People love dogs. People especially love their dogs, which is why it should come as no surprise that Pictures of Vernon, a band named after guitarist Anderson Ragan’s beloved family canine, chose to etch an actual picture of Vernon (may he rest in peace) on the back of their new self-titled 12” EP. A self-described “beauty punk” trio from Asheville by way of Greensboro, North Carolina, Pictures of Vernon is comprised of Ragan on guitar, Matt Brotherton on bass and Daniel Gorham on drums and vocals. After releasing their first two EPs on Bandcamp, Pictures of Vernon teamed up with Massachusetts’ Counter Intuitive Records (Mom Jeans, Who Loves You, Bay Faction) for the present vinyl release of “Pictures of Vernon.”
“Pictures of Vernon” opens with “Mr. Alwaysright,” which serves as a stark introduction to the most prevalent lyrical themes on the EP—coming of age, questioning of authority or one’s upbringing and self-discovery. “I learned how to love from a family/ who didn’t know hot to forget/ I learned how to live as a person/ who only held onto regret,” professes Gorham before the song’s driving momentum lurches forward in a swing of syncopated high-hat and descending chords.
“Mr. Alwaysright” further showcases the band’s broad range of vocal styles, as Ragan’s tepid murmurs contrast his own anguished yells and layer well with Gorham’s octave-up delivery. Gorham’s delivery shifts from a wide-eyed yelp in the verse of “Forever Please” to a raw-throated pleading in the opening of “Public School” to a detached rhetorical questioning in the chorus of “Krelboyne Picnic.”
While Ragan is surely not the first guitarist to compress a Telecaster’s clean tone with the pickup selector in the middle position and proceed to tap harmonizing, cascading arpeggios using both bands, he firmly stakes his claim in the style’s “table of contents” with passages like the verse of “Krelboyne Picnic” and the bridge of “Public School.” Lush layers sparkle and chime as inventive open string voicings ring against moving passages high on the guitar’s neck. Gorham’s drumming is spastic and energetic, yet carefully tailored to meet the needs and dynamic shifts of each song while still providing a stable foundation for Ragan’s fret board fireworks. Brotherton’s distorted bass lines, typically providing musical skeletons, slither and writhe through the sonic space left unclaimed in the intro of “This is Water.” Producer Aslan Freeman deftly captures, arranges and flatters the instrumental performances on “Pictures of Vernon,” adding tasteful vocal effects without distracting or detracting from the songs themselves.
The varied lyrical approach of “Pictures of Vernon” helps avoid the heavy-handedness that can often accompany the overly vivid imagery within their genre, instead couching punch lines in metaphors or similes like, “I’m on a river going too fast/ but the view is nice,” and, “My mouth is a hollow garage/ built to spill the ideas of my mind’s montage.” At the same time, the band doesn’t hesitate to double or triple down (even employing gang vocals) on particularly impactful refrains like “It’s all ruined” in “This is Water” or “Maybe one day you’ll grow up and be happy” in “Forever Please.”
“This is Water,” the cinematic capstone of “Pictures of Vernon,” kicks off with an almost post-rock guitar passage before Gorham gently nudges the song down Interstate 40 West toward its hard-earned apex. “It’s all ruined,” he repeats to himself over a stuttering snare drum build-up that would not be out of place on Blink-182’s 2003 self-titled record. After an exuberant and triumphant double-time scatter drill, Ragan reigns the raucous back in with one last two-handed tantrum that would make Mavis Beacon proud, and the EP is gone.
Somewhere, Vernon is stoked.
Photo by Chris Deverell.