It’s plain to see that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart aren’t quite the same band they were when they released their debut album in 2009–both literally and musically. The only remaining official member of the band is principal songwriter Kip Berman, who now performs and records with the assistance of touring members, including A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Roman a Clef vocalist Jen Goma. Their fourth studio album, The Echo of Pleasure, reflects this change in its lineup as well as a newfound maturity.
Known for their Cure-inspired sound and penchant for sharing their feelings, the early days of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were all about young love. While love still plays a huge role on the album, the topic has shifted away from wanting and more towards holding onto a feeling in a world of change–both on a personal and wider scope.
The album opens with the synth-heavy “My Only,” a frothy love song that sets a good tone for the whole album. Its simple rhyme scheme (“Now that I’ve said it/Don’t you forget it/You’re my only”) and slightly ethereal harmonies backing Berman’s lead vocals give you a strong hint as to what you’re in for throughout the rest of the album.
So much of this album is about celebrating the simple pleasures of being around the person you love.
“When I Dance with You” goes extreme on the synth sound to explore that nothing matters when Berman is dancing with the one he loves. “Falling Apart So Slow,” a more metaphorical track that takes a bird’s eye view of a doomed relationship, describes those enjoyable moments throughout the year without a stitch of bitterness. The oddly upbeat track is certainly an album highlight.
Arguably the best song on The Echo of Pleasure is “So True,” which has Jen Goma on lead vocals to tell the stories of a few women like Olga, who dreams of a Soviet return and Yiva, who chains herself to a rig for her beliefs. The song makes a strong statement that feels extremely relevant in today’s political climate: “If you don’t lose some skin for the things you believe/How do you know you really do?” Even with its serious message, the song doesn’t take an overly serious tone; it blends perfectly with the rest of the album.
While Berman has clearly made some shifts away in lyrical topics, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart haven’t lost their Cure and Modern English-inspired vibes and ‘80s-style instrumentation. Songs like “Anymore” are still dripping in angst, repeating words like “I couldn’t take it anymore, anymore, anymore/I wanted to die with you” to explore their upset over a failed relationship.
Overall, The Echo of Pleasure is a solid, consistent album for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, be it an unexpectedly short one. The band’s sound has opened up a bit, allowing for each individual element to shine through a bit more; the vocals, the harmonies, and instruments all come through in a clearer way, allowing for a more enjoyable listening experience. The entire listening experience is pretty upbeat thanks to their reliance on synth and guitar, closing out on a more somber ballad that fits in perfectly with their earlier fare.