Superchunk: Aging gracefully
Indie legends return with more of the same
When Chapel Hill, N.C., indie rock veterans Superchunk released Majesty Shredding in 2010, it was with little to no lead-up or particular hype. That album — the band's first full-length since 2001's Here's to Shutting Up — came from out of nowhere, quietly hosting Superchunk's classic power pop motifs with an air of urgency stemming from the near-decade of radio silence. Superchunk now returns with I Hate Music, a straightforward dose of affected indie rock that seemingly signals a return to the band's MO: Keep things simple and release an album every couple of years.
The group's lineup, which has remained steady since 1991 with Mac McCaughan (guitar/vocals), Laura Ballance (bass), Jon Wurster (drums), and Jim Wilbur (guitar), certainly kept busy in the downtime. McCaughan maintained his rewarding solo project as Portastatic. Wurster became drummer of the stars, keeping rhythm and pounding percussion for the likes of Bob Mould and the Mountain Goats. Both Ballance and McCaughan continue to own and operate Merge Records, Durham, N.C.'s indie institution that has issued landmark albums by Neutral Milk Hotel, the Magnetic Fields, the Arcade Fire, and Spoon, to name a few. Maintaining these firm footholds in the indie rock spectrum has kept the band's members far from dormant while leaving the Superchunk name, and youthful sentiments.
Superchunk isn't twee by any means, but they have no interest in ever growing up. They're totally comfortable with that. And their fans are cool with that too. With Majesty Shredding, Superchunk was making up for lost time, channeling a near decade's worth of pent-up energy and youthful indiscretions into the group's possibly strongest LP yet. The urgency and excitement of those songs beamed through with a sincerity that tore down any preconceived notions of fair-weather reunion or absentminded jamming for old time's sake.
It seems there was enough residual joy of playing together again to belt out another set of middle-of-the-road power pop tunes that play it just safe enough to please the masses. I Hate Music's insincere title is the biggest gamble here, doubling down on Superchunk's playful, softened sardonicism. Heavier tracks like "Void" and "Your Theme" host darkly raucous melodies without losing the charming "ooh's" and "aah's" spotlighted elsewhere. Even "Staying Home," a barely one-minute flurry of hardcore-lite hosts enough chanted backing vocals to guarantee bouncy sing-along activity when played live.
The band still excels at its trademark proto-emo power pop anthems that resonate with the average Joe. Opening track "Overflows" is a harmless appreciation of young eagerness and modest excitement, as McCaughan sings, "Standing on the corner in the fallen snow, posing for a picture in a smile that says 'Let's go. Don't let go, let go.'" The scene is all too familiar to anyone who experienced aimless attraction and forthright frivolity. Lead single "Me & You & Jackie Mittoo" is a giddy blitz of hook-happy pop, lyrically referencing moments of adolescent ennui — hanging around record fairs with classic Jamaican reggae playing in the background.
Although Superchunk's sound has not aged, the band is showing signs of age. Most literally, Ballance will not play live with the group for this tour or for the foreseeable future due to Hyperacusis. So the only question that remains is how long can they stay so young at heart?