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Act five
Joe Pernice reveals his prettier side
BY ELIOT WILDER
Related Links

Pernice Brothers' official Web site

Jonathan Perry reviews Joe Pernice's His Back Pages

Jonathan Perry listens to Joe Pernice and Warren Zanes live.

Mike Milliard sees the Pernice Brothers at the Paradise.

Christopher Blagg reviews the Pernice Brothers' Yours, Mine & Ours

"Love my neighbor when I feel like I couldnít even give a shit," Joe Pernice sighs on "Saddest Quo," a track from the Pernice Brothersí Discover a Lovelier You (Ashmont). Although the line is wrapped inside a breezy tune, nothing can mask its underlying despair. Singer-songwriter Pernice is calling his bandís latest (and fifth) release their first feel-good record ó and with its sunshiny harmonies, percolating rhythms, and brightly lit guitars, it sounds that way. Still, this sweet-sounding pop pill often has a not-so-sweet aftertaste. "Let this frost heave open up and take me in," he sings sotto voce on "There Goes the Sun," a song of overwhelming yearning and desperation. But it sounds so frothy that you also canít help but feel, well, good.

In part thatís because Discover a Lovelier You ó whose tour will bring the band to the Middle East August 14 ó is unashamedly pretty. "Hopefully thereís always a strong melodic presence in all of our stuff," says Joe, who started the band in Northampton but lives, at least for now, in Toronto. "When we start making an album, I go back a record or two and try to figure out the stuff that I did right and take it up a step. Thereís a conscious attempt to keep whatís good and expand on it. Thatís part of the work ethic in this group ó to try not to do the same thing over again.

"Also, I try to make songs that I would like to listen to. [Producer/collaborator] Thom Monahan and I sit around and say, ĎWhat would I have thought of if I were hearing this for the first time?í We think back to when we were teenagers and say, ĎGee, what if I was 16 and I heard this for the first time?í "

The Pernice Brothersí recordings evoke the familiar; the weeping guitar work on "Dumb It Down" conjures George Harrison with a knowing nod and a wink. Listen closely and youíll detect traces of everything from the Smiths (Pernice has written a book on Meat Is Murder for Continuumís 33 1/3 series) to the Zombies. Listen even closer and youíll hear Discover a Lovelier You questioning that same sense of familiarity by playing with the way people remember the songs of their youth.

"We were recording something for our last album [2003ís Yours, Mine & Ours]," Joe says, "and I was talking with Thom about trying to get a vocal sound using two voices that soar off in different directions that I once heard on a particular Elvis Costello song. So we dug out the record ó and the voices donít even do that. Itís just that thatís what I thought. Itís like when you remember listening to a certain song ó you know, maybe a Knack song ó and you recall the guitars as being ear-shatteringly loud, and when you put it back on, the whole mix is tiny. So what your memory is of how you perceived it and what is fact are often two different things."

Among Discover a Lovelier Youís inspirations, according to the bandís Web site, are transportation catastrophes, O. Henry, Duran Duran, Claire Danes, and Ennio Morricone. And then thereís the luminous "Red Desert," named after the 1964 Michelangelo Antonioni film in which Monica Vitti is a distraught woman searching for meaning in industrialized Ravenna. The songís cut-up lyrics, like so many disparate images in a slide show of a vacation from Hell, convey a palpable dislocation. "That song was brewing for quite a while," Joe says. "I remember seeing that movie a couple years ago for the first time. Itís a great, slow, dark, beautiful film whose characters are lost in an emotional wasteland. For me, itís mostly about disconnection."

"What gets to me with a piece of art is the mere fact that someone did it," he continues. "If you look at this Antonioni picture, a lot of my fascination with it is not just the greatness of what goes on and the way that it captivates me as a viewer, but that fact that it came out of nowhere, and this is a guyís vision. Heís able to pull me in and Iím easily lost in it."

Pernice Brothers | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | August 14 | 617.864.EAST


Issue Date: July 22 - 28, 2005
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