The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- Belong
Record Label: Slumberland Records
Release Date: March 29, 2011
This was a user review published several years prior to my becoming staff.
The loosely defined genre of "indie pop" has certainly seen a lot of amalgamations and mutations. It also has experienced incredible popularity to the point of saturation in some cases; how many commercials have Vampire Weekend been in now? Blockbuster movies such as "Garden State," "(500) Days of Summer" and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" have been in a large part constructed around songs that would generally fall in this genre. This, naturally, has led to a "trend" cycle, in which the style is embraced, popularized, shunned and ridiculed.
That really is a damn shame, because every once in a while, four or five long-haired dope smokers make a truly beautiful, truly great record in this genre. Belong is a prime example of this. Now, it would seem rather presumptuous to label this album an "instant classic," but it does kind of have that feel to it. Belong hits in the same places that My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and The Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream did for the lonely kids of the early 90s. Equal parts shoegazer atmosphere and pure pop bliss, the album clocks in at around 40 minutes and 10 tracks, just long enough to make a lasting impression, but not long enough to waste a single second.
The title track, which opens the album, essentially gives the manifesto for the record in the opening lines: "What to do, nothing new/We tried each other, let's try another," before going on to elaborate, "I know it is wrong/But we just don't belong/In their eyes, in the sun" in the refrain. Belong is about young people who seem to believe that they don't "fit in" with the rest of society, but don't exactly fit in with each other either. It sounds like something pulled directly from a Cameron Crowe movie, and lines such as "You can drive around all night/With your radio on high" (from "Even in Dreams") certainly validate that notion. But hey, doesn't pretty much every "indie pop" band have moments like that?
Musically, the Pains have embraced a glossier sound than their self-titled debut while still maintaining a definite sense of atmosphere, aided no doubt by legendary alternative rock producer Flood (U2, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Sigur Ros) behind the boards. While not incredibly technically proficient, the music that this band creates is beautiful because of its simplicity. The keyboards sound great, the bass is high in the mix, and the guitars chime in at the perfect times, often with just enough fuzz to still qualify as "shoegaze." Very few bands sound this good on only their second album.
Belong is nothing groundbreaking, but it is certainly breathtaking at times. It is a very, very good album steeped in some great alternative rock traditions and a definite favorite for indie pop album of the year - whatever the hell that means. Buy the CD, put it in your car, drive around all night or go play it under someone's window.