Early demos crack open Pernice Brothers’ ‘Overcome by Happiness’ at 25 : NPR

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Pernice Brothers' Overcome by Happiness celebrates 25 years with a coffee table book and a second LP of singles and demos.
Pernice Brothers' Overcome by Happiness celebrates 25 years with a coffee table book and a second LP of singles and demos.

A Joe Pernice track desires you to reside inside its second. “Bitter gold” moonlight, company ladders “product of concrete and the bones of individuals,” rooster wire within the nook of a storage filling with automotive exhaust — these are among the scenes discovered on Overcome by Happiness, the 1998 debut by his band Pernice Brothers. How thoughtful, then, that these unhappy, good and darkly humorous portraits swim in a champagne of sound, cascading down a pyramid of crystal glasses even because the lives portrayed appear to drown in a dive bar.

This was the aesthetic Pernice got here into seemingly absolutely shaped, however which had really been cultivated behind his thoughts whereas in his earlier band. If he sang melancholy nation tunes with the Scud Mountain Boys all through the ’90s, the Pernice Brothers leaned exhausting into two-dollar chord modifications, deceptively easy pop track constructions, orchestral preparations and an airiness laden with missed alternatives and misplaced potential. “Do you assume you may scrape your life collectively / Simply in time to seek out you’ve got obtained no peace of thoughts,” Pernice sings on the lounging but buoyant title monitor, just for swings to swoop into the punchline: “When everyone desires a bit of your fairly white ass.” In his breathy supply, a sarcastic smirk by no means sounded so candy.

Pernice led to Scud Mountain Boys’ demise to be able to notice his new imaginative and prescient. All the pieces about Pernice Brothers was deeply uncool, but additionally wore its purposefully pretentious atmosphere as a badge of honor: Pernice’s just lately acquired MFA in artistic writing from UMass knowledgeable an exacting sense of prose; the band’s musical references included Harry Nilsson, Bee Gees and Burt Bacharach. Whereas artists throughout the pond like Saint Etienne, Portishead and Belle & Sebastian explored the probabilities of pop music, there was a way from People within the late ’90s that Bacharach’s Brill Constructing opulence was verboten and corny. In actual fact, these lush landscapes have been excellent for the advanced vulnerability rising from the likes of Pernice, Jim O’Rourke and A.C. Newman‘s pre-New Pornographers band Zumpano. This, in an period of emotionally stunted macho males on rock radio, was the subtle pop music Pernice needed to make.

For its twenty fifth anniversary, New West Data has reissued and remastered Overcome by Happiness (initially launched on Sub Pop) on vinyl. The deluxe version — a e book of pictures and considerate liner notes by critic Stephen Deusner and Pernice himself, plus a second LP of singles and beforehand unreleased demos — comes handsomely packaged like a tall, darkish somebody with day-old stubble in a parka jacket.

In these demos, captured intimately on a Tascam four-track cassette recorder at house or on an ADAT machine after hours at a music retailer, one can hear how the eventual studio preparations concurrently illuminated and cloaked intention. Most of them are simply Pernice’s voice, an acoustic guitar and the persistent hiss of tape, and but so far as a signature sound goes, it is just about all right here: clear-eyed melody, stutter-and-release strum patterns and chord progressions, intelligent and infrequently biting turns of phrase. The title monitor’s demo aches extra with out the sweeping launch of strings. Clustered open chords make the troubled lives of “Dimmest Star” uncomfortably claustrophobic. “Clear Spot” will get an unsure chord change and filler doot doo doo‘s in a demo that Pernice says got here to him strolling down Major Road in Northampton, Mass., the rollicking remaining model diminished to shadows and uncertainty. There are early variations of songs that would seem on later releases (“Braveness Up” would find yourself on Chappaquiddick Skyline’s self-titled file and “Let That Present” on The World Will not Finish), however there’s additionally the charming late-night strummer “Tune #2 (The Queen of NYC),” showing for the primary time anyplace.

After I performed Overcome by Happiness in our lounge just lately, my 4-year-old requested concerning the opener: “Is that this track about superheroes?” It was a humorous query, however, as is commonly the case with childlike expertise, oddly intuitive. “Oh, I would like anyone / Who will not see by way of me / Was comfortable dwelling a lie,” Pernice sings on “Crestfallen.” In case you squint, you’ll be able to see the superhero behind the disguise, craving for recognition but additionally ashamed of what is beneath. Joe Pernice shouldn’t be a superhero — maybe emphatically so — however he does conceal a center house of emotion in plain sight, resplendent in wrought-iron preparations that do not make us overlook, however lengthen the sensation.


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