Smile Politely

Feeling nostalgic: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? This quote, uttered by Rob (famously played by John Cusack) in High Fidelity, tries to understand the connective power of music. Is it true that when we put on a record, wherever we are, we feel something? Yes. But, Rob, I’m sorry, music cannot make you do a damn thing. Music is seldom the source of our misery, our happiness, or our angst. This is not a science. It was never Chuck Berry’s intention to make you throw back your hair and dance in that dive bar. Elliott Smith wasn’t concerned about whether or not you tried to experience the same sadness he did.

Music provides us with a means to experience the world around us and to connect with the experiences of our past. It does not experience these things for us. The songs we love are loved individually. We can try and feel what an artist experienced through their songs, but we can only go so far. Music is often the stuff of nostalgia, and to me, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (POBPAH), this year’s final act in a stacked Pygmalion lineup, are as nostalgic as they come.

POBPAH kind of burst onto the scene out of nowhere back in 2009 with their self-titled debut release. That album demonstrated a thought-through sound that featured catchy guitar riffs with a touch of shoe-gazey haze that paired beautifully with front man Kip Berman’s usually unaffected vocals. This sound quickly set them apart from the sea of other Brooklyn hipsters playing around with the noise pop/shoe gaze style.

This is a band that owes a lot to their predecessors; it’s hard not to listen to them without immediately wanting to compare them to folks like Belle and Sebastian. But it isn’t just that POBPAH are influenced by noisy indie rock and pop artists like My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, The Smashing Pumpkins, and a slew of others from the 80’s and 90’s, because they clearly are, they experience it for themselves without being derivative. Their admiration for these artists of the past is steeped in their own personal experience and they pay homage rather than repeat these experiences, nostalgia, if you will.

Their latest album Belong was released back in March and, if anything, was a sign of pure progress. Given that Belong was produced and mixed by Flood (Depeche Mode, U2) and Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride), one would have expected them to fall back on the shoulders of the past. The opposite happened. It seems that working with these big names only gave them the confidence to continue developing their own sound.

The album opens with a growling effected guitar and the noisy side of noise pop doesn’t let up for the rest of the album. It does, however, provide a constant backdrop to head-bobbing drums, cloud-like synthesizers, and very sharp pop hooks. That opening track, “Belong,” is a bit of an anti-anthem as it opens their latest with a huge sound that ironically announces: “we just don’t belong.” Other standout tracks on the album include “The Body,” the danciest and most synthetic track on the album and “Even in Dreams,” the most touching and moody track. This album really just makes you want to reach out and hold someone’s hand.

As I sit here listening to Belong by POBPAH I can’t help but think about the first time I listened to it. It was a rainy spring day in Chicago and I was waiting for a train to Midway. Waiting for trains in Chicago always reminds me of High Fidelity and that makes me very happy. That is my current nostalgia.

Whether you went to one show at Pygmalion this year or twenty, this POBPAH set should be a great way to wrap things up and reflect on a great week of music in Champaign-Urbana. Experience this for yourself. Go get nostalgic and start the countdown for Pygmalion 2012 so we can go do it all over again.

The Details
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Elsinore and Big Troubles
The Highdive
Sunday, Sept 25; doors @7:30 p.m. (POBPAH @10:30)
$15; free with festival wristband

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