Pernice Brothers could best be deemed a power-pop group, but singer-songwriter Joe Pernice delivers his dark tales with such an overwhelming sense of heartbreak and resignation that the word "pop" sounds inappropriate. Pernice is remarkably prolific, and his worldview doesn't appear to change much, no matter what group he's leading. Scud Mountain Boys sounded downtrodden even by country standards, and the first Pernice Brothers disc was as glum as the third Big Star record. Then there was Chappaquiddick Skyline's self-titled album, which began with the line, "I hate my life," followed by Big Tobacco, a solo album that included songs intended for the final Scud Mountain Boys release. Now, Pernice has rotated back to Pernice Brothers, where he seems most at home. The group's songs are gorgeously arranged, orchestrated, and produced like still more teenage symphonies to God, but, of course, their outlook is still grim. "Working Girls (Sunlight Shines)" and "Bright Side" both mention suicide before the album is even half over. "Flaming Wreck," a harrowing first-person plane-crash narrative, doesn't perk things up, but despite all the darkness, Pernice's songs have never sounded brighter. A bitter if enigmatic breakup song, "7:30" features some of the best cascading harmonies since "California Dreamin'," while "Let That Show" playfully dissects classic-rock tropes, including a subtle, fashionable-in-1975 disco breakdown replete with soaring, syncopated strings. Even though Pernice, his pretty voice wavering with shyness, projects a vibe of perpetual vulnerability, The World Won't End actually represents something of a confident gamble on his part. Released on his own Ashmont Records, the lush, perfectly realized record is everything most people don't expect from independent music, but without a big label pushing it, World could still get lost in the shuffle. That would be a shame, as Pernice again proves himself one of the strongest songwriters working today, and The World Won't End a prime candidate for album of the year. (Ashmont Records, 10A Burt St., Dorchester, MA 02124, www.ashmontrecords.com)

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