Fittingly for a band of their name, New York’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have never been a band to shy away from sentimentalism. Over the course of their ten year career the band, brainchild of founding and only permanent member Kip Berman, have made a name for themselves thanks to the C86 inspired jangle of early releases, as well as the more nuanced contemporary pop of 2014’s Days of Abandon.
It’s this later, more nuanced aesthetic that carries over in to The Echo of Pleasure, the band’s fourth LP. But while Days of Abandon felt somewhat downtrodden and despondent, here the nine tracks feel “heavy and hopeful, like love” and it’s unsurprising that Berman describes it as such.
Love has always played a pivotal role in the lyricism of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, regardless of the way in which they approach it. The Echo of Pleasure is no different. What is however, is the matured manner the topic is explored.
Recorded while Berman’s wife was six months pregnant there’s both an uncertainty and a bold confidence found across the course of the record, something which stems from Berman not knowing if this would be his last. As such, The Echo of Pleasure digs deeper in to love as a concept and, a far cry from the occasionally on-the-nose twee-pop of their first records, is all the better for it.
Tracks such as ‘Anymore’, or the airy ‘When I Dance With You’ offer simple yet telling insights in to Berman’s matured mind-set. These aren’t tales of teenage lust or overwrought break-up songs, they’re bold and considered and mark the next, if not final, chapter in The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’s career.
It’s a shame then, that as bold and as confident a record as The Echo of Pleasure is, it does begin to blur in to one, especially on repeat listens. It’s even more of a shame, as those track that really do hit home, the title-track for instance, or The Cure-esque ‘The Garret’, are some of the most diverse material the band have released yet. And while the likes of ‘So True’ might offer up some variation thanks to A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Jen Goma’s guest vocal, elsewhere things feel just a little too glossy, and as a result, often fail to take hold.
“To me, songs about love shouldn’t be thought of as light. Love is big – sometimes it’s emphatic, overwhelming or simple – other times it’s tense, anxious or just exhausting,” explains Berman. It’s a sentiment that comes across in The Echo of Pleasure’s production; expansive, wide-open and majestic. It’s an aesthetic which, when successful, suits The Pains of Being Pure At Heart down to a tee. Unfortunately, in crafting such expansive arrangements, Berman seems to have lost some of the intimacy and resonance that made those earlier records so relatable.