Martin Phillipps (the Chills) Talks The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Days of Abandon

OK — here goes me listening to Days of Abandon by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I believe that two albums preceded this one and...

OK — here goes me listening to Days of Abandon by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I believe that two albums preceded this one and, due to the usual series of unfortunate events, I haven’t heard those yet.

So I will have no expectations and my only concern is: oh no, a “long-name” band!

What did their hardcore clique of early followers call them before the inevitable rejection after they became better known and had sold out?

Was it already, “Are you going to see the Pains tonight?” or was it “Dude, Pure at Heart were just like so totally awesome last night at the Coliseum…”

So I’m gonna call them Pure because the very first song, “Art Smock,” reminds me a little of “Gentle Hour” by Snapper and that more intimate side of Peter Gutteridge’s music generally and, more specifically, because they’ve just reissued Peter’s old cassette of home recordings called Pure on vinyl and that’s a handy immediate reference.

And now, because I was talking to you with my fingers, I’m going to have to listen to that song again and pay attention to the words this time…

Yep, they’re good words and they have the ring of truth to them like something real actually happened to Kip Berman, the songwriter-singer who has that sensitive guy kind of voice which reminds me of Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips etc., and that’s a fine thing.

And like most bands of any quality they apparently know a girl from another group with a cool voice and she’s probably not even getting paid but is doing a wonderful job and I understand that she steps to the front of stage later in this bunch of recordings.

“Simple and Sure” is next. It’s a beautiful, rich, well-structured pop song but I’m starting to wonder if they have sacrificed too much of the potential power of their delivery for this spacious packaging? I’ll keep an ear open for that as we proceed.

Incidentally, I saw the video for that song and it was initially like a collection of semi-annoying GIFs of poseurs at a party but then they all found themselves trapped and most of them freaked out and then it was pretty cool. If I’d been there I would have been one of those who enjoyed the chaos and didn’t freak out.

Now the “girl from another group” whose name is Jen Goma does the lead vocal on “Kelly” and nails it and thousands of young men start sobbing alone in their bedrooms.  Although the song did sound remarkably like a Smiths or a Cure one at first — but then it wasn’t, so that’s OK. But one has to be careful! We live in litigious times.

“Beautiful You” is over six minutes long but doesn’t feel like it. Kip and Jen’s vocals work so well together and it could be a really good sunny day car song for hurtling down one of New Zealand’s few straight bits of highway, bowling over hobbits.

Yet I’m still thinking — what if it had a slightly more raw, Big Star kind of production? Would it be better for it?

Harry Nilsson could sing the start of “Coral and Gold” then he’d get drunk and leave the band to the rest of it.

I wish I had the lyrics to read. There seem to be some lovely things being said and I’m sure I’m missing some of them.

“Eurydice” is instantly joyous and determined to remain on the list of songs to tell your friends about in the near future — and you can sing Freur’s “Doot Doot” over parts of it and it doesn’t hurt either song. Is that too obscure?

Now, I’ve got to be careful how I phrase this next comment… Some bands who try to do honour to their influences can really end up shooting themselves in the foot — and Smiths fans can be some of the worst for that. But, to my mind, somehow the song “Masokissed” just avoids becoming a large hole in T.P.O.B.P.A.H.’s collective shoes and ends up simply adding another quality tune to an already strong album. But they had me worried there for a moment.

After hearing “Until the Sun Explodes” I really want to see this band perform. Really good stripped-down arrangements abound. Can they pull it off as a live act? I suspect they do make it work or we wouldn’t be discussing them here now, would we?

And because I’m making lots of old-guy references, that song at the start also reminded me of the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” which is gorgeous.

And now Jen Goma is back for “Life After Life” and shows off yet more emotional range and I’m thinking, she could do some killer versions of the Magnetic Fields’ Wayward Bus songs!

Imagine her singing “Railroad Boy” or “Lovers from the Moon” or “100,000 Fireflies” or whatever. Does Stephin Merritt know about her? I hope someone’s told him.

And then “The Asp at My Chest” is a beautiful closing chapter. Just when I was thinking, “Rats — the horns are going to do predictable things” they started running around like Thing One and Thing Two in The Cat in the Hat and making me smile.

And then I decided that the album production suits the work after all and the band is probably much stronger live anyway so you’d get the best of both worlds.

I still tend to actually buy my music so that people like me can make more music and I think I’d buy this.

It feels like there is lots more to discover and one would be well rewarded.

Martin Phillipps,


New Zealand.

Martin Phillipps founded the legendary New Zealand group the Chills in 1980. They went on to release influential, revered albums such as Kaleidoscope World (1986), Brave Words (1987), and Submarine Bells (1990). You can hear their most recent single “Molten Gold” here and the band has a new album in the works. The Chills website is here, their Facebook page is here and you can follow them on Twitter here.