In their 14 or so years of existence, Pernice Brothers have made it clear that they are all about the song. Nevermind lofty concept albums, Joe Pernice and company simply write great pop songs the way they’ve been written for decades — with sweet melodies, catchy hooks, and heartworn lyrics. That approach has helped them quietly assemble one of the most consistent discographies in independent music.
But as consistent as they are, no two records sound exactly the same. So after a series of increasingly lush albums, including 2006’s string-laden Live a Little, Pernice Brothers are back with their most stripped-down and direct album to date. Goodbye, Killer is a concise pop record, one that delivers lean hooks and a newly found ragged feel that backs up Joe Pernice’s hushed voice well. There’s also a dusty twang to the record, one that will throw you back to Joe Pernice’s days in the excellent country outfit Scud Mountain Boys.
Here, though, that slight country feel has a lot more energy to it. The disc starts with two power-pop numbers — “Bechamel” and Jacqueline Suzann” — that show a rocking side to these guys we haven’t seen in a few records. From there, they bounce from the country rag of “We Love the Stage” to the summery, Ronnie Wood-style riffing of the title track, to the overcast pop tunes we’ve come to expect from Pernice on songs like “The Loving Kind.”
Joe Pernice uses these songs to explore a series of people on the outskirts. These songs are populated by obsessed foodies (find another pop song that mentions coq au vin, I dare you), guys who fall in love with the girl on the train reading Ford Maddox Ford, and ignored opening bands in empty bars, among other ousiders. It’s a list of characters we’ve heard before, but Pernice makes them fresh with both his knack for melody and his attention to detail. Plus, he balances well his hyper-verbose lyrics with an approachable charm. It’s not easy to pull off rhyming “cellophane” with “aspartame,” but Pernice makes it work without calling too much attention to his cleverness.
So part of the allure of Goodbye, Killer is that it’s an understated set of 10 songs. But there is such a thing as being too understated. And after the one-two punch of “Bechamel” and “Jacqueline Suzann,” the rest settles into a mid-tempo that might not immediately grab your attention. But you don’t need to give this album a terribly long leash to win you over. These pop songs all work well — the melodies are tight, the playing energetic, the lyrics both smart and emotive. In short, it’s another solid Pernice Brothers record.