Saturday, August 20, 2005

Review: The Pernice Brothers, Discover A Lovelier You

I’m starting to think that the “pop” genre needs a bit of sub-defining. (And, before we get much further, let’s establish that for me, “pop” means simple catchy tunes, typically with jangly guitars, distinctive choruses, maybe a soaring harmony here & there; I do not mean “pop” as in Top 40 crap or adult middle-of-the-road fare.) Anyway, what I think we really need are two sub-genres: foreground pop and background pop. Foreground pop would include the sort of tunes you throw onto a mix-tape for the car so you can roll down the windows on a sunny day, crank ‘em up, and shout along. (Think Matthew Sweet’s “Sick Of Myself,” Teenage Fanclub’s “Sparky’s Dream,” the Odds’ “Someone Who’s Cool.”) Background pop, meanwhile, includes perfectly likeable songs that you can play quietly while you’re doing something else, maybe a nice ambience for a Sunday brunch or while you’re cleaning the house, but songs which won’t really hold your undivided attention. (A lot of the Connells or Cosmic Rough Riders catalog comes to mind.) Most indie pop albums combine the two, typically coming up with a few foreground pop songs and a lot of background pop filler. The latter isn’t necessarily bad, just not something you reach for if you plan to actually listen, and even the best of it can get a bit dull if not peppered with the occasional foreground pop track.

Anyway (and enough with the anyways already), this is all a long wind-up so that I won’t simply dismiss the latest pop opus from the Pernice Brothers as simply dull and listless. Rather, it’s a nice little piece of background pop. See how much better that sounds? As with their three prior albums (not to mention Joe Pernice’s solo Big Tobacco and side project Chappaquiddick Skyline), Discover A Lovelier You manages a couple strong tunes and a lot of quiet pieces that sound nice if you’re not paying much attention. To his credit, Pernice has strong lyrical gifts, mostly avoiding the repetitive boy+girl=bad breakup pop motif, and playing his albums quietly in the background doesn’t really do him justice. But absent any real hooks to pull you in, it’s hard to justify listening all that closely. Though there are a couple decent stand-alone tracks here, and he mixes up the sound a bit with heavier keyboards and electronic fills, nothing here rises to the level of prior Pernice tracks like “Working Girls” and “Weakest Shade Of Blue.” Sure, as with his other works, most of this is fairly pretty, and Joe’s got that voice, that distinctive one man choral section, which can salvage even the most lightweight tune. But the album, unless I’m too tired to get off the couch, simply invites multitasking, more so than the last few.


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