Amazing Glow: A Review of the Discography of the Pernice Brothers

Stephen Rowland takes a look at every major release by the Pernice Brothers, ranging from the high points to the sleep-inducing lows.

In 1997, revered alternative country act the Scud Mountain Boys called it a day, and leader Joe Pernice (along, obviously, with his brother, Bob) quickly formed the Pernice Brothers, a group with a much less interesting name making decidedly more interesting music. Debuting on Sub Pop in 1998, Joe and Co. have been cranking out solid and often brilliant music for over a decade. This article examines and reviews all their major releases and hopefully gives insight into the songwriting evolution of the band, or more specifically, Joe Pernice. I feel it's time we give them their due -- they are by no means unknowns, but still fly a bit under the radar.


Pernice Brothers

Overcome By Happiness

Sub Pop (1998)

Rating: 5

Yeah, more like Overcome By NyQuil, as this record is the sonic equivalent to drool on a pillow. It's so mellow it has fallen asleep. And it's asleep so hard, it is almost comatose.

Now the actual Brothers Pernice's prior group the Scud Mountain Boys had a similar sound, but there's really nothing positive to say about them. If people were talking about them -- which they weren't -- they were classifying the Scuds as an alternative-country band. I think not, unless Cat Stevens singing Burt Bacharach tunes is country. Or an alternative to that.

And that's what Overcome By Happiness is. It surprised me that, in creating a new band, Joe Pernice, THE Pernice brother, kept that same sound as the Scuds. But it wouldn't last long, luckily.

Sometimes the drowse works, as on the title track, which is gorgeous jangle-pop getting ready for bed, and "All I Know", a beautifully composed ballad that throws away the guitars and gives us, prominently, piano and orchestra. Flip the coin, though, and you get shit like "Ferris Wheel", which is the TRUE "Valium Waltz" the Old 97's would sing of about a decade later.

The bottom line is, you keep waiting for everything to quit being so fucking delicate, and it just never happens (with the exception of the track "Monkey Suit", where the bored producer must have slipped them some ephedrine). The sleep sound is, oddly enough, so very tiring, and highly irritating, depending on your mood. If the song were simply good, we'd have a different story here. But there are no exceptional melodies, no intriguing hooks--nothing memorable to back up this soundtrack to benzodiazepines.


Pernice Brothers

The World Won't End

Ashmont (2001)

Rating 8

Look at that. Just look at that! No, not the bird, but the rating. The massive jump in rating from the Pernice's previous effort. I have a theory about this.

Between releasing Overcome By Ativan and The World Won't End, Joe Pernice put out two solo(-ish) projects, Big Tobacco and Chappaquiddick Skyline. They both sucked terribly, and he admitted it wasn't his best material. Some people are just selfish pricks who have the means to be in the studio whenever they want, recording whatever they want, and selling whatever they want, while knowing it's simply not very good. There is an endless number of bands and artists out there who have to save money for a year just to get a weekend in a studio to record a fucking demo that will probably never see the light of day as an actual compact disc released by an actual record label. So fuck you, Joe, for essentially expecting all of us to take your dirty laundry to the laundromat for you. You don't realize how goddamn lucky you are.

Now that's not one of my patented, hyperbolic rants; I mean every word, every syllable, every letter, and every punctuation mark. The problem is, I still love the Pernice Brothers, especially this record, and its follow-up, to obviously be profiled soon.

In order to make a great album, you don't need to record and release your B material; you just need to shelve it and record and release what's great. So what Joe did was selfish bullshit, but the end result is an album where nearly every song is golden, and the rest are at least silver. He recorded the best song he's ever written, "Our Time Has Passed", and I'm not going to use words to describe how it sounds because I want you to hear it for yourselves. Also brilliant: "Working Girls (Sunlight Shines)", which recalls Teenage Fanclub in its heyday, before the beards and Scottish highlands; "She Heightened Everything," superb jangle-pop not unlike Mexico 70 or the La's; and "7:30", with its fun and carefully orchestrated Beach Boys-inspired ending. There's still some folky Bacharach; it's like athlete's foot, and folk in general, such as the Damien Rice-soundalike "Cronulla Breakdown". Of course that Irish bastard didn't inspire anything, as he hadn't hit the popular scene at the time this album was recorded.

You can literally hear their masterpiece of a follow-up, Yours, Mine & Ours, coming into fruition here, like watching your garden grow. And here it is.


Pernice Brothers

Yours, Mine & Ours

Ashmont (2003)

Rating: 10

I have never given a record a higher rating than this. It was the best album of 2003, one of the best albums of the decade, and still one of the best in the history of recorded music. Yes, all of that in a ten-song, indie-pop excursion.

I suppose some of it is personal, emotional reaction. Yours, Mine & Ours came in to my life during a very trying period, shortly before I was to make a drive across 2/3rds of the country. While I drove on, depressed and worried, anxious and panicked, I played this music over and over and over again. It was perfect for the South, for the Midwest, for the Rockies. It was perfect in Northern California. I'd bet it'd be perfect in New England, too. But I've never been there, nor do I have any desire to go there. I can only think of one place where it doesn't seem like it would be perfect: Florida. But nothing is perfect in Florida, as Florida is the harbinger of ruination.

The ten songs are almost perfect, and the ones that aren't completely, absolutely perfect in every way, are so goddamn close you can barely discern the single missing piece. The production is shinier; in fact, the whole LP glimmers (in a later album, Pernice has a song called "Amazing Glow", and that's what this record delivers), the band is more synergistic, and Joe's songwriting could only get better if he spent a few months with Brian Wilson in 1966.

This is truly the proverbial record you can listen to at any time. I could not possibly see myself ever tiring of it. Yours, Mine & Ours is Joe Pernice's career apex. So while we undoubtedly slide down the mountain from this point, we never reach the point of catastrophe.


Pernice Brothers

Discover a Lovelier You

Ashmont (2005)

Rating: 7

After retaining a similar sound for their first three records (I'm not counting their fourth live LP--I don't do live LPs), the Brothers decided to try a few new things. This isn't Metal Machine Music or anything; the experiments, if you can call them that, are subtle, and I think mainly, they didn't want their music to stagnate. Maybe they had the insight that they had done everything they could with their signature sound, so changing things up would be beneficial.

And like I said, things aren't really changed up. In fact, "Discover" is in many ways a completely natural progression and follow-up to Yours, Mine & Ours. The instrumental title track, along with "Saddest Quo" and "Dumb It Down", for instance, would've easily fit on their two predecessors. And the songwriting is essentially the same.

Yet, there are little changes in sound, production, instrumentation here and there. "Sell Your Hair" uses canned drums or a drum loop and has a heavy New Wave influence (and "Pisshole in the Snow" shares those quirks, but is a much weaker song). "There Goes the Sun" features guitar effects I've never heard during the chorus, and the New Orderisms that so surreptitiously poked their head into a track or two on Yours, Mine & Ours (so slight I didn't even mention them), certainly come out here, especially on the brilliant "My So-Called Celibate Life", which has a great enough chorus and verse but features a bridge that is positively enthralling.

Here we have our ups and downs and this isn't the place to begin with the Brothers (I'd choose The World Won't End, so you don't get the best, but you get a great representation). The new things tried aren't failures, nor would the record be better off without them. This is just the beginning of an evolution.


Pernice Brothers

Live a Little

Ashmont (2006)

Rating: 8

I think a lot of people will disagree with me, but I'll say it anyway as it's of no consequence: this is the Brothers' rock album. Yeah, there's still jangle pop and chamber pop and indie pop and sunshine pop and twee pop and whatever all that shit is, but listen to "Microscopic View" and then please shut the fuck up.

Now, being more rock 'n roll than's strange, because of the man behind the boards. Michael Deming, the entity who hit the Trazodone button before the tapes began to roll on the Scud Mountain Boys' three albums and the overrated, comatose Overcome by Happiness. It doesn't make sense to me, but I won't worry about it because it's of no consequence.

So, gentlemen, there is a lot of greatness on this record I once hated (what four years can do to you, eh?). On "Lightheaded", I think Joe laid off the weed and popped an Adderall instead, as it has the sound of Overcome but it's, you know, awake. "Cruelty to Animals" showcases Joe's lyrical knack and delivers one of his best lines, concerning someone who is "stuck in dumb amazement like a dog who's told to levitate". "PCH One" is endlessly catchy, while the re-recording of the Scud Mountains Boys' "Grudge Fuck" (I am NOT blocking out the word "fuck" with asterisks, regardless if that is actually how the song title is written) gives us a highly pleasing new production, but was never a very good song in the first place. The gold: "B.S. Johnson", a huge sound with heavily distorted guitars and swirling strings, and wonderfully, one of the greatest choruses Joe has ever written. And even more important is "Automaton". Now this is exactly how a song should be written: several different parts/progressions, each one a great hook or melody, all flowing together without a hint of tactlessness, and a running time of three minutes, seven seconds.

Does it get better than that?


Pernice Brothers

Goodbye, Killer

Ashmont (2010)

Rating: 7

In the long interim between Live a Little and this, Joe Pernice made a solo record called It Feels So Good When I Stop. I'll spare you the obvious joke/retort, but it is one of the most dreadful things I have ever heard in my life. Listening to him cover James & Bobby Purify's soul mega-classic "I'm Your Puppet" is almost worse than listening to anything by Led Zeppelin. Almost.

I mention this 1). to rant selfishly, and 2). because Goodbye, Killer feels like another solo record, which I don't understand. And while it's not the Ambien overdose that is Overcome By Happiness, it just seems to go by, floating invisibly like a ghost in the snow. Only the final track, the acoustic guitar and vocal "The End of Faith" leaves any lasting impression (which, as the last song, is a good thing). It's far, far up there with Joe's best work, which goes pretty far up. "Bechamel" and "Great Depression" are great indie pop/rock songs, and the country feel and wry lyrics of "We Love the Stage" are a lot of fun, but I seriously couldn't tell you much more than that, because mediocrity is abound. It's easy to write about what's great. It's easy to write about what's awful. It's damn near impossible to write about what's in between.

Taking so long to release this whatever of an album because of recording an ear-defiling, pointless, and monstrously selfish solo record was not only a bad move, but a disappointing one. Joe, you've been known to save your lesser work for your other projects (which you do), so maybe Goodbye, Killer would've made an exceptional four- or five-track EP.

I have a problem in my head where I don't remember things. Even major events. There is no way in Hell that this record is going to stick around in my grey matter. And I don't care.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.