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Tandem: Pernice Brothers' 'Overcome by Happiness'

I’m reading the liner notes of a promo copy of Overcome by Happiness, the Pernice Brothers album released by Sub Pop in the spring of 1998. On “Crestfallen,” the album’s first song, Joe Pernice sings, “Oh, I need some time to make sense of something I lost along on the ride” as Aaron Sperske’s drums fill the space behind his voice. A few bars later, a string section enters on the left side of the stereo picture just before the band—Thom Monahan on bass, Peyton Pinkerton on guitar, Bob Pernice on guitar and vocals—hits the chorus. About two minutes later, I think the song might be over, but the guitar returns, followed by the bass and drums, only this time Michael Deming’s string arrangement takes the place of Joe Pernice’s lead vocal. When the song is over, I read the back cover of the CD, which I found about a year ago in the bins at Reckless Records here in Chicago. The cardboard sleeve is now yellow and faded, and, just beneath the copyright notice, I read a warning from Sub Pop. Or maybe it’s a suggestion: “Not for Sale,” it reads. “Surrender on demand.”

I know Joe Pernice and his brother Bob had nothing to do with those last two lines. They’re not part of the liner notes, and they have nothing to do with the songs. But I read those two lines of legalese in the same spirit as I hear the first line of “Crestfallen”: a voice from the past that I recognize only when I surrender to it. When I listen to Overcome by Happiness—a record I didn’t own in 1998 and didn’t hear until 2014 when Allison suggested I listen to it—I hear the other records and songs produced by Mike Deming at Studio .45 in Hartford, Connecticut. Seattle and Chicago produced some of the most popular bands of the 1990s, but Connecticut and Western Massachusetts produced some of the decade’s best music, and a lot of it came from Deming’s studio: listen to Monsterland’s “Jane Wiedlin Used to Be a Go-Go As Far As We Know” from the Danbury, Connecticut band’s 1994 EP At O...