It's entirely possible that Joe Pernice has had all the creative breakthroughs he's going to have in his career. No matter what name he slaps on his literate, soft-pop singer-songwriter projectsScud Mountain Boys, Chappaquiddick Skyline, Pernice Brothers, or something newthey all fall back on pretty melodies, sweet orchestrations, and smart lyrics steeped in regret. But consistency doesn't have to mean complacency, and though Pernice Brothers' new record Discover A Lovelier You doesn't mark a significant advance on the group's stellar previous three albums, it's not exactly a holding pattern either. Pernice makes judicious use of synthesizers throughout Discover A Lovelier You, nodding to his ELO fetish while finding novel ways to make electronics sound natural. The new textures buoy the album's stunning first song, "There Goes The Sun," which layers twangy guitar, skittering percussion, bubbly synths, and Pernice's wispy, sugary vocals, all while making note of the passage of another lonesome day.
Like The Smiths and The Psychedelic Furstwo bands that had as big an influence on Pernice as '70s AM popPernice Brothers make impossibly catchy and pretty music cloaked in ache. Discover's "Saddest Quo" typifies the approach, with its stately country-rock structure, swoony melody, and Pernice's witty self-examination, full of optimism for the kind of person he could be and bitter understanding of the kind of person he is. It's too sunny-sounding a song to be truly despairing, yet its frustration doesn't sound like a put-on. In many ways, Discover is Pernice's most acidic record since his Scud Mountain Boys days. The corrosive sound of songs like "Snow" shatter the twinkly atmosphere, while the lyrics of songs like "Pisshole In The Snow" and "My So-Called Celibate Life" return to the earthy, grumpy poetics that first made pop fans take note of Pernice.
As always, the album is studded with great lines like "Look at all the money that money buys" and "Can you pick a favorite color from a thousand shades of gray?" But Discover A Lovelier You is mostly wrapped up in sound, not words. The last two Pernice Brothers discs alternated lushness and spareness, but this new one is mainly brittle, and full of surprising instrumental touches like the puttering electric guitar over the coda of "Dumb It Down," and the whole Euro-suave feel of the wordless title track. Does rediscovering what a guitar can do count as a bold new direction for Joe Pernice? Not so much. But it adds new hues to a near-flawless batch of sorrowful pop wonders, and ups the power of one of the best songwriters of his era.