When word came down that The Pernice Brothers' next album would involve producer Michael Deming—who presided over the hushed, heartbreaking latter days of Joe Pernice's previous outfit, Scud Mountain Boys—an interesting question arose. Would Pernice and company return to the sad-and-stoned feel of their oldest efforts? Or would they stick with the lush, orchestrated chamber-pop sounds of the last few years?
Live A Little answers that question immediately: It's Pernice Brothers all the way. Pernice and his collaborators—with praise especially due to guitarist Peyton Pinkerton, whose playing here echoes his finest moments with New Radiant Storm King—are sticking with the sugar-bomb pop sweetness that got them this far; when Pernice delivers the line "think of the humanity" on the album's opener, "Automaton," it isn't the expression of a man watching a zeppelin explode, but of one reminding his girlfriend to pick up something for their picnic.
It's only a slightly subtler version of the winning formula that produced critical favorites like Yours, Mine & Ours, but it's just as impossible not to like. The lonely open spaces that marked Pernice's earliest work are long gone, as witnessed by a glowing, clean cover of the Scud Mountain Boys' "Grudge Fuck" that loses the original song's stripped-down despair. But the strings-heavy arrangements can't bury the solid songwriting underneath, and Deming's production is just spare enough to let a lot of good music emerge from the syrup. It's been five albums now, and Joe Pernice is less concerned with the soul's dark places than the heart's light moments, but it's hard to begrudge him his happiness when it comes in such a pretty package.