A&E » Music

CD Roundup — Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the Mountain Goats

Big Apple’s adorable pop quartet offers more fuzz-filled fun while the John Darnielle makes a triumphant return to form
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  • Photo courtesy Merge Records
March 31, 2011

 

“Belong”

Artist: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Label: Slumberland Records

 Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s 2009 debut made them a runaway favorite among hipsterdom’s most influential tastemakers, and it wasn’t really surprising given Slumberland Records’ reputation. Borrowing sounds from indie rock sacred cows like My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr., the album was an inevitable shoo-in for best-of-the-year acclaim.

 So with the arrival their follow-up “Belong,” we can answer the obvious question that’s nestling in the back of every skeptic’s mind: Are these adorable little noisemakers the real deal or just more flavor-of-the-week buzz?

 It all just depends on what you’re looking for, really.

 Not unlike their debut, “Belong” is ten tracks of blissful fuzz pop. The group doesn’t abandon their breezy vocals or up-to-eleven distortion shtick, but with high-tier production and sophisticated songwriting, they manage to avoid being cast aside as run-of-the-mill shoegaze fare.

 The arena-sized roar of the title track begs comparisons to the more raucous moments of “Siamese Dream,” but cuts like “The Body” and “My Terrible Friend” are replete with dancehall synths that shimmer above floods of fuzz. There’s ‘80s twee homage aplenty; it’s just on a grander scale this time around.

 Pains of Being Pure at Heart is a group that wears their influences on their sleeve. In fact, the group is so devoted to the sonic blueprint laid down by their predecessors that it almost sounds like they missed out on the last 20 years of rock ‘n’ roll.

 “Belong” might not mirror the infectious poppiness of the band’s debut, but it handily dispels any preconceptions that the band is yet another addition to indie’s ever-increasing number of one-trick ponies.

 

3 out of 4 stars

 

“All Eternals Deck”

Band: Mountain Goats

Label: Merge Records

 

Mountain Goats’ vocalist John Darnielle has never been very tight-lipped. In fact, the guy is so freakishly prolific that you almost start to suspect he has some small army of creative minions hidden away at work somewhere. Well, that or he’s simply an absurdly gifted songwriter.

In just under two decades, the bespectacled folk nerd has surpassed most of his indie peers in both quantity and quality. And after 16 albums of lost love, broken homes and small-town woe, Darnielle seems to have reached a sort of emotional catharsis on his latest album “All Eternals Deck.”

 Any Mountain Goats loyalists who were worried about a drastic departure after the announcement of death metal studio guru Erik Rutan’s involvement shouldn’t fret. Musically, it’s business as usual for Darnielle on “All Eternals Deck.”

 The album’s airtight arrangements signal a return to form following his brief sojourn on the Bible-themed narrative of “The Life of the World to Come” — an album driven by string sections (courtesy of Owen Pallet) and piano ballads.

 From the campfire folk of “High Hawk Season“ to the orchestral beauty of “Outer Scorpion Squadron,” Darnielle has never sounded so precise and polished, lyrically and sonically. In “Prowl Great Cain” Darnielle sings in his signature reedy yelp, “Sometimes a great wave of forgetfulness rises up and blesses me / And other times the sickness howls and I despair of any remedy.”

 But perhaps the most striking change is Darnielle’s seemingly content demeanor. Where previous albums found Darnielle rehashing personal melodrama, there’s a refreshing feeling of comfort that radiates throughout “All Eternals Deck.” Rather than visiting past demons, Darnielle seems to have buried the hatchet looking onward, singing “And you’ll breathe easier just knowing that the worst is all behind you /
And the waves that tossed the raft all night have set you on dry land.”

 In the realm of indie rock, Darnielle’s knack for songwriting is unparalleled and only seems all the more uncanny with each album. Like all great songwriters, he’ll drop a dud eventually. Fortunately, “All Eternals Deck” isn’t it.

 

3 out of 4 stars

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