Pernice Brothers: Discover a Lovelier You

Zeth Lundy

Fourth studio album from Massachusetts indie pop band is marked by stylistic allusions to early '80s Manchester (England, not New Hampshire).

Pernice Brothers

Discover a Lovelier You

Label: Ashmont
US Release Date: 2005-06-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

Whenever I get overwhelmingly depressed about this life of mine, I can always count on Joe Pernice to remind me that everything is as soul-crushingly bleak as I suspect. Pernice is a comforting songwriter not because he's falsely reassuring or optimistic, but because he extends existential solidarity to those who see the world in all its naked, ugly hostility.

After all, Pernice named one of the Pernice Brothers' records The World Won't End and opened his Chappaquiddick Skyline LP with the line "I hate my life" (now a T-shirt!). No fleeting twists of the pen or multi-interpretable slips of the tongue here: Pernice is no nonsense and all honesty, and that's a beautiful thing.

Detractors slothfully label Pernice's work as mope pop, but that's missing the point. Few function as comfortably in their own sadness as he does, and that's a lot different than saying he wallows in it. Like Eels' Mark Everett, Pernice's sweetly colored somber odes live by an early They Might Be Giants mantra: "Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful". After his Northampton, Massachusetts alt-country outfit Scud Mountain Boys called it quits in 1997, Pernice formed the pop-oriented Pernice Brothers (his brother Bob is the group's only other biological brother) and released the strong Overcome by Happiness in 1998. The superior, depressively blissed out The World Won't End followed in 2001 and set the formidable touchstone by which all subsequent Pernice Brothers records would be judged. It's a high bar that 2003's Yours, Mine & Ours failed to reach.

The band's fourth studio album, Discover a Lovelier You (which, given Pernice's method, I originally misread as Discover a Lonelier You), finally fulfills the stylistic transition begun with Yours, Mine & Ours: it's a record deeply indebted to Pernice's personal influences, namely the Smiths and New Order (see "My So-Called Celibate Life" for a dead ringer of the latter). Flanked by icy synthesizers and rat-a-tat 2x4-ish bass and drum tracks, Discover a Lovelier You often sounds like it comes from a 20-year-old time Manchester capsule; the only distinction are Pernice's sickly sweet melodies and vibrato-less vocals, crinkly like crepe paper, speaking of wounds with the façade of a medicated indifference.

Where previous Pernice Brothers releases like Overcome by Happiness and The World Won't End were informed by luminous overtones of Big Star and the Beatles, Discover a Lovelier You doesn't cast such diffused light. Although it employs a barrage of overdubs and vocal tracks like those past albums, its sound is pristinely chiseled like Yours, Mine & Ours (which is to be expected from a careful craftsman like Pernice) -- but it's also slowing melting, like an ice sculpture that tries to survive its first day in the sun. That's a pretentious way of saying that Discover a Lovelier You can run icy and tepid; while it does correct and perfect the '80s-inspired ambitions of the last record, it still doesn't offer the consistent high of The World Won't End.

The album is frontloaded with three of its best songs: the sorta optimistic, melancholic reverb of "There Goes the Sun"; "Saddest Quo", which pits helpless lines like "Trying to be a better person / Hindsight's twenty and my visibility's worsening" against a dreamy pop arrangement that echoes Buddy Holly's "Words of Love"; and "Snow", which finds the band laying into the paranoid guitar thrusts of Johnny Marr. Discover a Lovelier You's most sublime track, "Amazing Glow", arrives after an extended mixed bag of offerings: some unexciting ("Sell Your Hair"); some uninspired ("Dumb It Down"); and a pleasant, if hardly essential, instrumental ("Discover a Lovelier You"). "Amazing Glow" is worth waiting for, as it achieves the lightheaded, regretful beauty of Pernice's best work. The narrator, exposed and submissive to the oncoming cruelty ("When it came to the wrecking ball / She swung it effortlessly like it had no weight at all"), lays his song on a slowly wilting, precipice-hungry chorus, perhaps finding temporary release in the heartbreakingly appropriate background harmonies.

The next song, "Subject Drop", a duet with Blake Hazard, is the kind of subdued power pop exercise that Pernice can, at this point, knock out in his sleep. And then Discover a Lovelier You ends on an even less significant note, bowing out with two songs of admirable construction but fleeting impact. Discover a Lovelier You will certainly satisfy Pernice's empathetic fan base, but when all is said and done, its highlights aren't nearly as insistently obvious as the Brothers' paramount achievements.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

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

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