opinion byMICHAEL WOJTAS
Indie rock bedfellows don’t come more bizarrely mismatched than the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Bradford Cox, but here we are. True the Pains’ modern twee stance may be light-years removed from Cox’s eerie, narcotic aesthetic. But on some level, Days of Abandon, the third full-length LP from Kip Berman and company closely mirrors the dramatic shift the Deerhunter mastermind made on last year’s Monomania.
Both albums are overtly reactionary, created by artists who, after completely refining their respective crafts, consciously decided to take a detour back to the joys of stripped-down songwriting and analogue simplicity. Which isn’t to say that Abandon has been dragged through lo-fi mud. Next to the fuzzy Xeroxed atmosphere of the Pains’ self-titled debut, Abandon feels more like a warm toned and slightly blurry—yet carefully composed—Polaroid snapshot. The ambitions of 2011’s Belong have been purposefully scaled back, allowing for more specificity, more intimacy.
In order to state its case, Abandon rewrites history a bit. It’s like the byproduct of an alternate universe where Sarah Records hit it bigger than Sub Pop, the Field Mice headlined the first Lollapalooza and Everything But the Girl were devastatingly popular with the 120 Minutes crowd. This level of erudition may seem to suggest that only bespectacled library dwellers that own the entire Creation vinyl catalogue are welcome here. But, as usual, Berman’s faultless hooks and sparkling major chords extend an invitation to all pop fans.
The choice of producer (alt-rock major leaguers Alan Moulder and Flood, who helped sculpt Belong’s sweeping contours, were swapped out in favor of indie pop stalwart Andy Savours) lends plenty of insight into Berman’s aims. Pubescent heartache and euphoria are explored through softening, nostalgic production, resulting in sound just grainy enough to recall a VHS copy of a vintage John Hughes teen flick. Belong’s arena-expansive, Siamese Dream-hued splendor would feel utterly out of place here. As would the “what would our younger selves think of us now?” sense of innocence lost that pervaded that record’s more somber songs. And that’s probably because this record was made expressly for kids like this band’s younger selves: sweater-clad youths getting laughed out of punk basement shows, the types destined to grow into the bookworms of “Young Adult Friction” and the misfits-amongst-misfits of “Belong.”
This renewed focus is perhaps attributable to a shifting lineup. Aside from Berman, most of the band’s earliest members have exited, while David Byrne-collaborator Kelly Pratt shows up to add subtle horn inflections and precious synth flourishes throughout. But the frequent presence of A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Jen Goma, whose clear, bell-like vocals provide a perfect foil for Berman’s wispiness, is especially key to Abandon’s success. The effervescent “Kelly,” fronted by Goma, borrows just the spritely guitar bounce and nervous adolescent ecstasy from the Smiths classic “This Charming Man,” carefully eschewing all of Morrissey’s brooding. Along with “Eurydice,” which also prominently features Goma, it’s Abandon’s most immediately infectious moment.
If such nuanced, perfectly sour-to-saccharine confectionaries distinguish Abandon, the record’s sheer sonic politeness occasionally blunts its emotional impact. The C86-like bite of earlier material and the deep swirl of Belong is somewhat missed on the especially drifty “The Asp In My Chest” and “Coral and Gold,” which are so frothy they threaten to blow by without notice.
But thankfully, Berman has failed to take one cue from his single-centric heroes of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, who tended to shine brightest on compilations and 7-inches; this is the third Pains record in a row that has enough memorable songs to play almost like a career-spanning Best Of collection. B