Everything about Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Belong is big. The band’s sophomore album lays out its modus operandi at the 12-second mark of the title track — the opening track — when some quintessential-mid-’90s, straight-outta-Mellon-Collie-and-the-Infinite-Sadness distortion wraps itself around Kip Berman’s and Christoph Hochheim’s guitars.
“Yeah, we wanted to rock,” Berman tells Hive. “Some people say rock is dumb, and while rocks themselves may not be that bright, the genre of popular music that includes Weezer, Nirvana and the Jesus and Mary Chain benefits greatly from taking pop songs and amplifying them ‘til it bothers someone down the street. To us, at least, that seemed pretty smart.”
While Belong isn’t so abrasive that it’ll wake the neighbors, it’s decidedly more muscular than the band’s twee-invoking catalog. It’s still a Pains of Being Pure at Heart record, complete with Berman’s gentle vocals and infectious melodies one would expect, only with more air-guitaring opportunities for the listener. To help them make the leap into rockier territory, Pains invited producers Flood and Alan Moulder into the studio, who have between them have recorded the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Nick Cave. If their eponymous debut sounds like a couple of kids recording some songs in some below ground make-shift studio, Belong sounds like it, well, belongs: slick and polished, but not over-produced.
“Working with two of the most legendary producers of our generation was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity for a band like ours,” Berman says. “The perception of us is that we own more cardigans than Mr. Rogers and we’ve been granted dual Scottish-American citizenship and shed 8-12 ounces of tears daily. It was nice to make a record that felt like an honest revelation of who we are and what we like. If it’s at times tasteless, exaggerated, ridiculous or grotesque, so are we.”
For a band perhaps best described as “indie pop,” creating an album like Belong can be a dicey proposition: on one hand, people want a certain aesthetic that comes with releasing on a small label such as Slumberland. But on the other hand, when opportunities such as working with producers of a certain caliber present themselves, you’d be hard-pressed not to jump on it. Berman is mostly unconcerned about this “artificial dichotomy” between indies and majors, though, choosing to follow his muse wherever it leads — which is certainly rooted in where he’s always found his own sense of belonging.
“We got a really great review from my mom on this new record,” he says. “She thinks it’s a big leap forward, in both the songwriting and the production. I tried to explain that we actually are sellouts and should try to intentionally reduce the fidelity of our recordings to reinforce arbitrary notions of authenticity. She didn’t understand that, and I guess, neither do I.”
Belong is out now on Slumberland Records.