Over the course of 2019, Paste has reviewed about 300 albums. Yet, hundreds—if not thousands—of albums have slipped through the cracks. This December, we’re delighted to launch a new series called No Album Left Behind, in which our core team of critics reviews some of their favorite records we may have missed the first time around, looking back at some of the best overlooked releases of 2019.
Only Joe Pernice could take the line, “It’s a fickle market,” and lodge it deeply enough in your skull that you find yourself inadvertently singing it under your breath at the grocery store, while crossing the street, fixing a coffee, whatever. It’s nowhere near the best lyric on the Pernice Brothers’ first new album since 2010—there are too many contenders to list them all—but it’s indicative of Pernice’s distinctive ability to pair unlikely turns of phrase with beguiling musical hooks. He’s in particularly rare form on Spread the Feeling, the band’s eighth LP.
The album is among the most robust the Pernice Brothers have ever made, emphasizing bright guitars and muscular rhythms on bold songs practically bursting with melodic shrapnel sure to embed itself in your subconscious. There’s a restless, pent-up edge on many of the tracks, which makes sense in light of the fact that Pernice recorded a full-length album a few years ago that he decided he didn’t like enough to release. He rescued a few of those songs for this LP, which includes contributions from his usual collaborators—his brother Bob Pernice, Ric Menck, Frank Padellaro, Peyton Pinkerton and James Walbourne among them—as well as Neko Case and Pete Yorn.
The “fickle market” line comes from opener “Mint Condition,” which begins with a pair of chugging guitars as Pernice promises to “grind an edge on a blunted pride.” The next time through, he adds multi-tracked vocals, then a dual-guitar harmony break, handclaps and, in the background toward the end of the song when the instrumentation has receded back to chugging guitars, there’s a sly, faint keyboard part repeating the main riff. It’s a whole pop universe contained in a three-minute song.
That’s true of most of the tracks on Spread the Feeling. “The Devil and The Jinn” contains one of the catchiest melodies Pernice has written in 30 years of writing catchy melodies, and he matches it with nimble wordplay on lyrics that offer derisive analogies about love, as a kind of sardonic response to facile love songs that get all dewy-eyed about it. Brash guitars and harmony vocals from Case on the chorus round out the tune, and the whole thing is so glorious that you could hit repeat a million times and forget to listen to the rest of the album. That would be a mistake, of course: “Skinny Jeanne” alone is worth continuing on, thanks to jangling guitars and yet another glittering hook on the refrain that’s just daring you to bite down and take your chances.
A few slower jams lurk among these 11 songs (13, if you count the bonus tracks). One of them, the minimalist “Evidently So,” never really sparks, but “I Came Back” sure does. The song is a cold reckoning as Pernice sings from the perspective of someone confronting a harrowing experience in the past. He doesn’t spell out what happened, but you can guess based on the opening line—”Bless me, Father, it’s been far too many years”—and the refrain: “I came back to hear the old man cry,” he sings, followed by a lacerating guitar that slices through the hazy ’60s California 12-string guitar vibe.
In its way, Spread the Feeling is an old-fashioned album. The Pernice Brothers are working within a well-established pop tradition, with variations here and there on the theme. There are no genre-bending explorations, no big-picture cultural innovations that are capital-I Important, but also not much fun to listen to. Instead, Joe Pernice did what he does best: He wrote a batch of irrepressibly catchy pop songs that are better than almost anybody else’s. He’s not pioneering new musical forms; he’s perfecting an existing one.