Justin Courtney Pierre – ‘Permanent Midnight’

By Ian Kenworthy

What if you could look into someone’s soul? What would you see? After Motion City Soundtrack called it a day, Justin Courtney Pierre was at a loose end. He still had things to say, and as singer-songwriter, he had the means to do so. Back in 2018 he released a solo album, but it wasn’t enough, so he embarked on a three-EP adventure that came to a close last year, but that still wasn’t enough. So now he presents ‘Permanent Midnight’, the fourth in a trilogy.

Over the course of five tracks the EP tells you a story, one about Pierre’s life. If you enjoyed his previous work, this is similar; a sort of less hyperactive Motion City Soundtrack. It’s also significantly less cool – assuming he ever was, but this is a man with a grey beard, making a grand, rock record about how age caught up with him. It’s five slices of sadness, each presented in a different way.

The opening of ‘Used To Be Old School’ sets the mood with a sort of 50’s rock ballad vibe. It’s confident and branches out into a wall of vocals that really makes use of his falsetto. The chorus is weighty, the refrain clever and you’ll notice all the hallmarks of his earlier work; it’s a lovely song and an effective use of his established talents. That’s not to say there aren’t ideas here, but this feels like a piece of a story, his story, and dividing the tracks into chapters is the best way to make sense of it.

Every story has a middle, and leading single ‘House Of Strangers’ comfortably treads this central ground. It’s a solid and exciting song, clearly showcasing the sonic difference between this and his preceding EPs, largely down to Jacob Carlson’s production and Chris Shaw’s mix. The sound is fuller and makes instrumentation crisp and weighty, giving the music a sense of breadth, reaching out and embracing a wider sound, which you’ll also notice on the other middle-ground songs. ‘Back At 45’ features a wandering bassline, while ‘You’re The Reason’ is thickened by chiming bells and synths which are flavours he hasn’t really explored on his solo work.

Another feature of his solo work is its focus – after all, he burned through his debut album in less than thirty minutes and the songs here never outstay their welcome, laying down their piece and then leaving, making the EP short and surprisingly re-listenable. Nothing is overworked or tired.

While his main band yoyos in and out of existence, this is very much a personal project. You could call ‘Back At 45’ a classic, with all his greatest strengths in one song; it’s fun, insightful, and catchy as hell.  It’s also strange because it’s overdubbed with his child singing along, which is delightfully bizarre, especially as it’s a hugely assured song. It’s also remarkably clever to have a young person comment on an older man’s song – and yes, it’s a bit awkward, but it still works.

Pierre’s greatest skill is making his songs inherently catchy – meaning he’s always being lumped in with pop-punk when he’s always been an emo at heart. The lyrical honesty makes Weezer a good comparison, but Pierre has something that their singer Rivers Cuomo has always avoided – self-awareness. So although ‘You’re The Reason’ is a little more ribald, it neatly shows off the similarities. Both songwriters are family men over 40 writing catchy songs from a very different perspective to ones in their 20s; it’s a very different tone, shaped by experience.

‘So Beautiful and Difficult’ opens with the line “Suddenly, I’ve lived over half my life,” and as Pierre croons over a descending organ, it captures a huge amount of sadness. It’s intimate but not overwrought, and only those with a heart of stone will be able to make it through without tears welling in the corners of their eyes. This is a deeply personal song and easily one of his finest.

As Justin Courtney Pierre’s new EP is a case of saving the best until last. Each song is assured, effective and painfully honest. ‘Permanent Midnight’ is a little better sounding, a little more personal and a little sadder. It’s incrementally brilliant. Despite neatly bringing his run of EPs to a close, if he has more to say, we’d love to hear it.

IAN KENWORTHY

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