For a most of his post-Scud Mountain Boys career, Joe Pernice has been floating in a sea of comparisons to orchestral-minded singer-songwriters like Mark Eitzel, Eric Matthews and Elliott Smith, three indie pop heroes who prefer their misery mixed with a hefty amount of lush instrumentation. And on Overcome By Happiness, the AM-vibing debut on Sub Pop, it made sense. But as Pernice progressed, the chamber pop tendencies began to shed in favor of a far more eighties-influenced sadness. Ever since his side project Chappaquiddick Skyline covered New Order’s “Leave Me Alone,” it’s been a gradual curve. The Brothers’ 2003 effort Yours, Mine and Ours shared more than a few similarities with Head on the Door-era Cure. And last year, Pernice penned a paean to The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder, his contribution to the 33 and 1/3 series.
So to hear shades of Morrissey and Robert Smith on Discover a Lovelier You, The Pernice Brothers’ newest album, is no big surprise. But the beauty of it is, they’re still just shades. A Pernice Brothers album is always going to be a Pernice Brothers album, but in many cases, is dressed up in the aesthetics of another not-too-distant classic. While melodies reminiscent of “In Between Days” are abound, it’s still Pernice’s sad sack wit that holds it together. A quick look at the song titles (“There Goes the Sun,” “Saddest Quo,” “My So-Called Celibate Life,” “Pisshole in the Snow”) reveals Pernice’s tongue-in-cheek word-Smithery, which may or may not be his own take on Morrissey’s mixture of irony and misery.
Of those tunes, “Saddest Quo” is the most Smiths-sounding, bearing a resemblance to “Girlfriend in a Coma,” if only a passing one. But a Robert Smith-like wash of chorus guitar opens “Snow,” which quickly changes into a jagged post-punk rocker, one of Pernice’s most abrasive melodies to date. But it’s also one of his best. And that’s what’s great about this record — Pernice doesn’t seem to be holding anything back. Even on a sparse, sluggish track like “Sell Your Hair,” Pernice turns what could be too bare into a beautiful, shimmering waltz. The beginning of “My So-Called Celibate Life” almost sounds like it’s ready to erupt into a cover of “Come On Eileen,” until the chorus kicks in, all peppy drum beats and delay-treated guitar.
On just about every song, Pernice dashes his tunes with just the right amount of effects and glossy production. And there are traces of his `80s heroes in the details. It’s still indie pop, mind you, but he’s focused his efforts on turning the band into a finely polished guitar-pop band, rather than adding any more orchestration. And it seems to be working out for him. It may be a slightly simpler sound, as evident on the sunny pop arrangement of “Dumb It Down,” but when he sings “Dumb it down for the average Joe,” he’s not talking about himself, in either context. Because it’s quite obvious, Pernice isn’t your average Joe.
Ivy – Apartment Life
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.