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

Raghav Mehta

 

âÄúBelongâÄù

Artist: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Label: Slumberland Records

 Pains of Being Pure at HeartâÄôs 2009 debut made them a runaway favorite among hipsterdomâÄôs most influential tastemakers, and it wasnâÄôt really surprising given Slumberland RecordsâÄô 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 âÄúBelong,âÄù we can answer the obvious question thatâÄôs nestling in the back of every skepticâÄôs mind: Are these adorable little noisemakers the real deal or just more flavor-of-the-week buzz?

 It all just depends on what youâÄôre looking for, really.

 Not unlike their debut, âÄúBelongâÄù is ten tracks of blissful fuzz pop. The group doesnâÄôt 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 âÄúSiamese Dream,âÄù but cuts like âÄúThe BodyâÄù and âÄúMy Terrible FriendâÄù are replete with dancehall synths that shimmer above floods of fuzz. ThereâÄôs âÄò80s twee homage aplenty; itâÄôs 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 âÄònâÄô roll.

 âÄúBelongâÄù might not mirror the infectious poppiness of the bandâÄôs debut, but it handily dispels any preconceptions that the band is yet another addition to indieâÄôs ever-increasing number of one-trick ponies.

 

3 out of 4 stars

 

âÄúAll Eternals DeckâÄù

Band: Mountain Goats

Label: Merge Records

 

Mountain GoatsâÄô 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 heâÄôs 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 âÄúAll Eternals Deck.âÄù

 Any Mountain Goats loyalists who were worried about a drastic departure after the announcement of death metal studio guru Erik RutanâÄôs involvement shouldnâÄôt fret. Musically, itâÄôs business as usual for Darnielle on âÄúAll Eternals Deck.âÄù

 The albumâÄôs airtight arrangements signal a return to form following his brief sojourn on the Bible-themed narrative of âÄúThe Life of the World to ComeâÄù âÄî an album driven by string sections (courtesy of Owen Pallet) and piano ballads.

 From the campfire folk of âÄúHigh Hawk SeasonâÄú to the orchestral beauty of âÄúOuter Scorpion Squadron,âÄù Darnielle has never sounded so precise and polished, lyrically and sonically. In âÄúProwl Great CainâÄù Darnielle sings in his signature reedy yelp, âÄúSometimes a great wave of forgetfulness rises up and blesses me / And other times the sickness howls and I despair of any remedy.âÄù

 But perhaps the most striking change is DarnielleâÄôs seemingly content demeanor. Where previous albums found Darnielle rehashing personal melodrama, thereâÄôs a refreshing feeling of comfort that radiates throughout âÄúAll Eternals Deck.âÄù Rather than visiting past demons, Darnielle seems to have buried the hatchet looking onward, singing âÄúAnd youâÄôll 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.âÄù

 In the realm of indie rock, DarnielleâÄôs knack for songwriting is unparalleled and only seems all the more uncanny with each album. Like all great songwriters, heâÄôll drop a dud eventually. Fortunately, âÄúAll Eternals DeckâÄù isnâÄôt it.

 

3 out of 4 stars