Thursday, June 17, 2010

REVIEW: For Pernice & Co., Another 'Killer' Set of Bummers for the Summer (UPDATED)

Album: Goodbye, Killer
Artist: Pernice Brothers
Release Date: June 15 (US)

Stream Goodbye, Killer at Spinner
Download "Jacqueline Susann" via their website

There are two ways a person can experience Joe Pernice's songs:

  • Reading the lyrics first, during which one would assume Pernice is the most bummed-out English professor in New England. This is the wrong way to listen to these songs.

  • Listening to the songs, completely oblivious to their lyrical content, and being completely sucked in by the exceptionally high level of AM Gold songcraft. This is the wrong way to listen to these songs, as well.

Instead, Pernice's body of song is something best experienced in a way not unlike his spiritual forebears in The Smiths- The jaunty, smartly composed "pocket symphonies" underline the dark humor in the lyrics even as said lyrics add a facet to the hooky, sunny melodies that permeate each release. It's an impressive trick, really: melodies Mom will hum along with all day long and lyrics Junior might try to lift in order to seem "deep"in his freshman comp class often spell disaster for lesser talents; for Pernice, achieving balance comes as as naturally as breathing and, over five previous studio albums under the Pernice Brothers banner, a handful of Scud Mountain Boys releases, and numerous side projects, he's created an alternate universe where Morrissey and Elvis Costello wrote fan letters to Jeff Lynne and David Gates instead of the New York Dolls. (Only Pernice could pull off a near-perfect Bread homage called "Grudge Fuck," complete with a chorus of "I'd give anything just to make it with you one more time.")

For those looking for a very adult (in the "grown up" sense), masterful set of "bummer in the summer" jams, Goodbye, Killer (Ashmont) ought to knock you dead.

More after the jump.

The latest release, is a little "rockier" as a whole than its predecessor, 2004's Live a Little. The production is, if anything, a little more stripped down than the previous releases, leaning predominantly on the guitar/bass/drums formula. Small flourishes- a little piano here, a touch of brass there- pop up, but there's nothing like the full-on ELO string attacks that have turned up on other albums or the synths that populated Discover a Lovelier You (2005). If anything, the sound is most comparable to Matthew Sweet's early 90s output (which often featured current PB drummer Ric Menck, a power pop staple since his days in Velvet Crush.)

The stripped-down sound is a little reminiscent of Nobody's Watching/Nobody's Listening, the very good live album produced earlier in the band's run (and a stunning document of just how pretty Pernice's voice can be, even in a live setting), which gives the impression that audiences in any market that lucks into a live date are in for a treat.

The songs are as good as ever, continuing Pernice's track record- a favorite line comes early in "Newport News," as he wakes up in Connecticut, "in some nightingale's Art Deco Murphy bed" and takes note of the "wall-to-wall shag loneliness." The protagonists are beautiful losers, but not the sort that lose big- they're the sort who struggle just to matter in their own lives, let alone in the rest of the world (a theme that turns up across the catalog.) In less capable hands, ending a song by repeating "I never want to die"might seem clumsy; here, it fits perfectly. The handclaps make it that much better.

It's reassuring that the quality has remained as high as it has, considering that, in the time since the last Pernice Brothers album, Joe Pernice has authored a novella for Continuum's "33 1/3" series (about- what else?- Meat Is Murder) and a novel, It Feels So Good When I Stop. It speaks to the great talent present that these outlets haven't diluted the subsequent Pernice releases.

In a perfect world, Joe Pernice would have been hoisted upon the shoulders of a grateful throng of fans night after night in city after city. Instead, he's plugging away, crafting hooky, smart music for those of us willing to listen. If it's death or glory, this latest release is more ammo for those making the case for the latter.

If your local record store isn't stocking Goodbye, Killer, it is available via the band's website, eMusic, or Amazon.

BONUS: Joe Pernice makes an appearance in the Gilmore Girls episode "Partings," along with a few other familiar faces/voices.

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