When it comes to the catchiest, most classic sounding power pop today, nobody beats The Pernice Brothers. For damn near a decade, Joe Pernice & Co. have been the most reliable purveyors of pristine pop in New England, and because of that, have become one of the most trusted names in the genre. From first orch-pop breakthrough Overcome by Happiness to more recent, rocking affairs like Discover A Lovelier You, Pernice never fails to churn out a great batch of songs. And in typical fashion, latest effort Live a Little is yet another dozen tracks of pop magic.
In an effort to keep things fresh and perhaps even up the ante of their previous few records, The Pernice Brothers took to recording to two-inch analog tape for the first time in several years. While previous albums had been ProTools creations, this one attempts to put some warmth back into the autumnal Pernice sound. This is definitely a fuller sounding affair than Discover, if only subtly. And while it may not necessarily convert those who haven’t already been inducted into the holy order of Pernice, it’s sure to thrill those who have accepted the Rickenbacker communion.
On the whole, the typical chamber pop sounds of yore haven’t disappeared, and are only made the more lush with added string and horn arrangements. Songs like “Zero Refills” and “Cruelty to Animals” are melancholically gorgeous, yet the latter even seems to rock a bit harder than usual thanks to a heavy intro and a huge sounding chorus, which references “Alouette.” “Automaton,” which opens the record splendidly, tosses in some fantastic riffage during the outro. And “B.S. Johnson” takes a straightforward rocker and laces it with sweeping lines of strings. Magnificent.
Pernice’s wordplay is sharper than ever on Live a Little, which should please those like myself who have always found his gift for wit to be one of the most appealing aspects of his songs. “Automaton” zings with the chorus of “something came over me/crimson not cloverleaf/my god the humanity.” On “Cruelty to Animals,” Pernice sings, “She says what doesn’t kill her/only takes more time to kill her,” later mentioning “spinning glue back into horses.” And the best line of all comes in “Conscience Clean”: “I threw a dart at Europe/she hit Michigan.”
The Pernice Brothers close off the album with an update of The Scud Mountain Boys’ “Grudge Fuck,” this year marking its ten year anniversary since being released on Massachusetts, Pernice’s former band’s closing salvo. Here, it’s given a proper studio treatment, as opposed to the original lo-fi version, and stands as a highlight among many great songs. The Pernice Brothers haven’t put out a bad album, and probably never will, but as evident on Live A Little, they can still find ways to improve on a good thing.
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.