By Michael Atkinson
By Luke Winkie
By Steve Weinstein
By Brian McManus
By Brian McManus
By Dan McQuade
By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
"I only recently noticed that the first half of the album is about sex, and the second half about drugs," giggles Kip Berman, lead singer of Brooklyn's cumbersomely named The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. "Maybe, for the next album, we'll write about rock 'n' roll."
"Rock 'n' roll" is about the last thought that comes to mind when you gaze upon Berman's gawky, stripe-shirted frame, which doesn't scream "frontman" even with a Fender Jaguar slung over it. But his music doesn't fuck around: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, launched to Pitchfork acclaim in February, grew into summer festival fare, fielding comparisons to the Smiths and the Jesus and Mary Chain (the Tune went as far as calling them "a rock version of Joy Division"). An EP out September 22, Higher Than the Stars, promises a more stratospheric direction and a dozen more band names to reference.
Two years ago, Berman started playing around Brooklyn with keyboardist Peggy Wang, bassist Alex Naidus, and a drum machine ("which I couldn't really program well"). They'd self-release early discs (on Painbow, perfectly), but it was a few shows after Kurt Feldman signed on for drums that the quartet was given a handshake deal ("more of a bear hug, really"). Slumberland—sort of the East Coast answer to twee-pop pioneers K—put out the debut and a few spin-off singles, the most notable being the excellently titled "Young Adult Friction," supposedly concerning library sex. But when I nudge Berman about it, he's quicker to liken the song to Pride and Prejudice, downplaying the lecherous aspects for the more common theme of two people who like each other—not necessarily at the same time—and both ending up heartbroken.
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Wang adds that the wanting chorus of "Friction" ("Now that you feel/You say it's not real") has universal appeal beyond the stacks and the microfiche. That's not so much the case with the equally melodic, incest-themed "This Love Is Fucking Right!" which might be a true story. (All Berman allows is that he's stingy with poetic license.)
Juxtaposing upbeat music with bummed words is old hat, but the quartet takes indie-pop clichés to catchy, slightly perverse places, celebrating the beautiful weather as an excuse to stay inside on "Come Saturday" and hiding "A Teenager in Love" 's titular inamorata in the lyrics: " . . . with Christ and heroin." Berman muses, "I remember in my freshman year of college, I thought I was so cool with my Sonic Youth tape, listening to Luna and Elliott Smith, like Yeahhh! I'm gonna be Lou Reed when I grow up!"
Despite these ominous leanings (which buoy their teensploits from lapsing into, say, M83's Sweet Valley High nostalgia), the band politely shrug off the Joy Division and Reid brothers comparisons. And they're right—Feldman's drum bursts expel hooks, and the guitar fuzz is there for drive, not décor. Yet this has to be the fastest alt-rock to sound the least like punk-anything since . . . Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Who'd know something about cumbersome names.
"It's almost like an ethos," says Berman. "You can't be half-assed if your band name is the Pains of Being Pure at Heart."
"No mere band can be called that," says Wang.
"Like Rage Against the Machine," I offer.
"Right. It's like they always had to rage against the machine. They couldn't take any time off from raging and go, 'I'm gonna cleverly undermine the machine.' "
Fall Music Picks
If your first reaction to the words "Brooklyn Country Music Festival" is "Does irony know no bounds?" you're not alone, but the silliest that Brooklyn septet Defibulators (whose influences on MySpace include Buck Owens and "beef commercials") get is naming a track "Steal Harmonicas" and finding cleverer rhymes for "Chester" than "molester." Mostly, they craft raucous tunes you could affectionately affix the "-billy" tag to, like the brassy "Get What's Coming to You" and the cordial "Your Hearty Laugh." Southpaw, 125 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, spsounds.com
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Probably the only onetime Sleater-Kinney openers to play Radio City, Karen O and her scrawny cohorts are sonically massive. The brawniest practitioners of lo-fi ever took a mumbly shoegaze ballad global ("Maps") and poured on the glitter with this year's It's Blitz, all while trailing riot-grrrl credentials and a beer-spitting stage show. And the odds aren't entirely off that O will perform in a ripped-up Rockettes costume. Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, radiocity.com
This Vancouver duo has been championed by old-school emo heads for bringing girl problems back to the indie fold, but the Promise Ring never expressed any desire as horny—or hooky—as Brian King and David Prowse's to "French-kiss some French girls," and they certainly never interpolated "The Boys Are Back in Town." In keeping with the late-'90s crud that these dudes look back on so fondly, their name is almost stupid enough to work. Mercury Lounge, 217 East Houston Street, mercuryloungenyc.com