Imagine if angst hadn't blanketed the alternative music of the late 1980s and 1990s—and a bright earnestness had been the core impulse instead.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart exist at the heart of that alternate reality, playing music that's polite and joyful, all the while employing the wall of distortion that served their shoegaze influences so well.
Belong, the band's second album, combines ambition and consistency, bringing back the fuzzy guitars, driving beats and sugar-sweet boy-girl harmonies of guitarist Kip Berman and keyboardist Peggy Wang. But throughout the record are flourishes and stabs at new directions, from the Smashing Pumpkins-esque bombast of "Heaven's Gonna Happen Now" to the quiet-loud sonics of the Pixies on "Belong."
While typically a strength, the band's earnestness can be blamed for the album's sleepy middle and some clunks in the lyrics. But lines like, "Even in dreams, I will not betray you," and, "When everyone was doing drugs, we were just doing love," are entirely in line with the band's name.
Anyone who heard the Pains' debut and passed will do the same. But although the band remains committed to the same aesthetic that won them fans in the first place, there are plenty of sonic upgrades on Belong. It's catchy pop music built from starry-eyed romanticism.