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

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 tune needs you to reside inside its second. “Bitter gold” moonlight, company ladders “fabricated from concrete and the bones of individuals,” hen wire within the nook of a storage filling with automotive exhaust — these are a number of the scenes discovered on Overcome by Happiness, the 1998 debut by his band Pernice Brothers. How thoughtful, then, that these unhappy, sensible 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 totally 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 onerous into two-dollar chord modifications, deceptively easy pop tune buildings, orchestral preparations and an airiness laden with missed alternatives and misplaced potential. “Do you suppose you would possibly scrape your life collectively / Simply in time to seek out you have obtained no peace of thoughts,” Pernice sings on the lounging but buoyant title observe, just for swings to swoop into the punchline: “When all people needs a chunk 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 in an effort to notice his new imaginative and prescient. The whole lot about Pernice Brothers was deeply uncool, but additionally wore its purposefully pretentious atmosphere as a badge of honor: Pernice’s not too long ago acquired MFA in inventive 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 chances of pop music, there was a way from People within the late ’90s that Bacharach’s Brill Constructing opulence was verboten and corny. The truth is, these lush landscapes had been good 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 wished to make.

For its twenty fifth anniversary, New West Information has reissued and remastered Overcome by Happiness (initially launched on Sub Pop) on vinyl. The deluxe version — a guide of images 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 observe’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 Predominant Avenue in Northampton, Mass., the rollicking closing model decreased 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 document and “Let That Present” on The World Will not Finish), however there’s additionally the charming late-night strummer “Music #2 (The Queen of NYC),” showing for the primary time wherever.

After I performed Overcome by Happiness in our lounge not too long ago, my 4-year-old requested in regards to the opener: “Is that this tune 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 blissful residing a lie,” Pernice sings on “Crestfallen.” For those who squint, you’ll be able to see the superhero behind the disguise, craving for recognition but additionally ashamed of what is beneath. Joe Pernice isn’t a superhero — maybe emphatically so — however he does disguise a center house of emotion in plain sight, resplendent in wrought-iron preparations that do not make us neglect, however lengthen the sensation.

New West Information


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