REVIEW: The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – “When I Dance With You”
by Chad Jewett
If the past decade’s worth of evidence is any indication, an indie-rock band’s foray into dance music either ends up being an opportunity for the group to substitute a steady bit of disco pulse for the pesky chore of songwriting, or becomes a vessel through which said group can infuse a new joie de vivre into their work. It tends to be the former. Arcade Fire’s recent ABBA-indebted single “Everything Now” had a bit of genuine verve to it, but the song was a bit too happy to ride out its own groove, with precious little development. The same went for Belle & Sebastian’s 2015 LP Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, which was a good record in sum, but skimped on Stuart Murdoch’s normally transporting gift for melody. On the other side of the ledger was Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, the underrated 2005 masterpiece from Bright Eyes, which found Conor Oberst adapting detail-heavy soul-searching to new electro-pop settings, to the benefit of both. Funny how the existential questions of a song like “Arc of Time” proved somehow even more compelling when asked atop a tumbling stop-start beat.
“When I Dance With You”, the newest single from New York indie-pop band The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, lands somewhere in the middle of those extremes. As with Belle & Sebastian and Arcade Fire, Kip Berman’s take on dance music (which, to varying extents, has been a part of Pains’ aesthetic from the start) is one that commits to a steady thump and adds and subtracts on top of that, pop numerators above an EDM denominator. Added up, the song essentially swivels between verses and choruses. But the production choices are bright and earnestly fun (especially the bubbling retro-futurist synths that pop up in the chorus at the end of every other measure) and Berman still knows his way around this kind of understated hook (“When I daaance with you / I feel okay, feel okay”), even if it’s a melody that remains a bit too understated. If “When I Dance With You” doesn’t reach the sublime, ecstatic heights of “Poison Touch” from the deluxe cut of 2014’s Days of Abandonment, there are few songs that could. At least “When I Dance With You” finds The Pains of Being Pure At Heart committed to having that same kind of fun.