PAIN KILLERS With Belong, the Pains have realized their potential as the ultimate teenager band.
Kip Berman has obviously listened to enough pop music to know damn well his band totally kick ass, even if he won't admit it. "We are a band, and that's how people perceive us," says the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's singer/guitarist in a pre-tour phone interview from his Brooklyn apartment. "I perceive us as music fans, and playing it is an expression of how much we love it. When we play festivals, it's cool to interact with people who make music we admire, to walk up to them and say, 'Hey.' It's almost like when dudes sign up for baseball fantasy camp and they get to feel like they're on the team."
Without self-confidence problems, Berman might have never become excessively interested in pop music and started a band. So, I guess, hurray for low self-esteem? Actually, fuck that wishy-washy misplaced-modesty bullshit. If contemporary rock can be likened to a sci-fi/fantasy RPG, then this year's Belong, the Pains' Slumberland-released follow-up to their lethally likable 2009 homonymous debut, upgrades them from level-15 fuzzy ("fuzzy" as in, "they make fuzzy sounds with their guitars," but also "fuzzy" as in "kittens!") crew of New York indie-pop kids-turned-breakthrough-du-jour to a level-25 legit force o' rock and globetrotting operation.
The switch-flipping and dial-turning credits for Belong acknowledge Flood and Alan Moulder, a British producer/mixer tag team oozing '90s street cred: they worked on Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and a load of other notables. The professional touch and expanded sonic array suit the Pains better than one might expect. The twee-pop lack of complexity from their debut persists, but they're now realizing their potential as the ultimate teenager band. Listeners can relate to Belong in terms of whatever pop songs they recall from adolescence (assuming they're under 40). "Even in Dreams" and "Heart in Your Heartbreak" remind me of the better Matthew Sweet and Gin Blossoms material, though there's not really a direct comparison. My elders might have similar experiences with "My Terrible Friend" and "The Body," the Pains' most successful passes at incorporating '80s synth-pop.
"I listen to some songs on the first record and I'm like, 'We're trying to be something we're not,' " says Berman. "Other songs on the first record, like 'Come Saturday,' I still love. We try to focus on the essentials of what the Pains of Being Pure at Heart are, not dally too much in postures that don't match who we are."
Interesting to hear a dude whose band revel in easy stylistic definability talk about their ongoing quest to "find themselves" (pardon my melodramatic phrasing). Meanwhile, his songs have him murmuring about various characters finding themselves in a more common, everyday sense. Or maybe it's not really interesting, and sometimes a song is just a song. "Sometimes you can think about things too much," says Berman. "Like when Good Charlotte got profiled in Rolling Stone. 'Maybe they're punk, because they're not punk at all!' No . . . they're just not punk at all. Sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one."
Yeah, and Good Charlotte blow, right?