Superchunk, Majesty Shredding

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 06.15.11 in Reviews

Superchunk sound like they've been listening to a lot of Superchunk. Well, of course — what else would they sound like? But think about that for a second. Most bands slow down as they age because most people slow down as they age: Sonic Youth isn't about to start flirting with hardcore again; the Rolling Stones will never cut another "She Said Yeah." That's nature. But Superchunk 2010 could be easily mistaken for Superchunk 1991 — the tempo hasn't moved and the scrappiness hasn't budged. And scrappy is what this band does.

The tempo hasn’t moved and the scrappiness hasn’t budged

That doesn't mean they sound scrawny. Nine years before this album, Superchunk made Here's to Shutting Up, a title that made even more sense once you listened; the band sounded listless even when they rocked, as if they were packing it in before they even hit "record." Majesty Shredding is exactly the opposite. Thanks in part to producer Scott Solter, and a terrific batch of songs, this might be the fullest and brightest album they've made. There's maturity to this — a veteran group harnessing its written and sonic powers with real concentration. But even though singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan's day job is running an unexpectedly successful business (Spoon and Arcade Fire have seen to that), when he opens his mouth to sing, out pours the irresistible sing-along adolescent angst that marked Superchunk out to start with, as undiluted as you could hope for. Just listen to him go to the top of his range on "Everything at Once": scratchy and beseeching and rousing, a little grit in the throat that goes a long way expressively.

"Digging for Something" stomps the record into being. It's medium-tempo, but McCaughan, bassist Laura Ballance, guitarist Jim Wilbur and drummer Jon Wurster shake it so hard it feels faster. That's also the case with "Crossed Wires," whose chorus is a fairly typical plaint ("Don't touch me, I've got…") delivered with such jump it obviates any worry; this is where the album really takes off. It's followed hard by "Slow Jump," whose half-harrowing, half-hilarious first verse features McCaughan being attacked by horses and mice before waking up and seeing the nurse: He's in the hospital for, among other things, "a broken heart." Object all you want that these are people in their forties singing this stuff, but the music and singing tell the same story as the words, which is what counts.

It's hard not to wonder if "Learned to Surf" isn't a subtle rebuke to all the lazy "surf" bands inundating indie rock of late. "I might seem ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-out of it," McCaughan hollers at the beginning, sounding like anything but. When "Everything at Once" finishes with falsetto ooohs fighting for space with half-buried guitar skronk, there's a real sense of triumph. Of course the solo is muffled — this is a band. McCaughan might be in front but everything should be mixed together, the strumming is as important as the riffs, and tightness counts. Life-changing? Not unless you've never heard a Superchunk record before. Life-affirming? Goodness, yes.