Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Tiny Tunes

By Michael Henningsen

JULY 13, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Stewart
!!!!= Sure
!!!= Loves
!!= His
!= Pet Sounds

The Grassy Knoll III (Antilles)

Bob Green, the main creative force behind San Francisco-based sonic revolution that is the Grassy Knoll, is far more concerned with the pieces of the puzzle than with fitting them together according to the pretty picture on the box. He's interested in the randomness of individual sounds rather than their plausibility with respect to being paired with others. As a child, one can safely bet that Green preferred the Spirograph™ to Paint-by-Numbers™. And over the course of three albums, Green and Co. have shown us that sometimes creating one's own finished puzzle out of pieces intended to be arranged in one specific way results in an image far more curious and beautiful than "serving suggestions" or "desired results."

Perhaps the most aptly titled Grassy Knoll album to date, III makes an even more concerted effort to force illogical concepts into a rock format than did the band's previous effort, Positive (Antilles), amounting to a sound that can perhaps only be accurately described as "music for film school students." Like the documentary photographs that earned him a degree, Green tackles the concepts of composition and context in music from an almost visual perspective--his lengthy, intricately detailed instrumental exercises conjure stop-frame video images and still shots that burn their way into the listening mind with Kodachrome intensity.

III isn't simply about conjoining trip-hop, free jazz, ethereal samples and post-rock. Green's genius here, as with past Grassy Knoll records, lies in his ability to think about music differently, from all angles. Even the most straightforward musical concepts he employs sound off with a sort of creepy luminescence brighter than anything Tricky or DJ Shadow have been able to manage so far. For Green, there's more to it than the alternate cutting and pasting of the technological and human element. III is vibrant proof that he's come closer to melding the two than ever before. !!!! 1/2 (MH)

The Pernice Brothers Overcome By Happiness (Sub Pop)

Whoda thunk it? Singer/songwriter Joe Pernice used to lead the alt.country Scud Mountain Boys. But the Pernice Brothers have nothing other than Joe's reedy vocals in common with the Scuds; there's not a bit o' twang to be found here.

Overcome By Happiness features a standard pop quintet backed by an unusual orchestra: violins, viola, cello, harp, three trombones and flugelhorn. Combined with the downcast lyrics (rarely are album titles so ironic), the alternately lush and bare-bones music feels like a cross between the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Big Star's Sister Lovers as written and sung by Nick Drake.

"Crestfallen" starts the album with an inviting acoustic guitar melody before stopping dead for a minute and a half of wordless moans over minimalist strings, an eerie coda forecasting the desolate, barely-a-minute-long "Sick of You," the most overtly Big Star-like song here. The languid, can't-be-bothered-to-keep-from-nodding-out darkness of this song sits next to the album's only truly upbeat song, "Clear Spot," which has the same brief moment of hope function as Sister Lovers' "For You."

After that respite, the album returns to desperation and hopelessness. Unlike a lot of artists mining similar lyrical territory, Joe Pernice recognizes (like Nick Drake and Alex Chilton) that dark lyrics hit harder when tossed off with seeming nonchalance. A singer like Mark Eitzel would bellow a line like "They found her car still running in the garage" (from "Chicken Wire"), whereas Pernice's dry, matter-of-fact tone throughout the song lets the details of the lyrics themselves achieve their creepy resonance.

The Bacharach-like trombone solo fading out "Chicken Wire" encapsulates the other half of Overcome By Happiness' dichotomy: The arrangements and melodies here are relentlessly lovely, to the point that songs like "Shoes and Clothes" or "Wherein Obscurely" wouldn't sound the least bit out of place on the most conservative AAA radio playlist. But they're never so pretty that they obscure the bitterness of the lyrics. Listening to Overcome By Happiness is like knocking back a glass of what you thought was apple juice and having it turn out to be straight bourbon. !!!! (SM)

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