(4 out of 5)
While on past releases, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart merely flirted with a ‘90s shoegaze sound – a little guitar squall here, some mumbled vocals there – for the most part, the band’s previous releases were fairly straightforward noise-pop records. On BELONG, the flirtation is over. From the start of the album’s opening cut (and title track), you get a propulsive, Hacienda-friendly beat, a walloping blast of guitar, and swoony harmonies. It’s an effective statement of intent, and one that is great to see the band so fully embrace. Granted, TPOBPAH errs toward the beefier, less gauzy realm of shoegaze – more Swervedriver than Slowdive – and also seems to have something of a soft spot for lesser-known approaches like the giddy/woozy garage-gaze of a band like the Nightblooms, but it’s actually impressive how the band has stopped tip-toeing around the elephant in the room. There are notes of modern indie-rock that make their way into BELONG – most notably on the rather bland and predictable “Heart in Your Heartbreak” – and, oddly, it’s then that TPOBPAH sounds the most dated and unoriginal. On the rest of BELONG, however, the band is a powerful animal indeed, unleashing their always infectious and occasionally dreamy guitar-pop in a way that may have obvious inspiration, but has few peers.