The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have long set the benchmark for big-hearted, idealistic pop songs. With The Echo of Pleasure, The Pains push beyond their many inspirations and embrace their role as indiepop heroes in their own right. Showcasing the deft songwriting of frontman Kip Berman, The Pains’ fourth album is their most confident and accomplished. After three critically-acclaimed records, 2009’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, 2011’s Belong and 2014’s Days of Abandon received praise from The New York Times, Pitchfork, The Guardian and Rolling Stone, they have put together a collection of songs that possess a timeless grandeur, deeper and more satisfying than anything the band has done since their iconic debut.
From their earliest days of C86-worship to Alternative Nation-sized anthems to a matured, “Simple and Sure” pop refinement, The Echo of Pleasure is what Berman describes as sounding “heavy and hopeful, like love.” It’s an album that reflects the band’s most joyous moments while maintaining Berman’s candid and critical lyricism, free of the self-abasing insecurity of youth. “The album is loving. The music is heavier, more expansive,” he says. “To me, songs about love shouldn’t be thought of as light. Love is big – sometimes it’s emphatic, overwhelming or simple – other times it’s tense, anxious or just exhausting. But at its best, it makes you want to be something better.”
In their decade long career, Berman has stood at the center of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and with a changing lineup, it’s become more apparent. “On [the last album] Days of Abandon, I was on my own. There was no one in the room making decisions with me. It felt strange experiencing that isolation while trying to make sense of it through writing,” Berman admits. “That album was about loss, and I think it conveyed that feeling well – but I’m glad to move on from that place.” On The Echo of Pleasure, he’s learned to take full agency of something he’s always owned. “With this record, I’ve made peace with the fact I am Pains. It’s always been my band, but I haven’t been super comfortable saying that, partly because I’ve enjoyed working with so many talented friends, and also because the songs I wrote seemed to mean more than anything my actual life could live up to.”
Berman enlisted Days of Abandon producer Andy Savours (My Bloody Valentine, The Killers) to help him record a Pains record like none-other. “The logistics of it were so different. When I recorded the record, my wife was six months pregnant. We only had a limited amount of time. There was an absolute uncertainty hanging over our heads, but it was also a kind of escape from worry for that time,” he explains. “What’s going to happen when I have a kid? Am I going to be able to go on tour? Is this the last record I’m going to get to make? It’s not a bad thing to be worried when you’re expecting this huge transition of life. If you didn’t feel scared, you’re probably not feeling the right emotion. I tried to make the best record I could, knowing it might be the last time.”
The best moments on the album live in the space near fear but find comfort in the solace that follows giving into love. On the succulent cacophony of first single, “Anymore,” it’s the sweetly dark, double-edged resolution of “I couldn’t take anymore / I wanted to die with you.” On the stunning opener, “My Only,” it’s the sanity preserving, self-admonition in the lyrics “keep it together, I won’t find another love like I found you.” “The Garret” is another standout track that hints at something more sinewy and seductive than anything The Pains have done to date. Berman pleads, “The words I say can’t say, the touch is what I mean” and concludes, “When I leave you, I can’t leave you, part of me remains.” Throughout the album, there is a consequence of giving yourself to another; for better or worse, it is not reversible.
But it’s the almost uncomfortably direct “When I Dance with You,” where Berman reveals the album’s tender core by saying, “When I dance with you, I feel ok.” He adds, “It looks really simple on paper, but that sentiment is the underpinning of what love is. Beneath the tension, doubt, and complexities of two people sharing life, there’s something inexplicable when that all disappears for a moment, and it’s all ok. You know something you can’t say, but you don’t need to say it.”
The Echo of Pleasure navigates variability and safety without unraveling. Berman is no stranger to fragility; here, it’s structured with warmth, the kind found after life-altering moments. It’s reflected in the album title, too: “The Echo of Pleasure could be the near-symmetry of love,” he explains. “It’s the reflection back and forth, modulating over time, of two people who are together. It’s not a mirror – but a perpetual answering and asking. When one person is absent, that echo ceases or, as the title track laments, ‘fades into these silent days.’ In that sense, remembering is a kind of echo, each instance slightly less vivid than the one before.”
The record is augmented by guest vocals featuring previous Pains collaborators: Jen Goma on “So True” (A Sunny Day in Glasgow), bass guitar by Jacob Danish Sloan (Dream Diary), and horns by Kelly Pratt (Beirut, David Byrne, St. Vincent). The Pains of Being Pure at Heart live band consists of long-time guitarist Christoph Hochheim (Ablebody, ex-Depreciation Guild), bassist Jacob Danish Sloan, drummer Chris Schackerman (ex-Mercury Girls, ex-Literature) and vocalist/keyboardist Jess Rojas. The Echo of Pleasure arrives later this summer.