The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sounds like the title of a depressing book about the hardships of adolescence — and that’s not too far from the truth. Named after the unpublished children’s story by lead singer Kip Berman’s friend, the Brooklyn-based quartet brings the high school drama sans sophomore slump with its second full-length album, Belong.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Belong
Slumberland

The Pains’s latest brings ’80s dance rhythms and a more poppy edge to its once extremely lo-fi, gritty sound. The band collaborated with mega-producer Flood, who has worked with groups like U2 and Nine Inch Nails. The production has notably improved on tracks like “The Body” where listeners can easily pick up on the big, sparkly U2 production.

Belong begins with a punk sound that transcends its way into a scruffy vibe of whispered vocals and the muffled guitars that Pains fans are used to, with an anthem-esque flare. It starts off boldly and paves the way for a dance party essence.

Though the album does swing on the peppier side, it has enough fuzzy reverb to star in its own John Hughes movie. Belong has the whole teenage angst, rebel-chant thing going on, but it’s not whiney enough to make listeners cringe. On track “Heavens Gonna Happen Now” Berman sings, “Come on, nothing’s gonna turn us down / So don’t stand there like you don’t care” — a screw-it-all rock song at its finest.

The record tugs at the inner-teen’s heartstrings. It seems that Berman and Co. really dug deep into their youthful years and remembered a time when nothing really mattered and where “Everyone is pretty and fun, everyone is lovely and young.” The adolescence and innocence really shine on the closer “Strange” when Berman sings, “Everyone was dealing drugs, we were just dealing love” — sweet, ain’t it?

Belong hits some high notes with tracks like “Anne with an E” that just lure listeners in, but the record also falls flat when listeners get lost in it. It has a decent amount of punch, but it needs something to bring it over the edge. Just as its songs insinuate, this band has no idea where it fits in.

The subject matter and sound coincide. While Pains is trying to figure out where it “belongs” in life, it is also trying to figure out where it “belongs” in the music world. The record ranges from a Silversun Pickups feel (minus the creepy vocals) with lazy but poignant guitar hooks to the overly indulgent activity on the drumbeat-happy “Even In Dreams.” It is as if the band doesn’t know whether it should be sweet or salty. Let’s call them the chocolate-covered pretzels of bands.

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