By MICHAEL GOLDBERG
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart emerged in 2007 with a name that was easy to hate and a sound that was difficult not to love, particularly if you were fond of the late, great Nineties band Velocity Girl and other so-called “bubblegrunge” acts.
Like many of those bands, the Brooklyn-based Pains — led by singer/guitarist Kip Berman, who grew up in Philadelphia before decamping to Portland, Oregon for several years — took the fuzzed-out, wall-of-noise swirl of Brit groups like Ride, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain (and some of their American forebears, including The Stooges and Dinosaur Jr.) and dusted it with the sweetest classic-pop tastes, from tender boy/girl vocals to unfairly gorgeous harmonies to melodic hooks so big you could hang a Beach Boys tour bus on ‘em.
The quintet’s self-titled 2009 debut on Slumberland Records garnered rave reviews, mostly because that semi-retro sound they were mining was married to actual good, memorable songs. A more ambitious, anthemic follow-up, 2011’s Belong — produced by Flood, known for his work with U2, Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins and other bands that had earlier graduated from clubs to stadiums — was undeniably slicker and radio-ready than its predecessor (opener “Belong is easily mistaken for a Pumpkins track).
Still, Berman’s delicate, vulnerable (wimpy, if you’re mean) vocals and arrangements, all of which nod to the twee-pop of Belle and Sebastian, Aztec Camera and The Field Mice, subverted any reach for the top of the charts and dates in hockey arenas, though it probably helped maintain Pains’ credibility in underground-rock circles.
Now, three years later, comes a much-anticipated third LP, Days of Abandon, which — judging from the smattering of album tracks issued in advance of its May 13 release — feels smaller and more fragile than Belong, certainly twee-er (e.g. the bright, breezy jangle and snap of single “Simple and Sure,” a dead-ringer for a lost Lightning Seeds track), and definitely as appealing as Pains have ever been, even if the lyrical concerns veer toward heartbreak and despair.
“If Belong was a heavy light album, Abandon is a light heavy album — and at least to me, truer to the ideals that made me want to start a band in the first place,” Berman told the music website Stereogum in February.
The Pains lineup has evolved a bit since the last outing — gone is singer/keyboardist Peggy Wang, a crucial vocal foil for Berman, though she’s been replaced by Jen Goma of the Philly dream-pop band A Sunny Day in Glasgow. But just as the band greets change with grace, even craves it sometimes, for the rest of us Pains’ newest phase seems well worth embracing.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
WHERE: Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., Philadelphia.
WHEN: Monday, May 19 with opening bands Fear of Men and Ablebody.
TICKETS: $12-$14, and doors open at 8 p.m.
INFO.: Check www.johnnybrendas.com
Follow staff writer Michael Goldberg on Twitter @mg_thereporter.