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Chappaquiddick Skyline - S/T (Sub Pop)

by Courtney Knopf

"I hate my life," laments Joe Pernice in the opening moments of the first offering from Chappaquiddick Skyline. So clearly we know we’re in for a rollercoaster of happiness. No, not really. If you’re looking for fun, mindless pop music, Chappaquiddick Skyline is not the place to find it. But if you’re into moody, beautiful, feeling sorry for yourself music, Joe Pernice is your man. In 1998, along with brother Bob Pernice, the former front man of the Scud Mountain Boys formed the Pernice Brothers and released Overcome By Happiness, one of the most beautiful, lushly orchestrated pop albums of that year.

Chappaquiddick Skyline covers a lot of the same territory explored by Pernice on Overcome By Happiness, but does so on a smaller scale. While he is joined by a most of his Pernice Brothers bandmates as well as quite a few other friends, there are no 9-piece string orchestras and no Bacharach-esque flugelhorns to be found in the arrangements. This is a much more spare endeavor, a lo-fi journey that was recorded at home entirely on an 8-track, but the result is just as praise-worthy. And the beauty of this album lies in its simplicity.

"Courage Up" is a Beatle-esqe pop song that has the most noticeably dense arrangement on the album, including an organ. The electric guitar work by Joe Harvard is especially reminiscent of The Beatles’ "Something." "The Two Of You Sleep, " a sad song about a man watching his ex-girlfriend asleep with someone else at a party, is a very folky lament that is a direct descendant of Simon & Garfunkle’s "For Emily Whenever I May Find Her." But for all of this comparison to other artists, Joe Pernice is a supremely talented songwriter and musician in his own right. The starkly seductive "Nobody’s Watching" is comprised of nothing but an acoustic guitar while Pernice’s lyrics wrap themselves around you in a dreamy lullabye.

While Chappaquiddick Skyline is not the second Pernice Brothers album, it’s not quite a side project either. It seems to fall into a grey area, considering many of these songs ("Solitary Swedish Houses," "Courage Up") would have fit comfortably on Overcome By Happiness while it’s clear that a few of them (most notably the sampled drum loops of the sublime "Leave Me Alone") would have seemed out of place. While the album has a slightly scattered focus, that seems to work for it rather than against it. I have a feeling that Chappaquiddick Skyline is like a vacation home to Joe Pernice; it’s somewhere he can go when his mind drifts from his main projects and completely be himself. And walk around in his underwear if he wants.


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