Back in 2009, when they released their self-titled debut album, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart attempted – and succeeded – to replicate the best sounds of the alt/shoegaze era of the late 80s and early 90s, taking clear influences from bands such as My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Ride, while making the music their own with the infused sounds of twee pop and modern day indie rock. To some, the sound was a new one, but to those who knew more about the era they took influence from, it was a pleasant nostalgic trip into a critically celebrated fuzzed out time. It didn’t really get nods for originality, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem with these guys. What they managed to replicate in the end resulted in a pretty decent and noteworthy first album from this New York quintet.
Two years have now passed since their debut LP and for their second album Belong, The Pains grabbed the attention of U2 and Smashing Pumpkins producer Flood, who has joined the crew to help create what is a more polished second album. The finished product is just that, but with a few notable changes.
This time around, the songs featured here seem much bigger and grandiose. Whereas their self-titled album set the mood for an intimate New York nightclub scene, the songs on Belong feel like they deserve the spotlight at Madison Square Garden. Most of the tracks here come off as arena-type songs that are loud and proud, unlike the mumbled, soft vocals that are associated with the shoegaze genre. That also brings up another big change for The Pains, which is the shoegazing element, or lack thereof, that takes the backseat to their twee poppiness and shines right through it. Right away in the first track “Belong” (a melancholy song about the struggles of breaking up), there’s still the fuzzed guitars and starry melodies from their last album, but the poppiness coming from the lyrics has improved and is more sing-along than before. The theme of the album is about teenage troubles with love and life. The direction to a broader target audience with clean, light songs doesn’t feel like a misstep but in fact makes the tracks more enjoyable and as innocent, sweet, and vulnerable as its theme.
That isn’t to say there aren’t huge guitars to hear on this album. Next track “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” has guitars that blend smoothly into the back while still fuzzing it up when it feels appropriate during the chorus. Plus, the melodic guitar solos in its breakdown make this track sound that much more fun and blissful. And keeping with that vibe, the added synth element heard in songs like “The Body” and “My Terrible Friend” along with lead singer Kip Berman’s whispy vocals enforce the troubled teen vibe like it came straight out of an 80s soundtrack to a John Hughes flick. As far as the track listing goes, there are very few points where the album lulls; at their worst, they just sound like your average shoegazer or pop ballad, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing here.
It would be hard to say that Belong is the album we expected from The Pains’ second album; it’s really more a step in a brand new direction. From here on out it’s going to be exciting to see what will come from this band because of such an improvement from their previous effort. Their last album was a solid shoegazing experience, but here, there’s just something special about the progression of their songwriting and pop instrumentation that feels just right and the band seems to be comfortable with their own music, like they finally seem to belong.