Named after a drummer who hasn't been in the band in a decade. Much like Liverpool's legendary "The Bestles."
*special introductory paragraph!
*No Pocky For Kitty
*Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91)
*On The Mouth
*Here's Where The Strings Come In
*Incidental Music 1991-95
*The Laughter Guns EP
*Indoor Living
*Come Pick Me Up
*Here's To Shutting Up
*Cup Of Sand
*Leaves In The Gutter EP
*Majesty Shredding

When I entered the University of Chapel Hill at Chapel Hill in the Autumn of 1991 with a heart bursting with wonder and a mind ready to be filled with a bunch of boring worthless shit that I forgot right when each test was over, all I knew about Superchunk is that they had a catchy song called "Fishing". I didn't know that they were local darlings who had founded their own record label and were considered to be one of the leaders of "indie rock," a term I had never heard until my pal Tim Ross mentioned it to me. With the lending of a tape dub of the first LP, Tim introduced me to the world of Superchunk - quite the irony considering that Superchunk introduced thousands of fans to Tim Ross through the later release of The Laughter Guns EP - but we're not there yet! First let me stress that early Superchunk was really catchy, fuzzy, guitar-heavy, generally uptempo music with a guy shouting the words in kind of a high, untrained voice. During this period, I saw the band perform live 16 times. But then they slowed down. I didn't see them anymore after that. Anybody who slows down is stupid.

Superchunk - Matador 1990.
Rating = 9

Much like one-time indie rock compatriots Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk came about their name through threats of litigation. The band, originally comprised of singer/songwriter/guitarist/basically the entire band Mac McCaughan, guitarist Jack McCook, bassist/Mac's girlfriend Laura Ballance and drummer Chuck Garrison, were first called Chunk (supposedly in response to a not-really-that-funny typo in a telephone book) until it was learned that world-famous Knitting Factory fancypants Sam Bennett had a NYC band called Chunk. They added "Super" and the rest is tishory!

This album's sound is pretty much as I described it in the introductory paragraph - and better. Fuzzed-all-to-hell post-punk guitar rock, with thudding, brick-heavy bass serving as foil to a huge trebly wall of distorted guitars and Mac's skinny-short-guy-next-door vocals. The big classic was "Slack Motherfucker," because kids think cussing is just like totally the shit man, but there's much more here to enjoy than that. Smash `n grab punkers like "Sick To Move" and "Down The Hall" sit happily alongside slower pretty dainties like "My Noise" and "Slow," while the entire album walks to the other side of the street to avoid encountering the pounding angry-isms of my own personal fave, the almost metallically grungey "Let It Go."

Side two has a couple of slightly weaker tracks and at times the bass bottom seems to disappear in the weirdo grunge mix, but there's not a pile of festering shit to be found. Which reminds me - I've had smelly, sticky, watery, green, lumpy, bloody, disgusting diarrhea for over a week now. But don't worry - I've taken stool samples and will be turning them into the doctor on Monday so they can test them or lick `em or whatever the hell they do. I'll keep you posted on the state of My Crap.

Reader Comments (Rocket Robin Hood)
This album is really weak! There's probably a good 4 song EP on here. It's good because it sets down the laws of the Superchunk sound, and it got them out of the door, but they never released another record this bad for a long, long time.
Absolutely agree with you on this one. It is so good because of the youthful enthusiasm and energy the 'chunks add to the mix. The songwriting is really nothing like of the league the Pixies occupy, but it is so energetic and makes me wanna bop my head and set up a one man moshpit in my bedroom. Highly recommended, espessially since I just picked it up in a bargain bin again today and I had forgotten how good it still sounds!

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* No Pocky For Kitty - Matador 1991. *
Rating = 10

It's not as noisy as the first one, and is produced a little more like a normal indie rock album (the first LP was definitely too rackety to make Alternative Nation), but this is the album that really made it clear that Superchunk was here to stay. It's also the least filler-heavy record they have made to this very day (ten years later to the exact second). The simple perfection and perfect simplicity of the songwriting demands to be cherished from the bash-and-jerk intro riff of "Skip Steps 1 & 3" through the final feedback-drenched riff of "Throwing Things." In between is a precious collection of distorted-guitar-driven pop-rock-punk.

Superchunk's guitar riffs (doubled on here by new guitarist Jim Wilbur) are not brilliant or difficult to perform - actually, they're mostly based on straight power chords with obvious note-driven lead lines played atop, and a number of them are fairly similar (as my fiancee announced tonight during "Throwing Things," "Why do all their songs sound the same? That's annoying."). But at their best, they are just catchy beyond all manner of comprehension. And on this record, the band is at its best. Or at least Mac is. I guess nobody else in the band really did much at this point. Even the songs that you would expect to be filler ("30 Xtra," "Press," "Sidewalk") turn out to be just really great songs of varying moods and lifestyles (angry, punky and poppy respectively). I can honestly say that the worthless punk tossaside "Creek" is the only one of these 12 tracks that doesn't send an absolute tingledy-dingle through the little pop sensors in my colon that beep whenever something infectious comes within a reasonable radius. And it's LOUD, GUITAR-DRIVEN pop, which is possibly the healthiest kind for a young man, what with the threat of AIDS and all.

That doesn't mean that I like the lead guitarwork in Superchunk though. The lead guitar LINES? Sure! Those are great. But the soloing is just a bunch of awful, amateurish scale-climbing and note-bending. It was easy to excuse during concerts because they were all bouncing up and down on stage like a bunch of old people locked in my giant popcorn popper, but whoever produced these albums (Steve Albini?) should have told them that the leadwork was shitty, and Bruce Fairbarn and a bunch of session musicians should have been brought in to "tighten" up the tracks and make them more palatable to commercial radio. Without Russ Ballard's help, Superchunk will never be the moneyed international playboys that they so desperately ache to be.

Reader Comments (Rocket Robin Hood)
Mark's 10/10 review is spot on. Flawless Chunk!

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Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91) - Merge 1991.
Rating = 8

Two tracks each from the last two albums (for a total of four songs that most Superchunk fans already owned), four cover tunes (two of which are Sebadoh songs!), a disgusting compilation track (I don't even know what "Garlic" is about and the lyrics still make me feel like tossing a box of cookies about the place), a couple of give-or-take tunes that somehow made "A"-side status ("The Breadman" was an A-side? How the hell did that happen?) and finally, what I consider to be the main attraction of this collection = both non-LP sides of the AWESOME "Fishing"/"Cool" single. Side A was the first Superchunk song I ever heard and gave me the incorrect impression that the band was a kickass angry punk rock band, and side B is just another Superchunk pop-rock-punk-grunge classic. Does it sound like several other songs that already exist? It claims to, but in my opinion, all it sounds like is vintage Superchunk. Three beautiful, strangled chords and gorgeously expressed vocals.

What Superchunk was trying to do in their early days was to capture the glory and adrenaline rush of the rock and roll genre that they so enjoyed. They loved the Buzzcocks, for example, and musically I suppose you can sort of see the influence though it's really hard to tell because that Buzzcocks guy has such an annoying British douchebag of a voice. The reason I'm telling you this is because the next record is the last album where they allowed themselves to come even CLOSE to giving the listener an adrenaline rush. So read the next review with that in mind, and a box of pussy in each hand and foot.

Oh did I mention that? Most of Superchunk's songs are about pussy. You know a lot of them, I'm sure - "Skip Steps 1 & 3 (Because 2 Is The One Having To Do With Pussy)," "Slack Motherfucker (You Did A Lazy Job Pleasing Your Old Lady's Pussy, Now Let Me, Mac McCaughan, Have A Shot)," "Throwing Things (Pussy)," etc... Quite frankly, I find the band's lyricism appalling, not to mention sexist.

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On The Mouth - Matador 1992.
Rating = 8

Before this one, drummer Chuck Garrison was jettisonned for reasons still unclear (Poor hygiene? Meanspiritedness? Insistence on playing in about 15 million local bands at the same time?), to be replaced by that Jonny Wurster kid that lives next door and kept buggin' his old man for a burrow owl. The songs follow the old Superchunk vibe but, aside from the violently punk rock lead track "Precision Auto" and a couple others, there is a noticeable lack of energy much like we are experiencing in California right now. It's not that the songs are slower than before; the band just doesn't seem as excited about them. This may be because Wurster is a more laidback player than Garrison, but it might also be that Mac was just getting tired of hopping up and down on stage every night and decided to take it out on the home listener by presenting the same sorts of midtempo chord sequences as before, but WITHOUT the lead-note lines that kept them so interesting. These songs are good. But not so good that you can just go about your business, iron a tree, whatever the fuck jackoffs like you do for fun, and they'll jam their way into your brain without you putting forth any effort at all. These require repeated, CLOSE listenings. Otherwise they just sound uneventful. Because they're simple, OH so simple. But worth getting to know! "Mower," for example, is slow and has like three chords, but dig that heavenly soaring beautiful sorrowful vocal melody! Wonderful. Or take "The Only Piece That You Get." To the undisciminationingly viewer, the song is slow and has one chord. But to you and me, there's an acoustic guitar playing the notes in the background while the fuzz buzzer in the front mesmerizes its way into oblivion with one CHORD........ CHORD........ CHORD....... CHORD.......

I like it. A few of the riffs seem geared more towards people who aren't me than people who are me (uber-indie anthem "Package Thief" and that dipsy doodle headlining riff in "I Guess I Remembered It Wrong," for examplary), but those people who are me revel in such mind-numbing goodness as "Swallow That" and the other songs that I like on here.

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Foolish - Merge 1994.
Rating = 8

From the poppy, lazyboy-speed guitar intro that starts the record, the Superbunks are out to set a new example for themselves and their young ones. POP. Still guitar pop, and still occasionally sped up to normal speed for a rock song, but definitely not the goodtime punk-influenced Supercrunk of yesteryear. The slow songs that were the apoplexy on the first three records are the rule here. Luckily for the listener and myself, the slow songs are as hook-filled as the penis of one of those dumbass tattoo people who think they're cool and underground but just kinda look like a bunch of 14-year-olds that are trying too hard. While slowing down, Mr. Band chose to concentrate on bringing back the lead guitar catchiness that was missing from a lot of the last record. Lots of notes on here. Simple notes, of course, but notes nonetheless, which is more than you're going to find on a Modest Mouse album!

Actually that's not even true. You'll probably find plenty of notes on a Modest Mouse album.

Mac and Laura broke up before this album, so supposedly all the songs are about the breakup, though I've never bothered putting forth the time and effort required to make out what Mr. High Yelly Voice is trying to say. Especially since it was common knowledge around town that both of them had new lovers within like four days of breaking up. The songs aren't good because they're sincere - they're good because the melodies are very pretty and worth hearing over and over again. Unexpectedly, the pogoest band in Pogoland was able to pull an overall slowdown without turning into Yo La Tengo!

And yes I mean that in a negative way, in case you were wondering. I find Yo La Tengo a little overrated and slow. Not bad, mind you. Just lacking energy and not anywhere near as smart as their fans consider them to be. But then I love AC/DC so who the hell am I to be calling anybody "not smart"?

Reader Comments

Superchunk, Foolish....this album gets a 10. Who is going to listen to superchunk for kick ass rock and roll music? That is what hardcore is for. But say you've been living in the woods alone, and you finally come out, then this would be a good album for a reintroduction to humanity, and ugly miserable popular culture. For what its worth, it hits the weezer nail on the head. Simple, it's a basic stuff. The big difference between the phony playboys and this album is the honesty. Still, it has a springy sound. The drums thump along great, and the guitars are crunchy in each speaker. It is thick sound which contrasts to the lean as a blade, sharp as a knife vocals. There best song, driveway to driveway drunk, is on this album. The bass player is loveable. She has a look that is really hard to put your finger on. Her lips, her cheek bones, her mischievous chocolate brown eyes..

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Here's Where The Strings Come In - Merge 1995.
Rating = 8

Do you have a friend with a guitar? Do you as well have a guitar? Please invite your friend over for a small exercise. Have your friend play any three chords that happen to exist in the same key. Now you play a small collection of notes - anywhere between, say, 2 and 6 notes. Play them over and over again while your friend plays the three chords. Sounds pretty, doesn't it? Very catchy, correct? Congratulations! You're now a member of Superchunk.

The band inadvertently pulls a fast one here, making you think you're listening to a crappyass album by jamming all the bland songs right at the beginning, starting with the dreadful pop-punk album opener "Hyper Enough," which rivals only "Package Thief" for its propagation of a bouncy lead guitar line so sickeningly ultra-happy that it makes me despise the sunlight for bringing life to God's creations. After that the album rules though! More slow stuff. Not quite as melancholy as the last album - just midtempo, relaxing and very catchy pop-rock songs driven by the anyone-can-play-em guitar pyrotechnics I described a little earlier in this here review. Not sure exactly who they're trying to sound like here, but my guess would be all the other "indie rock" bands that have left fast stuff behind. Aforementioned Yo La Tengo. Magnetic Fields. Other people I don't listen to. You know, bands that try to create aural paint strokes of delicate harmonious beauty in this hellhole of maggots we call Planet Earth 1988.

Reader Comments (Rocket Robin Hood)
Look, this album is way better than Prindle's letting on. For me it totally completes the direction Superchunk were going in with On The Mouth to Foolish - it's true anthemic tear-jerkers. The bland, boring songs are all at the beginning? He doesn't like "Silver Leaf and Snowy Tears"?!!? That song is incredible! The b-side to the Hyper Enough single, "Never Too Young To Smoke" is a great slow-paced groove monster as well. This should be at least a 9. (Jeff Melchior)
Simply the greatest indie rock album ever -- it's the "Rumors" of indie rock, bitter, romance-ending lyrics and all. Utter genius.

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Incidental Music 1991-95 - Merge 1995.
Rating = 8

Another compilation! Even longer and a ton more as good as the last compilation! With a Motorhead cover and a Magnetic Fields cover and some other covers maybe! And alternate versions of popular album tracks, including an acoustic (or "unplugged," as MTV calls it) version of "Throwing Things" and the knees-out-loud funny Mark Robinson remix of "Precision Auto"! And, as a lawfully wedded bonus, so many great fast, slow and in-between fast-and-slow (if one can even imagine such a state existing without the earth shifting until it's crooked on its axis, a thought so horrifying that suicide seems the only way to deal with such an occurrence should it ever take place) non-LP tracks that you'll scratch your head at the thought that "Hyper Enough" made the cut and stuff like "Lying In State" and "Connecticut" didn't. I like to think of this as the Rolls Royce of Superchunk albums. I also like to think of myself as a slightly more naked President Reagan.

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The Laughter Guns EP - Merge 1996.
Rating = 9

So picture this. I'm downtown in this record store flipping through the $6 CDs when I run across a Superchunk EP with an inscrutable name. And it's only 50 cents! Sure, I'm feeling kinda cheap, but I decide that it is in the best interest of my friends, the visitors of Mark's Record Reviews (An Interactive Site Featuring Music Critique By Mark Prindle And Music Fans The Worldround), for me to pick up the EP and listen to it with a fresh ear and knob of corn.

I returned to my luscious abode in the heights of Beverly City when what to my surprise should I find but the names of two of my old college buddies listed in the foldout bookie! That's correct - Messrs. Tim Ross and Nate Florin are thanked right there in the gatefold, along with some prick named Bo Williams who I may have met at some point and I'm sure he's a nice guy but fuck him right now, I'm talking about my old college friends. Ah, the halcyon days of meeting Tim, Nate, Chris Crowson, Chris "Yellowboy" Williams and Chris Palmatier every goddamned night at 6:30 to go eat pizza at Lenoir Dining Establishment. But those days are over and will never return, and we must not dwell on them. Except for the pizza part. I could really go for a pizza roundabouts immediate.

So I put in the CD and well lookie lookie here, it's no 4-song EP! It's a 4-song EP featuring a 40-minute bonus track! And what's that bonus track indeed? It's my old college pals Tim Ross and Nate Florin (along with Bo Williams, whomever the hell that is) spending 40 minutes overanalyzing the song "Hyper Enough"! Hilarious? Absolutely. And dry as hell. At first listen, in fact, it almost sounds like they're serious. But the conclusions they come up with about the song are SO ridiculously tedious and micro-scrutinized, anyone who doesn't realize that the whole thing was a farce is a humorless monster incapable of true caring for another human being.

And even better, all four songs are excellent. There's a slow pretty one, a hard rockin' catchy one, a neat bass-driven one that really doesn't sound like a typical Supertune and finally a punkish cover tune! All great, all stupid, all silly billy boo, my doggy ate a shoe!

My doggy didn't really eat a shoe. In life sometimes we tell little fibs to avoid hurting peoples' feelings. For example, I might call you "skinny" when you are in fact "an asshole."

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Indoor Living - Merge 1997.
Rating = 8

More lovely, relaxed guitar interplay from Superchunk, complete with some keyboards and Mac flirting with a new vocal style, one involving him forcing his voice into a contained sissy little falsetto box in an attempt to actually SING the high notes instead of shouting them. Works some of the time, other times it just sounds like a guy who can't sing trying to hide it by singing in weak falsetto! The guitarwork is unceasingly gorgeous though, with not a single scattershot crap riff to be encountered. You never really think of Superchunk as a "guitar interplay" band, but they totally are. The one guy plays the chords and the other meanders in and around it with pretty little pop lines that grab the ear and lure the heart to Love City, Hell. A lot of the tunes on here are surprisingly a little complicated too. For the first time, tricky-esque guitar lines and slightly off time signatures like "Every Single Instinct" and "The Popular Music" make it sound like Superchunk is more than just your average bear. Even if the melodies weren't supercatchy in a mature, adult manner, the little tricks and trinkets they bring to the tunes (the five million drum rolls in "European Medicine," the hilarious keyboard bloops and bleeps in "Nu Bruises," the xylophone and jokey bachelor pad feel to "Martinis On The Roof") more than make the underappreciated Indoor Living as good as or better than any Superchunk album you're imagining in your head right now.

So that's what I think anyway. I wouldn't have expected an older, wiser Superchunk to be incredibly interesting, but it turns out that even without manic punk energy, smart songcraft goes a long way, baby. (Copyright Salem Cigarettes 1973 - "Because Broads Need Tar Too")

Reader Comments (Michael Joseph Watson)
Fully agree with this one. For their entire career superchunk had done nothing but just be superchunk. Thats actually a good thing though. but what makes indoor living great is they actually doing something different for once. They slowed the songs down completely allowing room for more melody and also added other instruments tastefully. 'Unbelievable things' is a damn fine album opener and rest of the songs continue at the same level. Still manages to be a very superchunk album which means it can get tedious at times. They never really had much of an angle in their music. Just really good, straight forward noise pop. I hate Mac's stupid, wussy falsetto as well(see 'every single instinct').There's no need for it. It makes you think that he could probably get beaten up by someone like Mike Mills. definately worth 9 smoke alarms out of 10.

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Come Pick Me Up - Merge 1999.
Rating = 6

SuperFLUNK! This is a bunch of SuperBUNK! I feel like SuperDUNKing my head into the hairy ass of a SuperHUNK just to get the stench of this SuperJUNK out of my head! Going as far away from SuperPUNK as they can, our favorite Chapel Hill band (besides Polvo) have become...(retch)...a "jangle pop" band. The distortion has been turned down, Mac uses his godawful falsetto "singing" voice in most of the songs and, most disturbingly of all, nearly half the songs have nothing instrumentally intriguing going on at all. Just bland slow rock genericisms of the sort I personally associate with Yo La Tengo. And oh dear lord those vocals are hideous. How the hell did Mac lay down an entire album of pussyass falsetto vocals without somebody else in the studio saying, "Stop doing that."?

But then, on the bright side, half of the songs do contain that great guitar wall of loveliness that I so enjoyed on Indoor Living. And "Good Dreams" has more energy and verve than anything they've done in ages (great hook too!). By no means is Superchunk finished - this is just one stop on their jolly road of underground rock and roll experimentation. I hope they don't continue down this road though. Please Mac - stop doing that.

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Here's To Shutting Up - Merge 2001.
Rating = 6

When I wrote my original Superchunk reviews about six months ago, I immediately dashed off an email to the band, knowing that they would love the way I referred to their last album as "SuperJunk." In response, I received a notice from Jon Wurster, who drums for a band in Chapel Hill, NC called Superchunk, that "If you didn't like our last album, you probably won't like our new one either." Well, I suppose you could say that he was right, but probably not for the reasons he thought.

I can't remember exactly what I may have said about the last album but it probably had something to do with the fact that they had become "a generic indie pop band" or something diabolical like that. This is not necessarily the case with Here's To Shitting Blood. In fact, a clear half or slightly more of this album is really smart and sorrowful, with lots to listen to. They've added violin and cello to several of the songs (and even a steel guitar to one!), which, when you add it to the already fertile stew of zappity synths, chimey guitars and bass lines with far more notes than previously (at least in "The Animal Has Left Its Shell" anyway - MAN, is that a great song, while we're on the topic) makes for songs far more robust, developed and layered than even the sidelong math-rock prog masterpiece "Slack Fatherfucker." Unfortunately, the other half or slightly less tries for same but misses mark (e smith) through reliance on chord sequences so old, generic and tired, they'll make you want to slice your throat open with a sharp jagged piece of paint thinner. Take for example the abominably tedious "What Do You Look Forward To?," which at 7:41 just aches for a hilarious funnyman to respond "FOR THIS FUCKING GO-NOWHERE SHIT SONG TO BE OVER!!!". If only such a man existed in today's world. Unfortunately post-Clinton America is filled with pansies in dayglo fart jumpsuits and moccasin boots. All sitting around shitting in each others' mouths and yelling "Heil Jumping Junipers!"

Look, I don't expect you to understand my biting political metaphors but the least you could do is quit sticking your finger out of the electric outlet and twiddling with my ding-dong.

In conclusion, the SuperPUNKS in SuperJUNK are in stuck in a SuperFUNK.. Who would have thought that they so quickly would have become a generic indie pop band? Oh that was... Fuck, he was right.

I hate when people are right.

Especially doctors.

With their "medicine".

Reader Comments
Man, I really wanted to like this album. I was a huge fan of this band back in the early nineties - there were times when my only motivation to pull myself out of bed in the morning to drive to school was the oppurtunity to sing along with "Mower" for a couple minutes. As far as indie rock goes, these guys were one of the best to ever play the game. But I've had this album for two years now and I've tried again and again to give this thing a chance, but there's no getting around the fact that Superchunk just kinda fell flat on this one.

Whaa happened? Well, first of all, I have a feeling Mac is saving all his best songs for Portastatic, which used to be a goofy little lo-fi side project ("I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle" is a classic of this genre) but is now a full-fledged band that has been putting out surprisingly good albums for the past few years. So here, we've flipped the script: a couple songs on this one (especially the last two) actually sound to me like Portastatic OUTTAKES.

And then there's the disturbingly high, softer singing style that limply glove-smacks you in face right in the first verse of the first song ("Late Century Dream"). Now, granted, even if his heydey you'd never have mistaken Mac for, say, the singer from Dying Fetus, he has definitely lost some of the "power" that he had on stuff like "Sick To Move" or "Swallow That." So we're all pretty much used to that style by now, but there are moments on this album when it just becomes grating.

Speaking of grating, I think it's an interesting idea that they're incorporating more keyboards into the modern 'Chunk sound, but how about at least trying to learn to play a little first, guys? Not that I'm asking for Rick Wakeman or anything, but that one-finger, vaguely tuneless solo on the otherwise excellent "Animal Has Left Its Shell" is really annoying. That sort of thing seems to defeat the purpose of a more "mature" sound, when you're writing more softer, more complex songs that could probably benefit with some more imaginative 'board work.

That said, I really like some stuff on this one: "Rainy Streets" would have fit nicely onto "No Pocky" or "On The Mouth"; "Phone Sex" has a nice countryish sound that somehow still works; "Florida's On Fire" has some of the old "spark"; and "Animal Has Left Its Shell" (solo and all) is definitely the one I'm plucking from this album if I'm ever chosen to assemble one of those Who-style greatest hits collections for this band. Great song that sounds like a new direction for these guys - cool.

Overall, "Here's To Shutting Up" is disappointing, but I think these guys are too talented to ever be considered "generic" and a couple strong tunes save this from disaster. Final score: 6/10.

And so ends my much anticipated and highly controversial slide presentation on one of our world's most pressing concerns in the post-9/11 era: Superchunk's last album.

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Cup Of Sand - Matador 2003
Rating = 8

Jon Wurster does it again! This time around, Jon Wurster and the rotating cast of nobodies that he surrounds himself with present yet another monstrous collection of b-sides, covers, rarities, alternate versions and compilation tracks. Let's cut the kidding right here, because jokes never saved America from the dreaded Native Americans, who are STILL spreading their diseases and stealing our land to this day: this band is really good. To have survived this long on a type of music that threatens to be the dullest creation in history ("indie rock"!), obviously this guy "Mac MacCaughan" that Jon Wurster has scored as his frontman must have some kind of genius songwriting ability. It's true that I have my own personal issues with their last couple albums, but a lot of that has to deal with Mac's new vocal style, which I consider a little too sensitive for its own good. This compilation though is just beautiful song after pretty song after catchy song after rocking song after punky song and right on back to beautiful song. The intertwining guitar interplay is a joy to the ear, the heavy distorted bass provides a grand noise-rock bottom for the melodic jangly fuzz and the tempos shift up and down often enough that you never get the feeling that you're hearing the same song over and over again (except in the case of a couple Superchunk-by-numberses like "White Noise").

25 songs long, this double-CD invites you to enjoy material from such previous Jon Wurster's Superchunk releases as The Laughter Guns EP, the Suburbia soundtrack (no, you silly goose! Not the old punk movie with D.I.! Don't be a silly goose, laying hilarious eggs!), the maxi-singles for Art Class and Hyper Enough, and the Rows Of Teeth, Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation and Oh Merge compilations, as well as outtakes from the past several records and covers of old songs by Adam And The Ants, David Bowie and Government Issue (a GREAT DC hardcore/punk/pop/rock band whose entire collection is now available on two double-CDs -- buy them!!!).

Some of the songs will surprise you with their banjos, acoustic guitars and vibes -- particularly "1,000 Pounds (Duck Kee Version)," which features banjo, acoustic guitar and vibes -- and other songs (specifically the other 24 tracks on the album) warmly embrace you in the fuzzy lovetones you'd better expect at this point by Jon Wurster And His Superchunk.

Who knows what's next for this terrific Chapel Hall combo whose outtakes are better than most band's intakes (chemical)? Let's just hope that Jon's current lead singer, Mack McCon, realizes that chicks won't dig him anymore if he keeps singing like a fairy stuck halfway inside Elton John's horribly distended anus.

Remember that hilarious police deputy "Anus" from The Dukes Of Hazzard? God, I loved that guy! Remember his popular catchphrase, "Possum on a gumbush"? Supposedly they named an animal and a gumbush after it!

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Leaves In The Gutter EP - Merge 2009
Rating = 6

Many people don't know this, but The Beatles' "Yesterday" wasn't originally called "Yesterday" at all! In fact, Sir Paul McCartney went through several sets of lyrics for the song, calling it everything from "Scrambled Eggs" to "Bacon, Sausages, Toast, Coffee, Marmalade, I Like Marmalade." But the most intriguing early version can be found only on a rare bootleg entitled The Beatles' White Album, and it goes something like this:

by Sir Paul McCartney

Chicks with dicks
God, I love those fucken broads with pricks
Gotta go downtown and get my fix
I'll wax your wicks, sweet chicks with dicks

Chicks with dicks are all I want to see
But if I sleep with one, I'll get VD
Oh chicks with dicks - my destiny

He? She?
I don't know, but Ringo
believes I'm gay
Put it
In my mouth and go south
Oh chicks with dicks!

Chicks with dicks
What an effervescent bubbly mix!
I know what I need to get my kicks
Chicks with dicks, or wife with peg leg

Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmmm

Named after what Mac McCaughan does with Laura Ballance after a typical drunken night on the town, Leaves In The Gutter actually made a guest appearance in my dream last night. I was describing the EP to my old college friend Chris Crowson, explaining that they brought back the uptempo beats, guy-next-door vocals and fuzzy orange distortion of early Superchunk while retaining the wistful chord changes and gentle melodies of their later releases. He opined that the first track, "Learned To Surf," is an excellent composition, but that the rest of the EP is a bit lacking. I began to disagree with him, but then we all started flying through the air on these dangerous little gliders, engaged in a ridiculous sky-race from California to NYC. Near the end of the sky-race, I tried to jump into first place, but was warned that the guy in second place had the flu and was breathing on everybody who tried to pass him. I gave it the gusto, but was unable to hold my breath long enough to pass him. Then I was called back to California for glider repairs, and stopped halfway to play The Byrds' "Jesus Is Just Alright With Me" for a bunch of people sitting at a table, then I enquired about a $75 box set of rare Canada-only Guess Who albums, and by that point Superchunk wasn't involved at all.

Within seconds of putting this CD into the player, I wondered aloud, "Why are they plagiarizing themselves right at the very beginning!? Won't fans frown upon that?" But then I went through all my Superchunk CDs trying to find out what song they were plagiarizing and came up bone empty dry! It wasn't until the next day that I realized it wasn't their own song they were plagiarizing, but one by a fellow Merge artist -- Erectus Monotone. It's actually not so much plagiarism as a quick musical reference before the melody is taken into other directions, but it's impossible not to notice the similarity between the recurring intro of "Learned To Surf" and that of Erectus Monotone's "The Day The Sharks Flew," released 18 years earlier on the same record label. Shame on you, Mc MacCaughan, for using a tiny piece of somebody else's composition as the foundation for a much longer and more elaborate guitar line!

Stereo guitar interplay is at a premium here, and the individual tracks are also highlighted by (a) a great wavery vocal hook ("NOW-ow-OW-ow-OW-ow") in loving power popper "Learned To Surf," (b) a high-pitched organ in driving anxiety/emotion rocker "Misfits & Mistakes," (c) an acoustic guitar bulking up the background of dreamy romance "Screw It Up," (d) TOTAL old-time Superchunk sound and feel in warm melodic rocker "Knock Knock Knock" and (e) extremely bad judgment in including Mac's fey acoustic demo of "Learned To Surf."

If you've missed the sound of early Superchunk, this might be just what your ear doctor ordered. However, please be advised that they never would've written songs as la-de-da starry-eyed as "Learned To Surf" and "Screw It Up" in the hazy maisy days of No Pocket For Kittens. It's almost as if they have a girl in the band now.

Let's end this review with a topical joke, since people like tropical drinks:

Why are people constantly confusing Barack Obama with Lindsay Lohan?

Because Barack Obama is half-white and Lindsay Lohan is a half-wit!

(Also, they're both gay.)

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Majesty Shredding - Merge 2010
Rating = 5

Musical quality is of course subjective to one's own experiences and preferences, but even then it's not an exact science. In fact, it often makes no sense at all. For example, over the years, I've been able to pinpoint my key musical interests as (1) the loud, hard, aggressive and/or fast, (2) the unique and creative, and (3) the exceptionally hooky. However, even within these parameters, (1) I loathe entire subgenres of aggressive music (deathcore, screamo, NYHC, powerviolence), (2) I'm bored senseless or actively irritated by tons of 'unique' music (noise, IDM, Jandek), and (c) "hooky" is a meaningless word when one man's tuneful is another man's cloying. Furthermore, I often find myself reluctantly drawn to artists who fit none of these categories, simply because of a mood or attitude that appeals to me (which is how I can simultaneously love and hate artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Steely Dan).

It's not that I'm trying to be unpredictable or inconsistent in my tastes; it's just how brains work. Look at your own tastes and you'll probably encounter the same contradictions. How can I love The Fall yet constantly bitch about other artists being too repetitive? How can I adore AC/DC but not have the slightest bit of interest in Slade? And what the hell's my problem with the new Grinderman CD? The answer is simple: I'm not in your brain. My life experiences are different than yours, the passageways in my brain are different, the (etc. some other brain shit). I can clearly see how my tastes developed over time: how Led Zeppelin led to AC/DC to the Ramones to Dead Kennedys to DRI to Slayer to Napalm Death and back (and alternately, how Beatles led to Moody Blues to Pink Floyd to Yes to Sonic Youth to Thinking Fellers Union Local 282), but why certain combinations of sound led to the release of endorphins while others led to me throwing the fucken stereo across the room, I've no idea. That's a private matter between my brain and itself.

One question about my tastes that I'm pretty sure I can answer, however, is this: how can I claim to despise indie rock while consistently giving high marks to such indie pioneers as Husker Du, Minutemen, the Replacements, REM, Dinosaur Jr. Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, and Meat Puppets? ANSWER: Because indie rock was created by punk rockers. As Sebadoh astutely put it in their 1991 single "Gimme Indie Rock," "Started back in '83/Started seeing things differently/And hardcore wasn't doin' it for me no more/Started smoking pot/Thought things sounded better slow/Much slower, heavier." This is a correct assessment; indie rock grew out of punk rock. Every one of the pioneers mentioned above began as a punk rock band (except Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr., whose principals began life in a hardcore band called Deep Wound; and Sonic Youth, whose drummer used to be in the Crucifucks). What this means is that the original rush of indie rock records still retained a certain level of aggression and energy. It still "rocked." For a while, at least. It wasn't until leaving their indie roots and jumping to the majors that these bands became boring and lifeless. And I'm not blaming the major labels for that; it just happened, probably due to age or career aspirations.

However, as a result, what we're seeing now are indie rock bands whose roots are other indie rock bands. With no background in punk or hardcore, bands like Modest Mouse, Animal Collective and The Decemberists are 'rock' bands only in the very loosest sense. They have electric guitars and drums, but few of them seem to have the slightest interest in channelling the energy and aggression that powered not just punk rock but rock'n'roll itself in its infancy. In fact, I'd say that 95% of the stuff Pitchfork champions is the complete antithesis of rock'n'roll -- drab, slow, adult-friendly artists like Deerhunter, Beach House and Bon Iver. In other words, a subgenre literally created by punk rockers has slowly, surely converted into a form of music that is just begging for an aggressive new musical wave to blow its boring, tedious pretensions out of the water.

Which brings us to Superchunk, a perfect illustration of this indie rock stylistic shift. When the band began, they were recognizably 'indie rock' because their songs were loud and energetic blasts of melodic punk-influenced rock music. That's what indie rock used to be. But as time went by, the definition changed. However, unlike 'grunge,' whose definition changed from 'muddy screamy noise rock' to 'heavy classic rock' due to the media's unfortunate focus on Pearl Jam and Soundgarden as the scene's key figures, the meaning of 'indie rock' changed due to the actions of the performers themselves. As I mentioned two paragraphs earlier, the original indie rockers all slowed down and lost their energy. Some, like the Replacements and Unrest, were able to continue releasing great music anyway due to their leaders' formidable songwriting skills. Others, like Dinosaur Jr. and Soul Asylum, became complete bores. Either way, by the time the next wave of indie rockers came of age, their most current influence was the rockless late-period twangle-dick music of the aging old guard.

Superchunk used to be a great indie rock band -- one of the best. Even when they began slowing down with their fourth album, their ability to compose gorgeous hook-filled guitar pop kept them at the forefront of the subgenre. But Majesty Shredding, aside from two unexpectedly punky tracks, has nothing in common with Indoor Living or Foolish, let alone No Pocky For Kitty. I began this "review" (if you want to call it that; I sure wouldn't) with a discussion of subjectivity and personal taste because I want to make it clear that Superchunk may still be a great band. But if so, they are great at writing and performing a style of music in which I don't have the slightest interest. And though their sound has gradually changed from exuberant hooky punk-pop to inoffensive, overly cheery power pop closer in composition to Elvis Costello than the Buzzcocks, it's telling that Majesty Shredding is as unmistakably 'indie rock' in 2010 as Superchunk was in 1990.

Reader Comments
this was an excellent read, good work.

Bob Royale
Yeah, there's no way I'm listening to this. However, I've had quite a few conversations lately about why I play Meat Puppets 2, The Replacements and things like that in my truck. The thing with those guys is that they were trying to make what they thought were great songs with limited budgets while being just generally screwed up people. There was no concept of "Indie Sound" to try to ape- it was just some people trying to do what they wanted. I feel the same way about Foetus and "Industrial". It's just an artistic cop-out to decide what type of music you make. If everyone sat around jerking off over blues scales, I'm pretty sure I'd give up on music and take up bowling.

There was some really fucking arrogant thing Ulver said in the Lords of Chaos book about trying to record in a fashion that's more simplistic than what you can do to achieve a result and how lame it is. I can't remember the exact quote, but it pretty much ruled after you got over rolling your eyes at the way they said it.

Dan Brookes
I haven't heard this record; with this kind of writing, I imagine you're going to get a lot of responses from people who haven't because it has a very interesting thesis. I'll check the record out in my own time: I've always liked Superchunk, I've always liked Merge Records, and I've always liked Jon Wurster. It seems only fair that I don't allow America's Most Theoretically Rigorous Critic to get in my way.

I went to bed last night really agreeing with much of what you wrote, but over breakfast I've thought some more. Pitchfork's sensibilities are definitely on the 'worthy' side - and let's say for instance that 95% of the things they cover do indeed blow. That is still not 'indie rock'. Pitchfork, like magazines, only have the space to cover x% of what is sent to them. You could counter that by saying that they're deliberately pushing an agenda of indie rock that is dull/drab - but people have to look farther than Pitchfork! (not suggesting that you don't, Mark).

When Simon Reynolds coined the term 'post-rock', he was referring to a bunch of '90s bands that didn't really fit in with any scene, but eventually that got whittled down and codified into 'weepy guitar instrumentals that crescendo'. Indie rock seems to have undergone a similar narrowing. In the '80s it was just any band that was standing up for themselves away from the corporate machine - a genre in which Rapeman and Beat Happening rub shoulders. Now it appears like a commodity to sell a light version of a real experience (The Decemberists with literary allusions, Animal Collective with synthetic 'trippiness').

The good news is that there are still 'indie rock' (in the '80s sense) labels out there that love what they do, and do what they love well. In The Red, HoZac, Die Stasi, Goner, Load, Constellation - you don't need me to go on! There is still 'indie rock' out there with balls and soul and passion and chance-taking! Don't be downhearted. Just ignore Pitchfork if it rattles you. They only have as much power as you grant them.
I like the way you break down the arbitrary nature of music enjoyment. Just thought I'd add a couple thoughts: I'd say that maybe 10% are as analytical as you are - I might be along the same lines, where I know exactly what I like but I'm more tolerant of dud riffs or endless, tuneless racket. I've been accused of pretty much liking any band with good underground cred. However the majority of people I know, who are into the music scene, can't even remember any songs. They just sort of hear some noise and arbitrarily put their value judgment on it, some of which is dictated by peer pressure rather than personal taste. It shouldn't but it does annoy me at times that people aren't actively listening to anything yet own a ton of records, especially if they're records I don't have. I get more enthused when people get super excited about music which I don't like rather than half-ass liking stuff that I do really like or has a good critical rep.

Kevin Lo
Which is why you need yourself some Sharpie Crows. Greed is the most exciting genius record I've heard in far too long.
I love Deerhunter, but I agree with you about where indie rock is at the moment.

And I will say that there are tons of hard-rocking records that rule out there right now (the Pygmy Shrews come to mind), it's just that they're harder to find than they should be.
You know who most of your review here reminded me of?

Robert Christgau. Robert Christfuckinggau. Just change the words "punk" "punk rock" "punk rockers" and "hardcore" in the third-to-last paragraph to "The Rolling Stones" and you're HIM. And change the word "indie rock" to "King Crimson".

"They have electric guitars and drums, but few of them seem to have the slightest interest in channelling the energy and aggression that powered not just punk rock, but ROCK AND ROLL ITSELF IN ITS INFANCY."

Gee there, Greil Marcus. Would you like a little Lester Bangs with that Jon Landau?? Perhaps a 500,000 word treatise on New York Dolls instrumental technique??? EH!?!

Look, Mark, for what it's worth, your view on most modern indie rock isn't exactly isolated amongst the loud-guitar fan crowd of today. But it's nothing new. People have been bitching about "boring, tedious, pretentious" music since the Moody Blues began rocking out to the string orchestra in 1967, and "agressive new musical waves" have been trying to. . . er, "blow them out of the water" for just as long. And it succeeds about as often as the Republicans succeed in wiping out the Democrats--that is, for like two years at most.

Thing is, testosterone-energy and "twangle-dick" are equally inseparable parts of music in general, and always have been. As always, hungry passionate people tend to do the former, and wimpy introverted artsy people tend to do the latter. However, the former doesn't get nearly the same amount of notoreity it used to get, because a.) conservative people aren't nearly as genuinely easy to shock as they used to be, and b.) no mentally able person nowadays genuinely believes this stuff is going to instantly change the face of music. Hell, even "rock and roll in its infancy" took a while.

But aggressive musical waves ARE raging out there. And you know that better than anyone, Mark! You said so on some review like a few months ago (I can't remember what review it was) concerning grindcore noise modern bash-rock bands that had funny names. God I can't remember them, but funny names they were.

My opinion of "indie music" today? Frankly, "indie"'s a stupid moniker that probably meant something specific in 1987, but means about two billion different opposing things today. I like those indie albums like Sea Change that do pussy things few '80's "indie" bands would come within a light-year of, but dislike those indie albums like The Argument that stick to shouting atonally and doing "creative guitar things". Mark thinks the opposite way. Oddly, we both like indie albums like Zaireeka equally. Weird. (Probably for opposite reasons.)

As for Superchunk's Majesty Shredding, I've heard one song from it on Radio Colorado College. It sounded like the Pixies, but catchy. Subsequently, the DJ promptly recommended I buy the album because he believed the band was "returning to its punky roots", and I decided to metaphorically fuck them.
hey, wait a minute, you hate powerviolence?

fuck. I love powerviolence!

It's hilarious! It kicks ass! It's basically a punk version of grindcore!

Okay, it does get insanely repetitive over the long term. Don't do what I did and listen to 70 minutes of straight powerviolence or your mind may turn into pudding.

Still agree with the view on indie rock, though.

Marc Arbour
you're full of it. it's a phenomenally bad idea bashing elvis costello considering he's a total pop music genius who practically wrote the book on how that sorta thing oughta be done. superchunk just made a first-rate powerpop album and it's the best thing they've ever accomplished. it took 'em 20-something years to make their masterpiece (and maybe the future holds more of those in store) but better late than never. i'd say aspiring to costello-esque greatness is always a sound game-plan. perhaps you're not much of a fan of stellar pop music.

Philip Torphy
Yeah, this album has just about as much energy as their others, they just cleaned up the production a bit, and wrote the goddamn catchiest songs of their career. Elvis Costello is a great comparison: see his performance of "Radio Radio" on SNL for proof that high energy can be combined with great songwriting. This is possibly Superchunk's best album, and you never even gave it a real chance because you're stuck with some antiquated ideas of what "indie rock" really means. Forget that all, and listen to the music.

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