Saturday, February 17, 2007

Elimination Dance 2: Overcome By Massachusetts

First of all, apologies for the unreasonable lag between posts. I’ve been busy (you can see some of what I’ve been up to here). But, moving on!

Elimination Dance number two is bound to break my heart.

That’s because it sees Joe Pernice face Joe Pernice. Only one Joe Pernice will emerge from the cage; the other must die. This is a bad thing, because the world needs more of Joe Pernice, not less. But I have a duty to perform. I must choose between these two albums:

The Pernice Brothers, Overcome by Happiness

The Scud Mountain Boys, Massachusetts

Overcome jumps out to an early and impressive lead by virtue of its first track; “Crestfallen” is a slice of pop music heaven, all soaring chorus and jangly-spangly guitar. Probably one of my top 5 songs ever. Ever! “Crestfallen” sets the tone for an album that is a pure joy to listen to, even when it’s delivering the most melancholic of sentiments. Throughout, Pernice’s voice coos and dips in it’s slightly whispery fashion (the nearest reference point is probably Colin Blunstone). “Clear Spot” and “Monkey Suit” pick up the tempo; “All I Know” is a ballad in search of a movie soundtrack.

It’s a Bacharachian sound palette used to deliver Morrisseyesque lyrics. It’s the type of sonic/lyrical dichotomy (bouncy/dire) that colours some of my favourite music (as a technique, it seemed particularly popular among ‘80s British bands, many of whom Pernice cites as influences).

The Scud vibe is a little more laid back. Maybe “hung over” is a better descriptor. It’s woozy and mostly resigned to its place in the gutter. But then comes track #4, “Grudge Fuck” (or “Grudge ****” if you prefer). On the surface, it’s a desperate plea to an ex for one last roll, but in reality it’s a plea for so much more. It’s suitably elegiac until somebody (Joe? Bruce “Don’t Call Me Jethro” Tull?) ratchets up the guitar, and what was beneath the surface is suddenly thick in the air: regret; anger; desperation; crushing defeat; the fear of spending life alone.

The rest of the record skims along like a kitchen table jam with jazzy noodlings and startling moments of naked clarity. “Lift Me Up” is about thinking the next drink will kill you. “Holy Ghost” revisits the sort of regret that “Grudge Fuck” explored earlier, as does “A Ride.” “Glass Jaw” is about a man resigned to his fragility and his shortcomings.

So, a cheery listen Massachusetts is not, but it is warm in the way of a commiserating friend. Sonically, the record is the cold spring wind that reminds you that summer is still a ways off (I might be imposing my earliest memories of the record onto matters here – in truth, Massachusetts’ colours are likely all autumn).

It kills me to choose one record over the other in this case (ED-1 was so cut and dried), but a choice must be made… ad so, for it’s commitment to one solid, consistent feeling (i.e. defeat), combined with overall listenability, I’ll have to grant the edge to Massachusetts (the word count was a dead giveaway, wasn’t it?).

Progress Report 2

“I would give anything just to make it with you, just one more time”:
John Handy, Live at the Monterrey Jazz Festival
The Scud Mountain Boys, Massachusetts

“I don’t feel so overcome by happiness”:
The Spinanes, Arches and Aisles
The Pernice Brothers, Overcome by Happiness

1 comment:

Miss Imperial said...

Wow...Pernice KO Pernice! That's gotta hurt (you, of course).