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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: 'Belong' – 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tags: Music Reviews

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.

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Entry comments

April 4, 2011 at 4:04 p.m.

Parker: You're one of the better reviewers on the site and I enjoy reading your reviews. Still, I can't help but feel I'm not getting a diverse opinion since it seems you follow closely who Pitchfork Media gives Best New Music and then review them similarly favorably here. You've reviewed James Blake, Kurt Vile, No Age, Smith Westerns, this, and Destroyer after Pitchfork gave them all Best New Music. I'd like to see you take on a band that doesn't have their stamp of approval.

April 5, 2011 at 1:37 a.m.

Joel : Thanks I guess. As far as the pitchfork comparison goes, yes most of our scores are similar, however I try my best to get my reviews are up before theirs because I'm very aware that they are the point of comparison for music nowadays. If they publish a review of something I'm reviewing, I don't read it or look at the score, though it is nearly impossible to not notice the BNM'd albums on the side. This was published before pitchfork. But whatever- you think what you think. Happy someone's reading my stuff.

April 17, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.

real gone: Really liked this second album from Pains of Being... More focused than their debut. Read my full review of 'Belong' here:

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