It’s probably not fair to call The Pains of Being Pure at Heart a lo-fi band. Certainly, the New York group‘s self-titled album sounds appropriately hissy and fuzzy. But “lo-fi” also connotes an attitude, a puritanical devotion to songwriting whether it comes at the expense of sound quality or not.
But when the four-piece, which plays tonight at the Black Cat, released the song “Higher Than the Stars” earlier this month, I was taken slightly aback at the single’s wintry synths and programmed gurgles. And I wasn’t the only one. But maturity doesn’t have to be a bad thing, nor do higher production values. And you only need to look at some of the band’s forebears to see why:
Case No. 1: The Field Mice
Conversion: Perhaps realizing it could never match the rough jangle of its 1988 debut single “Emma’s House,” the great U.K. twee band already was toying with beats in its 1989 album Snowball. Sequenced sounds meant a few near-unlistenable experiments (“Triangle”), but they also laid the groundwork for the band’s elegant, measured swan song, 1991’s For Keeps—which remains the most essential long player that lead mouse Robert Wratten ever made.
Case No. 2: The Mountain Goats
Conversion: The 2003 album Tallahassee, on which songwriter John Darnielle gave up his boombox-recording fundamentalism and began creating concepts about more than geography. Darnielle probably could’ve spent the rest of his days releasing swappable cassettes or eccentric LPs like Protein Source Of The Future…Now! and left his fans happy. Instead, he became our best concocter of lush neuroticism.
Case No. 3: Guided by Voices
Conversion: No one’s going to seriously argue that the 1996 album Under the Bushes Under the Stars, for which the standard-bearers of lo-fi entered an actual studio, is better than Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. But as leader Bob Pollard became a tighter writer of anthemic pop, the studio offered a wider palette. Take the synthy album version of “Teenage FBI” (from 1999’s Do The Collapse), which is miles better than the stripped-down take found on Guided by Voices’ best-of collection. More controversial: I like the polished “Game of Pricks” from the Tigerbomb EP far more than the fan-favorite version on Alien Lanes.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart perform tonight at the Black Cat with The Depreciation Guild and Cymbals Eat Guitars. Doors open at 8 p.m.; tickets are $13. Photo courtesy of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s MySpace page.