When Joe Pernice was a schoolkid growing up in suburban Holbrook, he’d wait for the MBTA bus at the top of his street, which arrived once an hour. The bus would wheeze its way through Braintree to Quincy Center, where he’d get off and hoof it over to Jason’s Luggage and Music.
En route, he’d “hope to God” the new album he was looking for — Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Model,” for instance — wouldn’t be sold out. If it was, he’d haul his disappointment onto the bus back home, where he’d ask his parents if they could drive him to the Westgate Mall in Brockton to track it down.
In early September, Pernice released “Spread the Feeling,” the seventh studio album from his primary band, the Pernice Brothers. It’s the group’s first since 2010, and Pernice has decided to make it available in just one place: on Bandcamp, the artist-friendly online music clearinghouse. No Spotify, no Pandora, no Apple Music. For $10, you can download the digital album on the Bandcamp site. For a few dollars more, you can order a CD. Twenty bucks gets you a vinyl copy.
Fans — and Pernice’s bands, including the short-lived, archly gentle Scud Mountain Boys, have earned some very loyal longtime fans — have been thrilled to learn that he hasn’t missed a beat.
“We’ve done zero marketing, except for some social media stuff,” says Pernice, on the phone from his home of 14 years, Toronto, where he lives with his wife and young son. Despite his commitment to austerity, he says, “this record is actually selling. I’m kind of stunned. I was prepared for it to just vanish after a day. Everyone said, ‘If you don’t stream, you’re dead.’ ”
And when the odd listener has reached out to complain about the lack of options to hear the album, Pernice can only laugh, thinking back to those days on the bus, his adolescent self schlepping across the South Shore to bring home the bounty of his new favorite record.
Pernice can sometimes be his own worst critic. Seven or eight years ago, he wrote and recorded a dozen or so songs for a new Pernice Brothers album. Then he decided to throw the whole thing out.
“It just wasn’t any good,” he says flatly. The self-imposed bar is high for a guy who specializes in “perfect” pop, as he’s pretty much nailed on Pernice Brothers jewels such as “Chicken Wire” (1998) and “Somerville” (2006).
About a year ago, he let a friend convince him that there were some good songs in the batch he’d scrapped, songs that were ripe for resurrection. By then, he was well underway with the new material that would become “Spread the Feeling.” (The Pernice Brothers will play a scant few upcoming dates in support of the album, including Oct. 18 at the Town and the City Festival in Lowell and the following night at the Parlor Room in Northampton, the town where he lived while attending UMass Amherst.)
It’s not as though Pernice needed those older songs to pad the new album. He’s been on a creative tear, he says, “like I haven’t been on since I was 21 years old. I have three to four more records already written — I’m not kidding.”
From the rousing romanticism of “Always in All Ways” to the deceptive lilt of “I Came Back” — which involves, ominously, a Catholic priest — the new album showcases Pernice’s knack for melody and a paperback writer’s ability to capture an audience from page one.
“Skinny Jeanne will be the death of you,” he sings brightly, not unhappily, to open one jangly track which, thankfully, survived the purge.
In the studio, Pernice worked with some familiar friends, including his brother Bob, Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne, and co-producer Liam Jaeger, as well as guests such as Neko Case and Ric Menck. Production-wise, there are strong hints of shimmering alternative ’80s pop-rock, from New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen to the Mighty Lemon Drops.
“There’s a little more muscle, for sure,” Pernice says.
This burst of productivity came on the heels of a chilling health scare, he says. A couple of years ago, Pernice suddenly became dizzy, and he began to suffer terrible ringing in his ears. Bedridden for weeks and undergoing a battery of tests for some potentially serious problems, “I was freaking out,” he says.
It turned out to be “just a mechanical thing” — his jaw was misaligned. Immensely relieved, he’s been pouring his renewed energy into his music. It’s “obvious and evidently so,” as one of the prettiest songs on the new album suggests. We don’t need a second opinion: We can confirm that Joe Pernice’s ears and mouth are back in harmony.
The Pernice Brothers
At The Town and the City Festival, Academic Arts Center, Lowell, Oct. 18. Tickets $16 (day and weekend passes also available) www.thetownandthecityfestival.com
At the Parlor Room, Northampton. Tickets $15-$18, www.signaturesoundspresents.com