Music News

Chappaquiddick Skyline

Not enough people heard the Pernice Brothers' here's-where-the-strings-come-in debut, 1998's Overcome by Happiness, a record full of big melodies and tiny sentiments. And you can bet that in a year, the same will apply to Chappaquiddick Skyline, because both records never fly high enough to land on anyone's radar.

On Overcome by Happiness, singer-guitarist Joe Pernice sang every word as though he'd just gotten the wind knocked out of him; his voice showed every crack, and the nine-man pocket symphony he had assembled filled every one of them. It was a revelation, if only because Pernice's previous outfit, the Scud Mountain Boys, was capable of occasional moments of brilliance ("Freight of Fire," off 1995's Pine Box) and much more frequent bouts of mediocrity (most of everything else).

Overcome by Happiness was Pernice's escape hatch, and Chappaquiddick Skyline continues the flight, though it's not exactly a new band and it's definitely not a new sound. The band is essentially the same as the Pernice Brothers, except for, you know, one of the brothers, Bob. Actually, Chappaquiddick Skyline is pretty much the lineup Joe Pernice took on the road to support Overcome by Happiness, a portable orchestra with keyboardist Laura Stein subbing for the string section that appeared on the album. Similarly, the songs on Chappaquiddick Skyline are scaled-down affairs, featuring more straightforward guitar-bass-drums arrangements than before, uncovering the songs instead of hiding them. Strings appear intermittently, courtesy of samples, but mostly, the disc is about Pernice's tattered lullabies and the delicate way he sings them.

Well, any song that almost exclusively consists of Pernice moaning and groaning "I hate my life" (the disc's leadoff track "Everyone Else Is Evolving") would hardly qualify as a bedtime song. Neither would "Nobody's Watching," which reads more like a stalker's prayer: "Undo your clothes in the window-shade-less night/And if you can't see me watching you, please let them go/Mary full of grace, can I make it right tonight?" But "Nobody's Watching" is only one of Pernice's tales of desperate men passively taking on the roles of extras in the film adaptation of their lives. On "Hundred Dollar Pocket," the narrator professes his unrequited love for a woman he seemingly has never met, maybe one of the girls in various stages of undress he's spied on through bedroom windows. "I can't say that you ever were my friend, but I loved you as hard as I could fall," Pernice sighs. "I know there's nothing I can do. . . . Somebody else is loving you." It's the most tender and creepy moment on a record full of both.

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Zac Crain