Pernice Brothers

w/Warren Zanes, Sparrow

Fri July 11, Tractor, 9 pm, $10.

It's embarrassing, humiliating, and even mortifying. But eventually the planets align and we realize that all along, it was meant to be. Even if we forced it.

We come to love a band's particular album because more than any other they may have put out in the past, at that precise moment, this one speaks directly to us. Obsession and repeated play follow, then obsessive and repeated play of one specifically meaningful song sets in, and then you find yourself, as I did, blubbering to its writer about how perfectly timed the introduction of said song was in your life and you almost cry when he responds: "I'm sorry you were feeling so down, but this is exactly the feedback I like to hear. I'm flattered that my song reached you in the way I hoped it would when I wrote it. Writing it was cathartic for me and I hoped others would benefit, too."

The album I'm talking about is Pernice Brothers' 2001 release The World Won't End, and the song is "Our Time Has Passed." It's about the kind of quick yet powerful relationship that ends so abruptly you're never truly able to comprehend what went wrong and why. "There's a box I still can't open/There's a name that hurts to say/I fall in love with the way I'm shaking," sang Joe Pernice at a time when I could lift the lid on my box only just wide enough to slide in another puzzling reminder I'd discovered. In the end, after all the detritus had been collected and the box had grown dusty from having sat on the shelf for a while, I threw it away, photographs, letters, mix CDs, and all, without ever opening it. "Our Time Has Passed" now holds the contents of that box; the items are as useless in their physical shape as they were in their significance. I told that story to Joe Pernice.

Pernice certainly isn't the first person to set wryly achy lyrics to the sunniest of pop tunes, but he just might be the only guy who's done it to perfection over the course of three albums since 1998, when his first post-Scud Mountain Boys effort, Overcome by Happiness, was released. It featured a 10-piece orchestra, bright with horns and piano, and an opening track titled "Crestfallen." The title track features a line about waiting to feel "the waves crashing out of your eyes," just before an entire Bacharach catalog's worth of string-laden pop pours forth. The World Won't End was all that and more, with some pedal steel thrown in for added lushness.

Now Yours, Mine & Ours breezes in and seals the fact that Pernice's songwriting is on a par with Morrissey's when it comes to up-tempo melodies hooked to lyrics that are happily dejected and actually looking forward to situations sure to end in misery. The opening track, "The Weakest Shade of Blue," finds Pernice asking, "Won't you come away with me/and begin something we can't understand?" and promising, "I'll save you from the dreamy life/to the hardest love you could ever know." "Could it be so wrong?" he urges, and the song is so damn joyful-sounding that the only answer any listener could give him is "no."

Pernice, who is 35, says his habit of writing happy-sounding sad songs is the outcome of having listened to pop like Simon and Garfunkel and the Zombies as a kid. After an unbelievable amount of bad cell phone connections as the band drives through Arizona's desert, Pernice finally gets close enough to the metro Phoenix area to get a decent signal, and explains, "By chance my personality and the music I was brought up with collided, and the style was shaped early."

The glimmering "Baby in Two" off of Yours, Mine & Ours references David Essex's "Rock On" (with Pernice adding his trademark tragedy to the interpretation): "Hey kid, rock and roll/A bull's-eye's hung on your soul." And "Sometimes I Remember" reflects his love of the Cure, whose "In Between Days" is recognizably just below the surface.

I want to know what he listens to when he's feeling sad--maybe he likes "traditional sad" when he's full of woe? Nope. "I listen to Dusty in Memphis or Simon and Garfunkel. I tend to gravitate toward pop most of the time." Hurt rarely sounds so good.