Belong reveals band's musical growth

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart performs at Pitchfork 2009. (credit: Courtesy of dirty black chucks via flickr) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart performs at Pitchfork 2009. (credit: Courtesy of dirty black chucks via flickr)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart released a self-titled debut in 2009 to nearly universal acclaim, and it’s easy to see why. Mixing heavy influences from noise-rock bands of the late ’80s and early ’90s like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and The Jesus and Mary Chain with unbridled energy and lightheartedness, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart appealed to more than just indie kids looking for the next underground band to adore. Music fans with an undying nostalgia for the golden age of shoegaze or with the need to lose themselves in upbeat pop could enjoy the group’s music.

After the hype died down, the question of whether the band would go down as “just another noise-pop band” rooted itself within the minds of listeners and critics alike. The release of the group’s sophomore album, Belong, answers with a resounding no, reminding listeners why they fell in love with the band in the first place.

At its core, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart has not changed its approach to making music. Despite this, there is an undeniable feeling of growth; the band sounds less like a couple of friends playing music for the fun of it and more like an experienced and united group. Songs like “Belong” and “Anne with an E” possess an ethereality that would have seemed painfully out of place on The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but fit perfectly in the collection of songs on Belong.

The glossier production, which will undoubtedly irk some of its low-fi purist fans, gives the band the opportunity to mature beyond the indie aesthetic it mastered in its debut. The musicians haven’t quite left behind their origins, but they have moved more strongly into the areas of alternative rock and shoegaze.

Belong is a case where the album art is a pretty good reflection of the music. At first glance, there’s not much to really say about it. It’s artistic, pretty, and impressionistic. The fuzzy vocals, the distorted guitars, the prominent hissing of the hi-hats — together they form this musical portrait of juvenile disregard for the banalities of adult life. “College loans? Utility bills? Screw that!” Then, you take a closer look, and you really start to notice the details. Up close, the music isn’t nearly as poppy and pretty as it was from a distance. There’s definitely an aesthetic brilliance to it, but now it’s a bit unsettling; something is not quite right. Listen to the lyrics — they are not those of a happy-go-lucky teenager. They are about heartbreak, loss, and alienation. It is typical melancholy content packaged with a deceptively happy veneer that peels away only after several listens.

Call it nu-gaze; call it noise-pop; call it whatever you want. No matter how you decide to package Belong, it is doubtful that you will be able to find a label that accurately describes the juvenile duality of naive jubilation and insatiable longing that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart captures so poignantly.