The first song on the new Pains of Being Pure at Heart album is called “My Only.” Once a band Kip Berman shared with his long-time friend Alex Naidus, The Pains consist now only of Berman in the studio, before he lassoes up some sidekicks, only for touring purposes. It’s like, that thing really is his only — and perhaps surprisingly, the opening track is five minutes that goes by pretty naturally and buoyantly.
Listening to the first two songs on this album, it’s da** near impossible to ignore the Stone Roses influence, which is perhaps even increased from the band’s former LP’s (this of course has nothing to do with the fact that The Echo of Pleasure is Berman’s most synth-heavy record — it’s just pure coincidence). Actually, I remember a significant mix CD I made for my sister in 2010 that had “The Tenure Itch” and “Come Saturday” off The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and then “Waterfall” by the Roses, but at the time I never fashioned any significant connection between the two in my mind, it just seemed like they’d both fallen naturally on the same collection by some unwarranted force. Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines and all the other twee-pop pioneers seemed to loom large on 2008’s self-titled debut, but the Roses were always a bit more conceptual, here finally showcased by way of probably a bevy of arduous osmosis, selective listening on Berman’s part which granted is paying off.
The first real surprise, and of course we love surprises in 2017 indie rock, will come on “The Garret,” which will pipe in with booming snare drums calling to mind Gimme Fiction-era Spoon, but importantly, an actual FUNKY BEAT. With it, too, comes a sort of jungle-sense chord progression, a departure from the typical sappy white-boy m.o. we find in today’s lo-fi (ahem, The War on Drugs). On The Echo of Pleasure, Berman is the only listed STUDIO musician, which means he must be pulling some sort of Stevie Wonder (or Billy Corgan, for that matter) type thing where he plays all instruments himself. All the more in light of this is Echo a pointed labor of love, as on “The Garret” the mix has a way of redoubling throughout, with liquefied guitars which sound themselves appropriately PAINED, all the more for this particular occasion.
Of course, just when you think Berman is like some Hercules, crafting some classic rock album all by himself, the thinness of “When I Dance with You” comes in like some bad Caribou project — promising, perhaps, for its marking of a turn into disco, but both sterile and disjointed for its trotting out of this dumb drum machine, the type of thing which in this case, where songwriting is supposed to be at the fore and not booty-shaking-causation, can really truncate an album’s ability to come across as, and be, organic, from an instrumentation standpoint. Where The Pains of Being Pure at Heart was charmingly loose, and even the lyrics were innocent and full of youth and summer imagery, “When I Dance with You” seems like identity crisis — something Berman should have gotten out of his system on his sophomore slump (which actually wasn’t a sophomore slump at all), if he wanted to at all, that is. Either that, or I just hate the ‘80s and dancing, which is a distinct possibility. Elsewhere, goopy synth and drum machine plague similar tracks, and it becomes obvious that Berman could have really used some fellow scoundrel-hands to dirty up this mix with something a little more VITAL.