Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lost My Brain: A Quick Review Of The New Superchunk Album

It would be tremendously silly to waste a lot like of time rambling about the new Superchunk record. Recorded in the space of just a few months after the election of the monstrous Oval Office resident became a grim reality, What A Time To Be Alive, out on Friday via Merge Records, burns with an energy that is positively infectious, and which is unlikely to be captured adequately in words here. Superchunk have always been wired tight, but in recent years, as the members of the group have eased into middle-age, they've been happy to modulate their rage when offering up their indelible brand of American indie-pop. Now, given the situation this country is in, the band have turned their attention outward to offer up their most obviously-relevant and fiery record in decades.

A real, old-fashioned rooted-in-hardcore-punk rage-to-live burns through the tracks here on What A Time To Be Alive, from the title cut, on to the boundary-shattering concerns of "Break The Glass", and on to the superbly-direct "I Got Cut" with its call for male sexual responsibility. The songs here on What A Time To Be Alive are as unaffected and sincere as any this four-piece have ever committed to tape. Recorded by Beau Sorenson, the album has an immediacy that even the lo-fi early singles from Superchunk didn't quite have. "Erasure" eases the tempo down a bit to offer a catchy track that will sound familiar to fans of this band's more recent releases, with backing vocals from Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) and Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) smoothing things a bit, while "Bad Choices" rides the sort of easy rhythmic hook that anchored so many of the best Nineties numbers from this act. This cut, and especially the ringing "All For You", benefit immensely from the presence of Jon Wurster on drums and Laura Ballance on bass. Elsewhere, "Reagan Youth" positively soars on the strength of the familiar yearning in Mac McCaughan's voice and Jim Wilbur's relentless guitar-hook. If a listener doesn't even know the band Mac is singing about, it matters little as his vocals convey everything, a triumph (again) of one of the best, most underrated voices in American post-punk. Similarly, the brief "Lost My Brain" and "Cloud of Hate" roar past in unforced tribute to the best tunes from the pioneers from the first flourishing of this country's hardcore scene.

What A Time To Be Alive is immediate and invigorating, the sort of of-the-times recording that bands like The Clash and Public Enemy used to routinely offer up. Superchunk have surprised here by the ease with which they responded with such energy and force, for What A Time To Be Alive is a real punch in the gut. Cathartic and a thing to inspire optimism just for even existing, this record is a refinement of the Superchunk attack, and a sharpening of the band's post-punk power. There's always been something oddly inspiring about the music of this North Carolina quartet, but perhaps never more so than now with the release of what's here on What A Time To Be Alive.

What A Time To Be Alive is out on Merge Records on Friday.

[Photo: Lissa Gotwals]