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Our critics' picks in new releases

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I have a hunch that Joe Pernice was one of those kids who wrote incredibly dark poetry when he was in high school. You know, the kind who shows it to his friends and they're like, "Oh my God, are you really that depressed?" And he's like, "No." And he tries to explain how he only writes when he's sad and how it actually makes him feel good and how he would write happy poems if only he could think of something to write about.

Pernice may have some more explaining to do when his friends hear his latest batch of desperate, somehow triumphant songs, just released under the less-than-jolly moniker Chappaquiddick Skyline. Twenty-five seconds into the record's opening track ("Everyone Else is Evolving"), the former Scud Mountain Boy and erstwhile leader of the Pernice Brothers croaks, "I hate my life." And he's off and running.

Thankfully, Pernice's delicate vocal delivery keeps the songs from ever becoming overwrought. He can break your heart with the bend of a note or the stretch of one syllable. Musically, the record favors strummed minimalist arrangements, but it also contains a couple of upbeat surprises. "Courage Up" shows a Wilco-esque--uh, I mean Beatles-esque--pop streak. And "Leave Me Alone" is a disorienting indie-pop number with a hypnotic drumbeat.

For the most part, though, Chappaquiddick Skyline drips with a '70s sensitivity ripped right out of the songbook of England Dan and John Ford Coley. Standout songs like "Hundred Dollar Pocket" are unabashed in their emotion. But in contrast to more self-consciously hip '70s slummers (e.g., Archer Prewitt), Pernice offers no winking, no smirking, no knowing sense of retro kitsch. This one's from the heart.

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