Saturday , December 9 2023
Confounding expectations...

Pernice Brothers – “Zero Refills”

Expectations in entertainment fascinate me.  I love thinking about the inherent contradictions and idiosyncrasies of them and how one artist can do something and be hailed for it while another artist could do the identical thing and be pilloried for it.  Some artists follow the rules and others break them.  Some artists play to our expectations.  Others use them against us and confound our ears.  

We may try to be unbiased and open-minded.  We might even achieve it some of the time.  Some listeners might even be good at it.  Some listeners and critics have more rules than others but we're all prone to the expectations game on some level.  

I can't say I've heard it all but I have heard plenty of good and bad examples of a lot and when taken together, I've concluded you can't draw any strong conclusions.  The ideas of expectations, open-mindedness, preference, following the rules, breaking the rules- they're not inherently good or bad.  I think of five counterarguments to nearly every definitive statement I try to make before I finish the sentence, and that's part of why I find all of this fascinating.

I got to thinking about all this while listening to "Zero Refills" by Pernice Brothers from their Live a Little album.  It's all very typical Pernice Brothers — which is fine because I quite adore typical Pernice Brothers — until about the 3:10 mark when something unexpected happens.  The song opens with a chiming, repeated, rhythmic piano figure while a melodic bass line prominently walks in the door.  Pernice's voice is perfectly lovely, as always.  It's all very Pernice-y and then somewhere around the middle of the song sweeping orchestration adds further sonic definition. It's a nice addition but strings have been part of Pernice songs going back to his debut, Overcome By Happiness.  Then we get to that 3:10 mark and–

Listening to a Pernice Brothers record for the guitar solos is like listening to glam metal for its social commentary.  That may be overstating the case, but you get the idea.  The Pernice Brothers are not exactly a "guitar band," but for a minute and a half at the end of "Zero Refills" they became one.  It's not a glam metal shred fest or some atonal jazz weirdness or angular prog rock meditation, but it sticks in my head.  It's not inventive, just unexpected.  A melodic guitar line gently cuts against the grain of the song, driving it to the fadeout.

I love the composition — music, lyrics, and all — but sometimes I listen to the instrumental version to really focus on the way the piece is constructed (pre-orders of this 2006 album were accompanied by a bonus disc of demos, instrumentals, and alternate versions).  Whichever version I listen to, it's that unexpected twist at the end that has made this song stay with me.  

About Josh Hathaway

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