Kip Berman recently stocked up on cheap underwear and socks. "Someone told me that trick before I went to England," the guitarist and vocalist of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart reveals about ramping up his preparations for extensive touring. "You're not going to want to carry around dirty socks for three weeks."
Berman's expanded underwear stash is just one indication that he's embarking on a bigger rock 'n' roll journey than initially expected. After forming in New York City at the birthday party of vocalist and keyboardist Peggy Wang two years ago, the Pains released a CD-R, an EP, and four 7-inches, quickly graduating from baptism by blogs to playing on national television. There's no guarantee how long the ride will last, but the group is using every tip available to stay steady and comfortable — intimate wear included.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the band's debut full-length, provides a deft sampler of its abilities. The guitars bear a charming jangle, the drums are kinetic but not overbearing, and the synth adds diaphanous warmth. Combined, these instruments could squeeze out imposing volume; instead, the Pains limit feedback and turn out harmonious confections that are satisfyingly terse (nothing runs more than five minutes). Drizzled with dreamy flourishes of shoegaze fuzz, the band's aesthetic sounds like a throwback to the Reagan-era college rock (My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, the Smiths) that laid the groundwork for contemporary indie rock.
In reality, any tribute was unintentional. "We all grew up in the '90s listening to Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and American indie bands," Berman says. "It's strange when people assume that we have these childhood experiences based on the music. At the same time, the comparisons are always very flattering."
Regardless of the era that influenced it, the band's sound is deeply dedicated to pop's succulent properties. "We always thought of [the Pains] being like the Ramones," Berman says. "Write simple songs that were direct, engaging, full of good melodies, and fun to play." The lyrics, however, hold deeper complexity. In a murmur lacquered with a British tint, Berman delivers coming-of-age tales about consummating lust in a library ("Young Adult Friction"), ditching a dead-end hometown ("Stay Alive"), and sexing your sibling ("This Love Is Fucking Right!"). The possibilities for subject matter are purposely open-ended. "It's really important that listeners draw meaning out of what they hear and not have it be some artist on high telling you what it's really about, man," he says.
In contrast to the melodramatic moniker (which comes from a children's story penned by a friend of Berman's), the Pains are all about positivity. No bitching here about the pressures of swift success. Berman's reaction to the band's recent appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly is one of joyful shock: "This is us," he says incredulously. "This is our life."
The question then turns to the inevitable cooling of this enthusiasm. When will teenage topics become passé? When might touring not be worth buying new underwear? "People are growing up their whole lives," Berman says. "I guess maybe someday I'll be old and divorced and thinking about having a singer-songwriter album, but I can't see into the future. I could be Eric Clapton someday. Who knows?"