Pernice Brothers: Goodbye, Killer

Pernice Brothers
Goodbye, Killer
[Rating: 4 stars]

Videos by American Songwriter

Restless and prolific, singer-songwriter Joe Pernice has been churning out albums at an alarming rate since the ‘90s, first in the lo-fi alt-country band Scud Mountain Boys, then as the leader of the imminently respected power-pop band the Pernice Brothers. He has also recorded a handful of solo and side projects and has written a few works of prose.

Anyone expecting a full-blown Pernice Brothers recording extravaganza this time around – lush arrangements, string quartets and chamber-pop stardust – may be unacquainted with Joe Pernice’s work schedule, which in the last few years has included writing and promoting the critically acclaimed novel It Feels So Good When I Stop and recording a solo album whose songs tie in thematically with the book.

Understandably, this relatively brief 2010 release has the off-the-cuff feel of a band in a hurry, while the genre-hopping track list suggests a ritual purging of old notebooks and demos. But Pernice rarely does things in half-measures, and accordingly, the songs here glow with quiet inspiration. Who needs a 24-track studio when the material is this good? As Pernice tells us in “The Loving Kind,” – “I’ve been through this too many times to bullshit you.” Few collections of odds and sods contain this many instant sparks and delicious touches.

Album opener “Bechamel” is a jangle-pop dish with grabby verses that play with food metaphors to describe the longing of a perpetually undernourished love whose flavor is “gamey and…won’t be tamed.” Per the Pernice formula, gorgeous vocal harmonies and pretty hooks take the edge off the desperation of the lyrics, but drive them deeper, too. This is followed by the even more insistent power-pop of “Jacqueline Susann,” which lustily extols the virtues of a well-rounded reading list, and effectively conveys the giddiness of projecting all of one’s hopes on a cute stranger reading a cool book on public transportation.

The mood downshifts on the self-deprecating Vaudevillian confection “We Love The Stage,” where Pernice chronicles the woes of a perpetually under-appreciated opening band whose members’ lives back at home are in shambles and who brave gross motel rooms, obnoxious hecklers, and sparse audiences, all for the questionable reward and justification of the title. While the underdog protagonists in “We Love The Stage” shruggingly embrace their lot in life, the narrator of the title track – a pretty folk song reminiscent of The Faces’ “Ooh La La” – is ready to move on from the loser’s life, taunting a partner in crime that “you were shooting for the gutter and your aim was very good.”

If there’s a quintessential Pernice Brothers song in this batch, it’s probably “The Great Depression,” a relentlessly melodic and upbeat (despite the downer lyrics) tune that gets the best production job of the album. The band returns to Scud Mountain briefly, via Bakersfield, on the subtly twangy “Newport News.”

As much as Pernice’s writing dominates the record, he gets just the right amount of support from brother Bob, guitarist James Walbourne (Son Volt, The Pretenders) and drummer Ric Menck (Velvet Crush). Walbourne’s George Harrisonesque riffing on “Something For You” elevates a good power ballad into a truly outstanding track, and the delicate hammer-ons and rich strumming that undergird “End of Faith” perform the alchemy necessary to transform lyrics of existential doubt into a heart-stirring anthem of acceptance; Pernice and Walbourne make throwing oneself into the abyss of unknowing sound as thrilling as a baptism.

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