Listening through SUPERCHUNK.

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18 mai 2012, 17h27m

Howdy, all! My good friend Nigel and I are going to be journaling and listening through the Superchunk discography, and I welcome you to listen through with us! We'll be going by year.

1989

This year covers a 7" when they went by the name Chunk, and the Slack Motherfucker 7"!

(These songs were later collected on the Tossing Seeds compilation, in case those seven-inches were too difficult to acquire.)

The first seven-inch is a quick little blast of music. I think it is best viewed as foreshadowing of what is to come, as What I Do and My Noise serve as a formidable double-punch of power-pop with some heavier influence. My Noise, especially, comes away as the winner of the two. Train From Kansas City goes by without too much affair. The stutter-step drum beat is super nice, and creates an off-kilter feel while the rest of the song is really nothing too special.

Too not acknowledge Slack Motherfucker would be a huge error; as its melody and angsty job-related worker lyrics are instantly accessible and applicable to ANYONE (read: me) who has held a menial part-time job. Clearly, this track is the winner. When Matador released this record, that HAD to know that they were holding a winner, and when the 'Chunk finally defected to their own record label, Merge Records, that they created for the original sole purpose of Superchunk recordings, they were developing into a formidable force. Although a few of the songs are certainly not great, the A-sides hold their own. Night Creatures, the B-side, sounds like a Minor Threat song at half-speed. Garlic, a track from a three-way split, is another one that goes without too much to comment upon. Jon Wurster, who is not yet with the band, would have certainly added something more to the song than the stale beat that moves this song.

1990

I have to admit, I have hardly ever critically listened to this year's only effort; the self-titled album Superchunk, but not out of disinterest. I am clearly biased towards the Wurster records, as the drumming on this record is not bad; but Wurster adds a different element to the recordings he is on. It is also important to remember that this record was recorded, mixed, and mastered in TWO (!) days in early January. It is definitely apparent in its sound, which is a pseudo-lo-fi punk record.

Sick to Move, the opener, is especially wonderful; with its strange Sonic Youthesque intro/bridge part with the rolling toms, straight into the straight-forward punk thrashing and double-timed drum lick, makes this a great statement of intent for the record. The harmonies in the right channel are slightly grating, however, as Mac is not always on-key. Although I'm sure this is intentional, as part of that whole "I don't really care" punk movement around the turn into the 90's. The re-recording of My Noise is nice, and a testament to the song itself; one of the strongest on this record.

Let It Go comes next, with its great little minor key bass line. Say what you will about the ability of Laura, the bass player, but on songs like this, she definitely holds her own. The song as a whole is not that great, but the bass line makes it worth listening to. 'Chunk has written this song many times, but they do it much better in the years to come. Swinging also doesn't do a whole lot for me; the drumming is relatively weak and off at times, especially when he switches between beats. The chord progression is also weak and the lyrics are even more inane than some of Mac's strangest.

Slow is okay, and it is clearly named for its sound. It has this southern rock feel to it with all the weird bending chords. Mac's harmonies are nice, but this is not a song I will turn to for listening very much, I must admit. The recording here of Slack is the same as the 7", and is still always worth listening to in whatever mood, as the song is wonderful. It kicks of the second side of the record wonderfully, after the dross and way-too-long Slow. Binding is also a slow-burner, but again, Laura steals the show. The bassline is simple, let effective. Her tone is also wonderful. Down the Hall and its harmonies are great; and definitely make the second half the record hold up. Here, Mac seems much more transparent than usual, and it works. Especially with the subtle little modulation that leads into the bridge.

To round out the record, Half a Life and Not Tomorrow come through. Half a Life sounds like the track you would use with Pavement's Here to round out your geeky mixtape for a jilted lover, and I must say that I will probably never listen to it again. Which is my fault, because it's an okay song, but that image is just too much for me. Thankfully, Not Tomorrow comes in and gives the record a wonderful punk finish.

All-in-all, this record is a good debut record. It's slightly rocky, and definitely has its ups and downs, as well as its predictable moments (here's looking at you, Half a Life and Slow). With the gift of hindsight, it is clear that this is a perfect setup for the future records coming, especially the VASTLY superior No Pocky for Kitty, which was released merely one year later. It's nice to listen to this record, but I view it more as an element for foreshadowing than as an independent piece, which is definitely wrong and cutting them short, for sure, but I will be spilling praise upon almost everything else they do, don't fret. (One big positive of this record are those HARMONIES Mac uses; although some of them are strange and off-key, they are a device that Mac doesn't do too much in the years to come, and I lament this fact.)

1991

And OFF WE GO, with the Albini produced No Pocky for Kitty, and various other single/comp tracks from the Tossing Seeds anthology. NPfK is clearly a vast step in a positive direction after a somewhat bland, although promising of the future, debut album. The drums pop, the guitars sound biting, and the vocals are somewhat buried, yet the harmonies are super up front. Sounds like a standard Albini affair to me! Wurster, however, is still not present.

Skip Steps 1 & 3 kicks things off raucously, and deliciously. The chorus riff and melody are so catchy, and the off-kilter harmonies are in full effect. Seed Toss comes next, with rather inane lyrics but GREAT distant backing vocals in the chorus. The drums are also super nice here, and fit the feel perfectly. Albini's production (engineering... whatever...) truly MAKE this song, as the guitars sound absolutely seething when compared to the crispy drums. Truly wonderful.

Cast Iron is next, and is a song I have admittedly been quite cold to in the past. The breakdown/bass solo/guitar solo thing that forms the verses has always struck me as weird, but the odd time-signature of the next part makes this worth it. Again, weird lyrics that really don't mean too much, I can't imagine, but if you aren't doin' the "indie head bob" (so many things about that phrase make me physically sick) to this song, we probably are not friends. Mac's throats shouts towards the end are totally worth your time. Tower has a delirious metal riff that sounds like it belongs on the self-titled record. The lyrics are indecipherable as the vocals are incredibly buried, and the bass is nearly non-existant. Thankfully, Punch Me Harder comes in and saves the day. Live versions of this song are blistering, and the verse riff is a sight to behold, although it is one that Mac & Co. will rewrite (albeit, much slower) in the future to great effect. Again, the drumming is a massive step up from the self-titled.

Sprung A Leak is another Superchunk song that sounds like it comes straight from an 80's metal tune viewed through this weird lo-fi DIY punk lens. Then the chorus comes and is all sorts of confusing, as the verse is all Metallica, and then the chorus is all Mac being Mac. Not the biggest fan of this song, as it holds nothing for me. Again, though, for every not so great moment, one worth redeeming follows, as 30 Xtra plows forward. The second guitar that just stays on that same chord as the verse/bridge come, and the double-tracked chorus vocals are beauties. Especially the subtle bass change on the second time through the verses; another time where Laura holds her own. Albini takes a weird center-stage here again with Tie A Rope To The Back Of The Bus, as the room-mic'd drums and live sound of the guitars take the main focus. Mac's vocals also sound live and in a wide open room, which make them fantastic.

Not to ignore the punk roots for too long, Press starts with an awesome bass lick, although the chorus leaves something to be desired. It honestly strikes me as a weaker Precision Auto, and as more of a filler track. Those drum fills in the bridge are super nice, though. Sidewalk creeps by sounding like the type of song that The Promise Ring would make if Davey would've stopped being so obsessed with being cute as opposed to just being punk. Continuing the one-word titles (normally resigned to self-aware self-titled albums, I might add) Creek blasts triumphantly, and is quickly becoming a favorite, even though it just sounds like a Minor Threat song with a quirky off-time chorus riff. But that harmony and that off-time riff are EXACTLY what make it unique and one of my new favorites. Also, Jim's second guitar during the chorus is insane.

Closing off the disc is fan favorite, and frequent member of encores, Throwing Things, which is arguably the most Superchunk song on this entire album. The sounds of Foolish and On the Mouth are clearly foreshadowed here, and the bridge is CLASSIC 'Chunk. Truly a GREAT song.

NOW come the singles. Fishing features backing vocals from Laura, which make it fantastic despite its minor key dirging. Cool, a song that has mysteriously reappeared as a staple in recent setlists, is the b-side to Fishing, and complements its A-side commendably, but buzzes by without too much fanfare in my eyes. The weirdly intervalled guitar parts are super Fugazi and nice, but don't save the song. The Breadman sounds like a basement recording, or a recording made straight to a DAT tape and poorly remastered, but this is a GREAT thing. The acoustic guitar being frantically strummed and the tape drop halfway though the song are incredibly charming, and I am upset I overlooked this tune until now. The original recordings of Cast Iron and Seed Toss do not differentiate from the NPfK versions, except for being much more lo-fi. Cast Iron features an awesome fuzzy double-tracked vocal, which makes it MUCH cooler in my eyes here. The Sebadoh covers go by without too much over which to comment; they are quite faithful to the originals, and I guess that's a good thing. I'm completely indifferent to them, truth be told.


1993

...is a powerful year for the 'Chunk, with the album On the Mouth, and ALSO the Ribbon seven inch, with a song on a Simple Machines comp.

On the Mouth begins with the best one-two punch on any Superchunk album, with the absolutely blistering Precision Auto; easily one of their best songs. Wurster's presence is felt from the very beginning, and the guitars absolutely seeth. I have extremely strong emotional attachment to this song, as it is the first Superchunk song I ever heard, WAAAAAY back in 2007ish, when Jimmy Eat World was frequently covering it in concert, and I was still ignorant to the world of the 'Chunk. From the Curve follows, with an amazing turn-of-phrase, musically, in the drum beat with those ghost notes from Wurster on the snare during the intro/chorus parts. "Right now I'm just a psycho / and I'm ready to leave again" is the rallying call of this tune, and it's perfectly fitting, considering the acrimonious leaving of the original drummer. (Also considered a reference to Pavement's Gary Young, and it's really all too fitting there, as well).

For Tension is more classic Mac, really. The stutter-step beat in the chorus and the soaring harmonies are already taking the formula begun on the self-titled and ratcheting up several notches on the effective meter. This song is far catchier than any of the self-titled songs (save Slack) and is just as potent. That breakdown, also, would not have happened pre-Wurster, either, and it makes the last time through the chorus actually sound like Mac means it. "For tension / guess what I use? / For tension / you can use me / your attention / for tension / your attention is all I never / need" is a very Braid-like emoish lyric, but it sounds genuine and not as contrite and dumb as it can coming from Bob Nanna's shredded larynx. (Remember, shredding your vocal chords =/= genuine). Mower is a passive song that is effective in the album tracklist to take the power of the first three songs and lower it for a moment. "It was a robin's egg / and it was blue" is relatively inane, but we don't tax A.C. Newman for his clunkier efforts when it comes to finding words to fit a song, so I'll save Mac that one.

Package Thief is another great tune; like an updated Punch Me Harder with a better melody line and a more effective chorus. This time, the lyrics are super silly, with the title bearing the story of the tune. The irregularly occurring harmonies are fun and give this song a total summer feel. Credit Wilbur/Wurster for combined in a fantastic way during the breakdown before the last chorus and keeping it cohesive. Swallow That closes out the A-side of the record in a kinda cliché way; slow, lumbering, and more strange and oblique emoish lyrics: "If it helps you sleep / swallow that / until you're full". It should be noted that Mac and Laura broke up following the release of this record, and although Foolish is the breakup record, On the Mouth is the buildup to that occurring in my mind, so the strangely confessional yet oblique lyrics fit this mood perfectly. I'm not the biggest fan of this song, but Wilbur's harmonies on "It's just a body!" are great. Let's also not discredit the tambourine that comes through during the extended jam and dominates the mix, as it adds extra flavor when the song begins to speed up. This song is always only worth it just to reach the cathartic end; and although I like that a lot a lot a lot in songs, many have done it better, and the 'Chunk will prove they can, too.

Opening the B-side of the album is a brief acoustic guitar riff into I Guess I Remembered It Wrong, which is a nice little power pop ditty with punk flavor. AKA, it's Superchunk. This one goes by without too much fanfare, but the continued motif of tambourine use being introduced is GREAT, so Wurster deserves another nod there. New Low is odd; as it foreshadows the entirety of the Majesty Shredding record, and almost sounds like it doesn't belong on this record. Rope Light, off of MS sounds the most similar to this song, but those distorted vocals are completely amazing. (When did Vanderslice get here?!) Again, Mac is getting in touch with his inner confessional songwriter, but in a rather roundabout way, so it doesn't get in the way too much, of which I am thankful. Untied kicks off and sounds like a precursor to the ending of the Foolish record, which again makes it sound slightly out of place with this album. The bass part is buried, but is crucial to this tune succeeding. Live versions FAR exceed the album version, but that quirky tom breakdown that leads into the chorus is where dreams are made.

The crown jewel of the second half, however, is in setlist frequenter The Question Is How Fast. This song has a total Fugazi feel left and right, from the intro guitar tone, to the buildup, to the double-timed chorus, to the interlocking guitars. I know that Superchunk opened for Fugazi on the Southeast leg of the tour in 1993 from the Fugazi Live Archive site, but I'm honestly unsure as to whether it was before or after this album was recorded/released. Regardless, the Fugazi influence is ALL over this song, and Mac's vocals are super nice double-tracked like this. Another song with an awesome breakdown and strong emotional attachment, as I remember listening to this song during study hall my senior year of high school on a regular basis. So I can see the room I'm in and remember the smell of it and such just from listening to this song. Music's interesting, huh?

Now to get negative. Trash Heap strikes me as redundant and empty. The awkward stop-start rhythm at the beginning falls really flat and the chorus is weak. The tide of the album is so incredibly strong that it carries this song with it, but I am not a fan of this song whatsoever. Flawless is another one of those Minor Threat slowed down, end of the album tunes, of which the 'Chunk has now ended their past three full-lengths. Again the distorted vocals return, and make this song sound like a grittier Precision Auto. Fun fact: this song played during a skateboard video my friend made in high school at my suggestion. As gross as it is to admit it, it fits the skateboard theme pretty well. The Only Piece That You Get is the album cover that all of your favorite emo bands tried to write, but failed. That drop-D acoustic guitar and the feedback that surges are a great combo. Mac's vocals are buried. Bass is non-existent. Again, this song is like The Promise Ring on steroids; as Davey could never pull this off successfully. Those screams that are submerged in the mix are unbelievably effective, and prove that this album is one of their best.

The Ribbon single, backed with Who Needs Light, is an adequate example of how a 7" should work; as Who Needs Light is most certainly a b-side, with its 6/8 time that doesn't quite fit in with anything from On the Mouth, and also is a great complementary pair to the surging Ribbon, which is a career highlight as far as non-album tracks go. The second guitar part that is off-kilter with the rest is a previously unused tactic, and AGAIN, the tambourine absolutely steals the show. Wurster, you dog, you. YOU DOG, YOU. Night of Chill Blue is a song of no consequence; and its appearance on a compilation should indicate the band's thoughts on it.

All in all, 1993 is a vital year for their development and evolution to the perfect trifecta of Foolish and the two that follow. More next week!

1994

...is now here, and it's high-time to dive into the first truly diverse record in the 'Chunk oeuvre, Foolish. (Also included is the Driveway to Driveway (Acoustic) which is exactly as its title depicts it, and also the b-side, Connecticut, which features Wilbur on vocals and is wildly midwestern emoish and cold. Weird.)

But Foolish, you guys. This is the classic break-up record. Not in that I See a Darkness way, but in the actual tangible way of attempting to pick up the pieces and trying to figure out just how to move forward. Empathy is the key word to this album, and without it, well, it's just noise. ANOTHER key to this album is its frustrating tracklisting, and also relatively annoying and superfluous outros on almost every song. Clearly taking cues from Polvo, Slint, and other bands of the time, each song stretches out to become something epic in form, and usually misses.

Like a Fool is a mission statement. "You dove in / after trusting me / trusting me / like a fool". The lumbering album version features a more cohesive version of the original demo version released under the title Foolish, bearing the record's name. I once heard Ryan Adams cover this live. I wish I could erase that from my mind...

The First Part is angst to the core. Mac's lyrics have never been this developed, nor have they been quite this memorable, up to this point. Although maturity is not the adjective I would use, it shows his development past the initial growing pains of songwriting. "One good minute / you'd ask me to hold you" is the kicker, though. Mac's vocals are sublime throughout the tune, and the extended outro takes it home. At least tambourine is used...

Water Wings, though, is the real treat. Laura's bass is her best to this point, and the cute stutter-step rhythm JW gives it packs a serious punch. Wilbur's constantly feedbacking guitar and the best riff of the album make this song a contender for the best on the record. "She pointed out the black cloud in the sky / said that's what happens when you learn to fly". Can't get much angrier than that. Perhaps more obvious in intentions, this song is a pure punch in the gut to Laura, Mac's ex at this point. Driveway to Driveway, though, proves to be an effective counterpoint to the previous two songs, by interjecting a relative (albeit misleading) calm to the tide of the album. Rightfully so, this is a setlist staple, and the use of the motif of drunkenness might be a touch too much, as the kids say, but it does fit with the entire piece of the album.

Saving My Ticket is an instant classic, with its ping-pong guitars and Wurster laying out a very prolonged snare fill in every line of the chorus. (If you recall my Sugar's Copper Blue review, I said that Wurster could fill this role for Bob Mould solely on the basis of the original drummer not being able to pull off this kind of fill with any grace nor confidence. I stand by that opinion.) The tambourine that comes in halfway through the verses is also a beautiful thing. On a relative low note, Kicked In comes in, lumbering like an updated Swallow That with no real payoff. This is Ben Gibbard's favorite song, and I guess it makes sense, because Gibbard has a similar tendency to build and build and then coast to no resolution whatsoever; a tactic some like, but does NOTHING for me, especially when the 'Chunk can (and will, and do) this so much better than here. Kicked In is truly a frustrating song to me, and one I commonly skip.

Well, truth be told, I'm too excited to get to Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything, which is the crown jewel of Foolish. Its surging intro, to the humming bass throughout the breakdown into the verse, and the whiny "You used to cut me up inside / won't let you do it again", "why do you have to put a date on everything? / can't you just strike the bell? / thought that your skin would crack / it's just wrinkling / why do you have to put a date on everything?" and "you keep your face / and I'll keep the rest" are all absolutely bitter, angry lines, that really are quite resonant. It doesn't hurt that some of Mac's best lyrics are backed up by one of his best melodies and riffs. The only thing that kills it is that stupid extended outro that goes absolutely NOWHERE. Ugh. Thankfully, Without Blinking redeems us a bit. This intro always foreshadows Cursed Mirror to me, as it has that same ascending feel not previously employed by the 'Chunk. "Did you really do this without blinking? / or was there concentration first? / When you said you were sorry you did it without blinking / You can’t pretend to not know how that hurts" is the best lyric Mac has ever pinned.

Unfortunately from this point, Foolish descends into filler levels. The overly repetitive and emotionally lacking Keeping Track blurs straight into Revelations, which features a very Sonic Youth instrumental intro. I must admit that this song is a complete sleeper on me, as it sounds like it's drop-D, and it also has nice tension and release; like Kicked In if it actually went anywhere. Stretched Out, also, has a very nice Indoor Living feel to it, and an odd-timed melody in the verses. I can't get away from how Promise Ring this song sounds, except infinitely better. "You never taught me how to read" is an oblique line that, for some reason, sticks with me every time I hear this record. I cannot get over how Indoor Living this song feels! I wish I had nice things to say about In a Stage Whisper, but it does nothing for me; it's an overly lethargic Like a Fool.

All-in-all, Foolish is a great record. It's methodical, dark, cold, and had to have turned off many a fan when it came out, much like the similar in atmosphere Red Medicine to Fugazi fans. This record led to many break-up rumors; mostly due to the break-up of two band members, which I find super interesting. Later this year, though, they will head into the studio to record on the best 90's records put to tape. More about that next week!

1995

is upon us, and this means the pinnacle of the Superchunk sound, Here's Where the Strings Come In, alongside the Hyper Enough single. This album is my personal favorite of theirs, and is also their strongest. The songs are meaty, sonically open and still heavy, and the production is great. Wurster's drumming, as typified on opener Hyper Enough, is becoming more complex by this point, and also more unique to his personal style. The fills that lead with the hi tom and quickly back to snare, a JW special, are all throughout this album, and literally litter Hyper Enough and Animated Airplanes Over Germany; even kicking off the latter. Laura's bass playing is also given more room to breathe in the mix, and on songs like Silverleaf and Snowy Tears, really takes center stage. Mac's melodies are extremely sharp, as is his guitar playing. The songwriting itself is also kicked to a higher gear; with new tunings and new outlooks on lyric writing. Credit Wilbur for adding extremely great complementary guitar parts, as well. ALSO, credit Mac for subtly introducing the organ on Silverleaf, that of which will become integral to the 'Chunk sound moving forward.

Make no bones about it, THIS is the Superchunk record that is essential. Hyper Enough surges with punk power and the catchiest melody + lyric combo Mac has ever written. Silverleaf and Snowy Tears is a testament to the maturity of the songcrafting. JW's drums are some of his best on tape; the ostinato part at the last verse before the bridge into the halftime beat is one of his finest moments. Combine that with great ping-pong interplay on guitars, and you have one of their best songs ever. Yeah, It's Beautiful Here Too kicks off with drums, and two guitars, before the bass layers in and adds muscle. "Cracked a hole in the glass bottom boat / now the things we killed are beginning to float" is the march of this anthemic number. Again, the theme of discontinuity in relationships is approached, but with characteristic opaqueness. However, when the title of the song is "yeah, it's beautiful here too", and the main catch of the song is "and all this scenery looks fake", you better believe olde' Ralph Lee McCaughan is smarter than what meets the eye.

Iron On is a song that could NOT have been written by 'Chunk even a year before this. Following their tour with Polvo, new tunings had been introduced, and also a new eye on restraint. Iron On plods through without much affair, but this is a GOOD thing. "Will you send me a picture / so I can remember?" is a cold, but affecting line. Sunshine State is almost super overstated in its sensuality; like Bonnie 'Prince' Billy but with a punk band. The minor key transitions also make it standout as a part of the new 'Chunk way of songwriting. Key to the success of this record, however, is in the tracklisting. After the soaring conclusion to Sunshine State, the cymbal striking of Detroit Has A Skyline never ceases; and the conclusion to Side A is reached after one of Mac's best songs, lyrically and musically. "Drank my sleep from a can / played track six / track seven / again and again / I had a crush / nothing works out" and the tag of "meet me again / maybe a year from now / meet me again / I think we both remember how" are both extremely powerful phrases; and when matched with the punk thrashing of the chord progression, produce the best song on the record. Wurster smacks the drums like none other on this track. This was one of the first 'Chunk songs I heard, and it was absolutely essential to me liking them that I heard this song, as it is extremely special and oddly relatable. Oh, relationships LOL.

Eastern Terminal begins Side B on an interesting note; again, detuned guitars take center stage. Although songs on former 'Chunk albums definitely had a feel of copping Fugazi, this is one of the songs that takes that Fugazi formula and shows that Mac & Co. can place their own unique spin upon it, which results in one of the best tension and release songs in a discography filled to the brim with exactly those. Animated Airplanes Over Germany is a cousin to Hyper Enough; it sounds almost exactly the same in second guitar part and structure, but is different in chorus and lyrical quality; two of the most important qualities in this song. The overdubbed acoustic guitar is critical to the success of this recording; and Wurster's double-time in the middle of the song is a sight to behold. Green Flowers, Blue Fish is one of Mac's finest slower songs. Placed perfectly on the album, Green Flowers is a very emotional song; as the finest memory I have of this song is hearing it played on The Best Show when a friend of the band had passed away. The chorus comes completely unexpectedly, and the passion in the vocals in unparalleled. "You made your mind up". Also also, THAT TAMBOURINE. Goodness, Wurster, have my children already. For goodness sake.

The title track, Here's Where The Strings Come In, is a rather tongue-in-cheek title, but one that holds more weight when Indoor Living appears two years later. One of my favorite moments on any Superchunk recording is hearing the way the song ends, with Mac singing "yeah, here's where the strings come in" as the song ends. Although I think the chorus is quite unremarkable, and sometimes makes this song easy to skip, this song is key to the flow of the album, as the blistering Certain Stars follows. This, according to Wurster, is one of the only songs that they never played live, because there were apparently too many moving parts and they could never pull it off. The transition from double-time to half-time is a marvel. Also, take note of the synth leads.

B-side to Hyper Enough, Never Too Young to Smoke, is a great little tune that has the same minor key feel as Sunshine State, except without the sexual overtones. This song would've fit wonderfully on Strings, right between the title track and Certain Stars, but lyrically it differs greatly; featuring an odd focus on what punk rock really is, and a focus on advertising companies and encouraging those punk rock kids to smoke. Very interesting topics for Mac to cover, since these are things he never really does.

Overall, Strings is the quintessential Superchunk album. Sonically, it is their best. Lyrically, it is near to their best (although Mac raises the bar CONSIDERABLY on Indoor Living and afterwards). Wurster is at his most innovative and fun. Laura is featured prominently in multiple songs. Wilbur adds his most interesting and fun guitar parts to every song, as opposed to merely playing the role of filler and texture as previously. It is definitely a product of its time, and it is definitely quite dated; much like the earlier 'Chunk records. Glancing at the pictures contained within, and the overall graphic design of the record, it is clear it is from 1995, and I would not have it any other way. Strings is emotionally powerful, consistent in A+ songwriting and craft, and is perhaps their finest mission statement in terms of consolidating the Superchunk sound. Although Indoor Living and following all expand sonically and add different element of color to their palette, Strings is the measuring stick against which all other 'Chunk records ought to be measured. Jimmy Eat World spent three albums trying to write a Strings; Lee Renaldo's favorite album from the 90's is Strings, and many acts like Archers of Loaf and Heatmiser internally struggled when some of their members wanted to make a record identical to this, eventually leading in breaking up.

Bottom line, if you don't have it... get it. Please.

1997

The intro drum part to Unbelievable Things is like kicking the door open to the unbelievable thing that is the mindtrip of power-pop nuggets that litter the perfect Indoor Living. Mac's melody is the sight to behold; with the octave difference in the lead line, and the "let me pin this on you" repeated in the cacophony of overdubbed guitars. More relatively inane lyrics: "counting cashmere sweaters / counting cracks", but I'll forgive him on account of the wonderful drop-D lead attack.

Burn Last Sunday and Marquee are a one-two punch of wonderful composition. Wurster always complains about his parts sounding to choppy and sectioned off based on the parts of the song; like they're mechanic and over-rehearsed, however, I largely disagree. There are not many drummers that manage to still have serious chops, and tone them down for the benefit of the song as he does; and both these songs are serious testaments to this. Check that open hi-hat alternating riff on the bridge/pre-chorus of Burn Last Sunday. Also, check the Portastatic-esque synth leads on almost EVERYTHING.

Watery Hands, the obvious lead single, is unbeatably catchy. "she building pyramids on water-skis / and we both know that I've got bad knees" is one of Mac's best in-jokes. Throw in an insane video: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIoafYpHeY) with David Cross and Jeannine Garofalo, and you have an instant winner. Wurster's half-ostenato lead on the hi-hat is astounding; as is the tambourine and full-on ostenato during the chorus. The overdubbed acoustic on the second verse is a wonderful touch. Next is the Laura-pinned riffage of Nu Bruises, a long-time favorite. I'm harsh to the atonal synth wankery that occurs at the very end, but at least it is complemented by solid feedback wankery, which I always enjoy very much so.

The secret of this album is in the gloriously beautiful Every Single Instinct; a drop-D led song with wonderfully muted instrumentation. The bass part during the vocal-led part is slightly grating, especially because it doesn't match the rhythm of the rest of the song, but I will not hold that against Laura; it sounds intentional, even though it is distracting. Mac's voice is genuinely passionate and quite pretty here. Very Portastatic.

A long-time favorite of mine, Song for Marion Brown, comes next, with the intro to Wurster's obsession with the open hi-hat best shown on The Mountain Goats' album Heretic Pride. Mac's lyrics are hilarious, silly, and touching. The double-tracked octave lead is again a wonderful touch. A unique chord progression leads the chorus; and pushes straight into The Popular Music, a more uptempo right out rocker. Wurster's drums are active and fun, Laura's counter-melodies are perfect, and Wilbur's little fills are very effective. Mac, also, continues his string of delicious melodies. "I got my ear to the ground / and I'm listening for you". Wonderful. Although it makes me feel like I'm a horse or something. That bridge, too. "This happy homecoming / etc."

Under Our Feet, however, is a slight misstep in my eyes. Although the multi-tracked harmonies are phenomenal, and I wish I heard much more of that, this song seems like the only true foreshadowing to 1999'sCome Pick Me Up. However, the stutter-step rhythm does nothing for me, and the electronic piano in the background is too muted in the mix to do anything. The Polvo-esque European Medicine is a beauty, however, with its 7/4 stutter step into 5/4 into 4/4. Wurster and Laura kill it on those snare rolls; interlocking in greasy funk for the ages.

Ending on the strangest note for a 'Chunk album, Martinis on the Roof is a really puzzler. Although I enjoy it, and I think of it as a fun party song, its inclusion on this record is a testament to the fact that it's okay to parody yourself, and to include it on a record. Again, Wurster's open hi-hat takes center stage, although the strange flange effect on the guitar is a queer choice.

All-in-all, Indoor Living might be my favorite 'Chunk album with which to spend time in the car driving. Its summery feel, and beautiful, full production are both irresistible to me. Although the songwriting is still way above average for a band already six albums in, it does not quite hit the heights of Strings; but that's okay, as it paves a great path for future albums. Indoor Living is the first record to which I would recommend to fans of lesser "indie" bands as an example of what good, clever, and fun songwriting ought to look like. I hate the word indie. Let it die in a fire.

Cheetos and 100 proof / martinis on the roof.

Amen. Cheetos? We were on a break!

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