In your California correspondent’s imaginary kingdom of 1990’s American alternative rock, where Stephen Malkmus is King and Liz Phair Queen, certainly Superchunk has at least a modest duchy in the countryside where it has benevolently and generously nourished generations of appreciative subjects. They built their own castle, Merge Records, that ended up flying a standard to rival that of Matador Records, where they, and so many others, began.
They had DIY gumption, but with a rare efficient and prolific follow through. You may not know that one of your favorite bands is or was on a label started by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance of a little band from North Carolina called Superchunk. Take a moment to Google ‘Merge Records.’ It’s Imperial Teen, Fucked Up, and SACRED PAWS (man, I love SACRED PAWS) that jump out at me. This band nurtured “alternative” rock in its creation and beyond, while it also added its own creations. (They are not without blame for Neutral Milk Hotel.) They even launched Arcade Fire, a band that some people enjoy. I have nothing but admiration for Superchunk.
Let’s talk about Superchunk’s music, shall we? Never been a huge fan. I won’t turn it off, but I won’t seek it out either. McCaughan’s reedy tenor might be the problem. It’s….well, it’s a bit much. It can work, though, when he is bleating to be heard above the chaotic din that Superchunk can generate at its best. The new release, Wild Loneliness, however, quiets things down considerably and the vocals rise to the top, like cream. But curdled.
Right out of the gate, this album is different. ‘City of the Dead’ sounds like it could be a number from Superchunk! The Musical. This is not a slam; I like musical theater and this is by far my favorite cut on the album with its earnest acoustic guitar and strings. You could slip this into a production of Spring Awakening and no one would bat an eye.
The doomsday ditty, ‘Endless Summer,’ and the closing “feel bad” tune, ‘If You’re Not Dark’ (‘If you’re not dark/At least in some little part/What are you on?/And can we get some?’) benefit from guest vocals by Teenage Fan Club and Sharon Van Etten, respectively. When Superchunk turns down the volume, McCaughan’s vocals can use the help.
Lyrically, this album is seeded in a rich loam of naturalistic references: lightning, floods, colonial soil (nice one, that), dogwoods, banana bread, spiders, magnolias, yellow skies and cloudy sunrises. But, it manages not be choked by any hokey nostalgia for a bygone era. It’s just matter- of- fact: things pretty much suck now, but hey, hang out and cope with us. We’ll figure it out. The basement’s flooded, but we just put coffee on. ‘Remake the world when the old one dies.’ The lyrics are thoughtful and mature throughout. I wish the music was occasionally more immature. I wanted more Wild and less Loneliness.
I kept waiting for a howl of sound—a Superchunk sound—that never came. Instead, there is a cheesy sax solo on the title track that made me sad for all the wrong reasons. Hey, you got Gerry Rafferty in my Superchunk!
Other than ‘City of the Dead,’ this one is going to probably stay parked on the digital shelf. But, I am inspired to go back into the extensive catalogue some more. There are 12 albums, not to mention a huge collection of live recordings where Superchunk is in all its noisy glory. Such is my affection for the idea of Superchunk that I feel bad giving Wild Loneliness a barely lukewarm review. What have I ever done? I’m just a Slack Motherfucker in comparison. Anyway, long live Superchunk.
Words by Rick Larson
Leave a Reply