Friday, October 1, 2010

Superchunk : Majesty Shredding

Initially published here

It has been almost nine years to the day since Superchunk last released a full-length album. Their prior record, Here’s to Shutting Up, received a lukewarm response from many diehard fans and the band embarked on an arduous world tour just as the events of 9/11 took place. No wonder that when the dust settled they decided to take a break from a near continuous 12 year pattern of album/tour/album/tour.

In the interim they’ve played a handful of shows each year for a variety of causes, although possibly not for strictly altruistic reasons (when two band members wanted to quit, leader Mac McCaughan convinced them not to announce a formal break-up as officially kaput bands don’t continue to sell their back catalog as well as bands that still play sporadically). However, they’ve been gradually ramping up the activity as of late. There was a single in 2007, then an EP in spring 2009, followed quickly by another 7” and now Majesty Shredding.

My first response was that the album was somehow reactionary; that the band was trying to appease those fans who were disappointed with the more adventurous paths taken on later recordings (falsetto singing, keyboards, the occasional small string section). These songs are as straight-forward and hard rocking as anything they’ve done since their third LP, On the Mouth. But the Superchunk of On the Mouth could not have written songs as melodically and structurally satisfying as the best moments here. They’re fast and catchy without ever falling into the genre trappings of either power-pop (on one end) or pop-punk (on the other).

Theirs is a unique sound that many emulate and very, very few pull off. It’s romantic and expansive and yearning without ever forgetting the value of hooks and aggression. Much of the credit for retaining that hard ‘edge’ must go to drummer Jon Wurster whose playing manages to be remarkably supple while still kicking like a mule at a stall. Maybe the highest compliment I can offer is that as they embark on their first proper tour in eight years (they play the Trocodero on 9/22), I am just as excited by the prospect of hearing “Learn to Surf," “Digging for Something” and “My Gap Feels Weird” as by anything else in their catalog. Let’s hope it’s not another decade before we get the next one. (Merge Records)

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