While interviewing Joe Pernice around the time the Pernice Brothers released their 2006 album “Live a Little,” I was marveling over some particularly dazzling turn of phrase in his lyrics. You could practically hear him shrug over the phone. “The right word is the right word,” he said.
Choosing the right word has been a hallmark of Pernice’s songwriting, along with melodic hooks so deft and catchy that his songs seem predestined to end up stuck in your head. Both attributes are in full effect on “Spread the Feeling,” the Pernice Brothers’ first new album in nine years. That’s a long time these days, long enough that first hearing the chugging guitar part that opens first song “Mint Condition” feels like rediscovering a delicacy you’d forgotten you loved. And then, of course, it’s all you can do not to gorge.
Fortunately, there are more than enough jangly guitars and hummable melodies here to go around. “Mint Condition” blossoms into a robust chorus stacked with multi-tracked vocals and a dense blend of churning guitars. The instrumental break that follows the first time through features a dual-harmony guitar, and there are handclaps later in the song, for chrissakes. It’s sunny and murky all at once—a perfect three-minute (and seven-second) pop song. And then Pernice & Co. do it again. And again. And again, on one song after another.
Pernice writes on Bandcamp that “Spread the Feeling” “definitely has the most ‘muscle’ of all my records,” and that’s true. The music is bright and punchy, even on the slower songs, and many of the tunes have a finely honed edge. It’s apparent in the cutting lyrics on “The Devil and the Jinn,” where Pernice lists off a series of pejorative comparisons to love: “Love is the breaking of a bone/ A burning cauliflower ear still throbbing on the telephone,” he sings on one of them, but he seemingly saves the clincher for himself, amid luminous, bristling guitars: “You piss away your life writing stupid songs that try to say what love is.” It’s a meta anti-love-song love song, and if that weren’t enough, Neko Case sings on it. I’ve listened to it dozens of times already.
Elsewhere, vocal harmonies pop like a flash of color out of the incandescent riff powering “Skinny Jeanne,” while a spare acoustic guitar intro on “I Came Back” gives way to a searing electric breaks and stately, chiming 12-string guitars that sound like something out of the late-’60s California pop scene. Really, there’s not a dud in the bunch, and Pernice is ably helped by a cast of musicians including his brother Bob, Liam Jaeger, Ric Menck, Frank Padellaro, Peyton Pinkerton, James Walbourne and Pete Yorn.
It’s not like Pernice wasn’t busy over the past nine years. He reunited with his previous band, the Scud Mountain Boys; worked on the side projects the New Mendicants (with Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub) and Roger Lion (with hip-hop producer Budo), and got a job as a staff writer on the Canadian cop show "The Detail." He also apparently recorded a full-length Pernice Brothers album that he scrapped at the last minute when he decided he didn't like the songs enough to release it. So his work ethic seems like it’s functioning just fine. All the same, now that we’ve remembered what it’s like to have a new Pernice Brothers album to devour, here’s hoping it doesn’t take another nine years before the next one.