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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong

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Artist: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Album: Belong

Label: Slumberland

Review date: Mar. 28, 2011

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Belong by Slumberland Records

The major hold ’90s alternative bands had on me was the gap between motivation and expression. My go-to’s, from Dinosaur Jr. up to My Bloody Valentine, Black Tambourine and perhaps most importantly Nirvana, found catharsis in inarticulateness. These people were often emotional wrecks, but that interior struggle burst out in solid waves of extreme volume, outsized riffs, and songs more suitable for arena structures than a concrete basement.

It was indie rock that matched feelings of ambivalence with a sound of ambivalence, adjusting the gaze from the shoe to the navel. Both are equally valid heart-on-sleeve styles for awkward people, but the problem in 2011 is trying to reconcile today’s alt-revivalists with these two divergent strands. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have been the example par excellence for this generation of bands, but introduce a new twist with Belong: an arena-sized sound that could actually be played in arenas.

The pop element has been so disproportionately inflated, it squeezes out any nuance that existed before. Not only does each song have a singular emotional thrust, that thrust is completely encapsulated in the chorus. They are built to be instantly knowable. Audiences are united under a mantra built to sound meaningful despite (or maybe in spite?) of its meaninglessness. The Cure only dealt with close proxies of heaven. “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now,” however, brings you straight to cloud nine, no questions asked. And where Weezer was only wishing on a cloud, “Even in Dreams” apparently makes hopefulness omnipresent, regardless of your state of consciousness. At least I think so.

That might be the cruelest part of these songs, how they adapt to whatever you are feeling at the time without providing any comfort. It also might be the most ingenious. Maybe these songs aren’t dumbed down, but hollowed out -- a type of postmodern musical architecture that derives function from the listener. The Killers’ “When You Were Young” is powered by nostalgia and nostalgia only. “Heart in Your Heartbreak,” however, needs you to provide a context. Because what does that line even mean? That it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Or is it that hearts are made to be broken? The cliché is up to you to decide, really, which makes it an unexpectedly perfect love song for literally any stage of a relationship.

Ultimately, Belong is a self-reflexive statement of inclusion, not just of the utopian variety but also as a more commercially viable indie-rock product. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are less Loveless here and more interested in “Semi-Charmed Life.” Which may seem like a sophomore slump at best or pandering to the lowest common denominator at worst. Both may be true. When it comes down to it, though, I can look at the track list and sing you back the most important lyric in any song. If pop music is meant to create a shared experience, consider this album a success on a whole bunch of levels.

By Evan Hanlon

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