There are very few bands that find a way to capture the absolute euphoria of endless, boundless love and affection. Plenty manage to navigate the confusing space between love and infatuation, the infinite battle of reconciling affection and compassion, and find countless new ways to spell the woes of love in turmoil. But as far as I can tell, none can paint a picture of simple and pure bliss like Kip Berman’s work as The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. In their best material, love is to be free and unashamed, naive to the presupposed undertones of the situation, not giving a care to the opinions of others – just boundlessly, timelessly in love. That’s what makes Pains such an incredible act and unique. To them, love is not a long-lost feeling you beg to return to and reminisce of adoring in your younger years. Rather, it’s a state of mind that you can choose to possess as long as you desire.
Though Days of Abandon is a title that seems to fit every Pains record perfectly (it takes inspiration from the Elena Ferrante novel of a similar name), their third LP, out this week through Yebo, earns the descriptor with brilliant, heartbreaking grace. The cover, painted by Lee Jinju is a pagan masterpiece: two dancers in a state of undress, playing the songs of youth, and crying away tears of lost love while the archetypes of a world begging to be painted in black and white lie disregarded around the scene. Days is, more than Belong and the self-titled debut before it, a concept record detailing the fleeting days of youth in revolt, where nothing matters but what is right in front of you. Here, before the world in all its complications mars the simplicity of true, unabashed love, there is a sense of personal understanding that will never again be held. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart remind us of what it truly is to feel the pure joy of youth and frivolity. You might call it irresponsible or naïve – they couldn’t give a care if they tried.
Days of Abandon starts at the end, in a way. “I want to know what happened to you”, Kip Berman sings, “I liked you better in your art smock mocking out rock without intention, without design – you said you’d never be fine with being fine.” “Art Smock” details a love affair long past. things fell apart once the two began to regress towards the societal norm that surrounded them, and soon, a love without any distinct characters or characteristics became bland. From there, Kip and the band seem to turn the pages back to the beginning, when love was still a simple thing. The following eight tracks then show us an unparalleled bond between two lovers that slowly begins to crack, until the “Art Smock” ideal is revisited at the end. The frame structure helps make the emotional juxtaposition between nostalgic melancholy and jovial passion incredibly powerful. The end of youth and youth in love might as well be the end of the world.
The simply incredible lead single “Simple and Sure” follows “Art Smock” and gives us one of the strongest Pains cuts to date. Over a brilliant jangle pop hook, Kip and Jen Goma (who also plays in A Sunny Day in Glasgow) harmonize a perfect picture of youth in abandon. The love they detail doesn’t avoid conflict or shoot for fun above commitment – rather, it simplifies itself by removing insecurity, hidden intention, and self-consciousness. The result is love in the purest form, and its musical counterpart here could not be more beautiful. Jen Goma takes lead vocals on the next track “Kelly”, where she and Kip encourage a friend in a tough situation to take a breath and let them help where they can. Goma is a great vocal foil to Berman. Where his airy range floats above layers of guitars and synthesizers weightlessly, Goma’s voice is powerful and upfront, and the two sound wonderful together. While Pains has been predominantly a bedroom project for Berman up to this point, it is fun to hear him diversify the lead responsibilities a bit. Days of Abandon achieves an inviting pop majesty that could see him and his new lineup play to arenas. “Beautiful You” returns to the all-encompassing glam vibrance of Belong for a six minute that could melt the ice off the coldest of hearts. “So far, for me, still all I need is you, beautiful you”, Berman sings in angelic falsetto. Then, “Coral and Gold” closes out side A with another golden memory of a lover in need of compassion. The takeaway on Days is far from complicated: in order to avoid the dull, empty monotony of youth-less living, you just need to love the people around you when they need you to.
Once we flip to side B, darkness begins to creep in on our heroes, as life’s many complications begin to take their toll. After the anthemic perfection of “Eurydice” (definitely heavier on the musical seduction half of the Orpheus/Eurydice story than the Hades portion that most interpretations seem to be obsessed with), we get a trio of inching melancholy. “Masokissed” takes a musical hint from the Pretenders while Berman tries to help a lover find some sanity amidst trouble as internalization takes precedent to conflict resolution. “Until The Sun Explodes” treats the end of youth like the actual end of the world. The song’s video explains the theme perfectly, as a group of bohemians left behind at the apocalypse throws a party, knowing that tomorrow never knows either way. “Life After Life” follows in the footsteps of the self-titled cut “A Teenager In Love”, as Goma sings the story of a man more in love with his religious legalism than the woman he’s sworn to love for better or worse. All three of these begin to reveal the demise of the love we saw so clearly on “Simple and Sure”, as insecurity rears its ugly head. It’s a problem all of us know far too well, and as the Pains of Being Pure at Heart tell the story, it cuts right to the core.
“An Asp In My Chest” closes out the record with a return to “Art Smock”. Musically, the track is one of the most sweeping and cinematic Kip Berman has strung together, complete with a full horn section, some strings, and a massive arrangement from the band. Here, lovers reminisce on what was when they were young and try to reconcile the feeling to the modern day. There’s no jaded bitterness towards the cruel reality of growing apart or living in a world that works the way it does. Rather, nostalgia is a means by which to remain loving and compassionate in the modern day. Without those days of abandon, there would be no way to pass love on down through the generations. Days of Abandon doesn’t emulate the brash, unapologetic lovemaking of the self-titled, nor does it rehash the glamorous heavy shoegaze of Belong. In perhaps their most accessible and relatable work yet, the Pains of Being Pure At Heart give us a statement of irrepressible love, and in that, it’s a record you can’t miss.
Days of Abandon is out tomorrow through Yebo. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart just played the Vera Project with Fear of Men and Ablebody. Check out the KEXP coverage here!