Like any respectable high-heart-rate band cooking slight songs for musical sweet tooths, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are meeting their output quota as quickly as their touring schedule allows. Even with one of 2009’s best albums already under the belts of their skinny jeans, The Pains have kept working at a pace to match their songs’ tempos.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Higher Than the Stars
Fans of The Pains’ self-titled February long-player can rejoice in the arrival of the Higher Than the Stars EP, but image-conscious audience members should be warned that the new release only follows the seven-month-old trends set by the band’s debut.
Captaining the five-song platter that shares its name, “Higher Than the Stars” is a concurrence to the band’s basic sound. Exuberant and straight-forward but bent toward the synthesized side of the dial, it’s a bubbly breeze that continues The Pains’ penchant for enigmatic perversion. In case you were wondering, “you’re not straight / in the back of her mother’s car.” Who knew?
“Falling Over” also observes the newfangly electric keyboard precedent, prancing over synth eruptions while sticking painfully close to the verse-chorus-verse formula. Adhering to the old faithful structure, it’s emblematic of the disc’s primary flaw: unrepeatability. The first four tracks are effortlessly endearing on the first go (the fifth is a remix of the title tune), but continued spins can’t coax anything further from the band’s pleasantly simple melodies and arrangements. The most vital attribute any release can posses is the ability to expand and flourish in a listener’s mind over time. Here, The Pains show their hand at the draw, and endurance and growth is sacrificed for fleeting instant gratification.
The serious guitars (is it safe to assume they’re Jazzmasters? probably) come out on “103” and “Twins,” and the pair is much better for it, even if their songwriting sophistication level is no greater than anything else on the EP. The two songs survive on their striking sense of adolescent longing and geeky punk vigor, but they’re toss-offs that don’t deserve slots on a full-length release.
The “Saint Etienne Visits Lord Spank Mix” of “Higher Than the Stars” is the meal’s final course, and arriving on the heels of four immediate hitters, it’s a dominating downer — long, dreary and repetitive. But over repeated plays, something miraculous happens: While the song’s comrades become increasingly insignificant with age, the “Higher Than the Stars” remix matures into an intoxicating hypnotist that rides minimalism to the stars. A smoldering slow jam, it’s not only a stellar afterglow, but it’s also the most novel — and best — song of the bunch.
The EP may suffer from a lack of replayability, but more disappointing is how little the band pushed the boundaries of its comfort zone throughout the disc. The closer is the only number that could even be considered a remote departure for the band, and it’s a remix.
With a start-to-finish knockout LP already in their portfolio, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are ready to upgrade their sound, and Higher Than the Stars would have been the perfect venue for The Pains to take some chances. Instead the EP is a fun spin, but it’s a missed opportunity. For the moment, it appears the pains symptomatic of being pure at heart are the same as those associated with stunted growth. Still, youth is youth; it’s better to be young and idealistic than old and disillusioned.