[5 June 2003]
Perhaps it’s because Joe Pernices’ first band, the Scud Mountain Boys, was from Northampton, Massachusetts, but I’ve always connected his work with a feeling of American innocence. The sensation one is supposed to feel when you visit those small towns that still have a Main Street, where the police are respected, and everyone ignores the fact that the mayor is screwing his secretary. Some of this impression can be attributed to the magnificent melodies running through most of Pernices’ work that bring to mind white picket fences, backyard barbecues, and softball games. There’s also his voice that is as clear as a blue sky and as enjoyable as a warm summer breeze, which bears a slight resemblance to the golden pipes of Brian Wilson. Not to mention that he once released an album under the name Chappaquiddick Skyline, a title ripe with American references to a more idealistically viewed time. He also releases his albums on his own label, Ashmont, a nod to the small business model that is slowly being pushed out by large conglomerates. Finally, there was the last Pernice Brothers album, The World Won’t End, which, despite being as musically delicious as a sticky bun, contained some of the most depressing lyrics this side of Morrissey. Hinting at the underbelly of life we often leave out of our tales of growing up in America. The kind of sordid details that we all know exist but for the most part would rather ignore through our lens of red, white and blue.
Not missing a beat, the cover of the Pernice Brothers’ latest album, Yours, Mine & Ours, is adorned with fireworks exploding over a night sky. Evoking images of the Fourth of July, the most American of all holidays, seemed a fine way for the Pernice Brothers to begin their newest tales of life in New England. Opening with “The Weakest Shade of Blue”, the singer asks, “Why don’t you come away with me and begin something we can understand”. The song spills over with all the hopefulness of a new romance, conveyed with upbeat guitars and soaring harmonies. It’s the wide-eyed enthusiasm for starting something new that is vividly American.
On the second song “Water Ban”, beneath the atmospheric synthesizers and layers of guitar a very Johnny Marr-ish style of guitar playing can be found. It’s just enough to give away a very un-American influence. This notion is confirmed on “One Foot in the Grave” which belies a taste for the Cure’s bouncier moments, before giving way to the manic drum pounding that ended a few notable Smiths songs. On the next song, “Baby in Two”, the Pernice Brothers slow the pace, with Pernice’s clear voice managing to make the line “Cut the baby in two” gorgeous. There is a positively shoe-gazing like moment of guitar feedback and synthesizer droning on “Blinded by the Stars”, with Pernice asking no one in particular to “give a name to this terrifying change.” On “Waiting for the Universe”, Pernice adopts Morrissey’s deeper baritone to proclaims that he’s “waiting for the universe to die”. In spite of the depressing lyrics, the song is backed by the up-tempo guitars that suit the Pernice Brothers best. Then, on “Sometimes I Remember”, the Pernice Brothers treat us to a track that is very similar to “Friday I’m in Love” by the Cure.
Beyond serving as an excellent follow up to The World Won’t End, Yours, Mine & Ours reveals a whole new side to the Pernice Brothers. After the alt-country leanings of the Scud Mountain Boys, the down-tempo Red House Painters-like Chappaquidick Skyline, and the Big Star power pop of the first two Pernice Brothers album, it’s nice to see them throw fans a little bit of a changeup. Yours, Mine & Ours is overflowing with power chords, majestic harmonies, and lyrics of heartbreak—it is just the presentation that is a little bit different.