especially with album highlight “Heart in Your Heartbreak,” in which Berman charmingly chants “you were the heart in my heart break / you were the miss in my mistake.” The album peaks with the waterlogged-guitar crooner “My Terrible Friend,” which comes closest to topping “Young Adult Friction” — the standout single from their debut.
The majority of songs holds the same simple ability and effect: they’re catchy and likeable, and they’ll get stuck in your head. However, the actual body of music throughout Belong varies too little; the album shapes into a cloud of songs that remain too similar to one another. While POBPAH’s mastery of pop lyricism anchors the songs into the audiences' head, its music too often lays dormant.
There are plenty of good songs for a schoolgirl's crush mix-tape or a sad indie-intern, but the formula remains too unchanged for the album to grow into the next Siamese Dream.