The Echo of Pleasure, the fourth LP by New York’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, is an exquisite—if also occasionally too familiar—entry into the modern landscape of retro synth pop. Led by the “big-hearted, idealistic” songwriting of frontman Kip Berman—and fleshed out by a variety of players and singers, plus producer Andy Savours—the album bursts with breezy and tight arrangements, meditative melodies, and beautifully poignant lyricism, making it a simultaneously boyish and mature exploration of love, longing and everything in-between.
It was written and recorded around the hopes, uncertainties and time constraints related to the impending birth of Berman’s daughter. As he anticipated transitioning into fatherhood, he also regarded “the near-symmetry” of romance and how two people can stop feeling each other’s presence while apart. He adds, “In that sense, remembering is a kind of echo, each instance slightly less vivid than the one before,” as well as describing the record as “reflect[ing] the band’s most joyous moments while maintaining [his] candid and critical lyricism, free of the self-abasing insecurity of youth.” Knowing this, it’s even easier to appreciate both the title of the album and its richly evocative sentiments and sounds.
“My Only” kickstarts the collection with a dazzling array of angelic chants and vintage keyboard swirls (both courtesy of Jess Rojas). Soon after, drummer Chris Schackerman and guitarist Christoph Hochheim add steadfast beats and reverberated riffs to give Berman’s airy starry-eyed verses more grounding. It’s a charmingly simple yet lush and welcoming opener that’s followed by the quicker and sleeker “Anymore” and the highly danceable and whimsical “The Garret” (which finds bassist Jacob Danish steering the ship alongside Hochheim’s Smiths-like outcries and plenty of delightful male/female harmonies).
The most overtly ‘80s track here is certainly “When I Dance with You,” a bubbly rocker with fittingly glitzy undertones. Afterward, the title track merges the rhythmic fun of Portugal. The Man with the idealistic hooks and shimmering timbres of, say, Human League and Joy Division, while both “Falling Apart So Slow” and the faster “The Cure for Death” are more downtrodden and reflective, like a lost Robert Smith gem. In between them, The Echo of Pleasure offers its most atypical entry, “So True,” an electropop dream on which guest vocalist Jen Goma (A Sunny Day in Glasgow) conjures the lighter side of Neverending White Lights’ penchant for catchy contemplation.
Closer “Stay” is an appropriately ethereal ballad that sees Berman and Rojas lamenting together over acoustic guitar strums, pensive piano accentuations, and a subtly atmospheric foundation (including arresting horns by Kelly Pratt). It’s easily the most haunting, beautiful, and sophisticated slice of songwriting on The Echo of Pleasure, acting as a conclusive and realistic counterbalance to the majorly upbeat vibe that preceded it. As such, it reveals the dexterity and seriousness beneath the sheen that makes The Pains of Being Pure at Heart so relatable and rewarding.