NPR : Fresh Air

Filed Under:

On Its New Album, Superchunk Makes The Downtrodden Sound Upbeat

Play associated audio

"I hate music, what is it worth? / Can't bring anyone back to this earth," the band Superchunk sings. It's the kind of sentiment you'd imagine someone blurting out with bitter spontaneity, but it's not really music the band hates; it's the despair and grief to which their music bears witness. Superchunk's new downbeat-but-upbeat album, I Hate Music, is dedicated to a close friend who died last year. More broadly speaking, the record explores various kinds of loss — of innocence, of youth, of friendships, of passions that struggle and sometimes fail to survive.

Superchunk formed in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 1989 and became an important force in indie rock. In addition to leading the band, singer-songwriter Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance co-founded their own company, Merge Records, which became one of the most successful independent labels ever, with acts that include Arcade Fire, Spoon and The Magnetic Fields.

Throughout this album, McCaughan pushes his middle-aged adenoids into ever more plangent tones, even as the guitar work of Jim Wilbur maintains a ferocious denial of the doubt that lurks within most of the lyrics. This creates a sparky tension in the music. The voice sometimes fights against the instruments; at other times, the downer vibe triumphs.

Sometimes, they achieve a lovely unity. "What will keep us upright?" goes a line in the song "Low F." The answer, a few lines later, is love, with the typically Superchunkian afterthought, "at the risk of sounding obvious." The band needs not fret about that; obviousness is a quality Superchunk has avoided for more than 20 years now. Indeed, this is one of the few groups to have emerged from the early '90s whose work has actually improved as its members have grown older and wiser. In 2010, after a nine-year gap in its discography, Superchunk released one of its best albums, Majesty Shredding, and there are a number of superlative moments on this new one, including "Low F" and the wonderfully vivid road song "Trees of Barcelona."

The final song on I Hate Music is titled "What Can We Do," and it finds Superchunk in one of its periodic quiet moments. It has a line about the negativity and pessimism that surrounds the band, even as the pounding drums of Jon Wurster slam out a denial of those sentiments. When joined by the guitars and a soaring vocal, that drumbeat becomes a heartbeat — a sign of Superchunk's enduring health and vigor.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Writer James Alan McPherson, Winner Of Pulitzer, MacArthur And Guggenheim, Dies At 72

McPherson, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has died at 72. His work explored the intersection of white and black lives with deftness, subtlety and wry humor.
NPR

QUIZ: How Much Do You Know About Presidents And Food?

It's week two of the party conventions, and all these speeches are making us hungry. So we made a quiz to test your savvy about presidents and our favorite topic, food.
WAMU 88.5

Your Turn: Ronald Reagan's Shooter, Freddie Gray Verdicts And More

Have opinions about the Democratic National Convention, or the verdicts from the Freddie Gray cases? It's your turn to talk.

NPR

Police Use Fingertip Replicas To Unlock A Murder Victim's Phone

Michigan State University engineers tried 3-D-printed fingertips and special conductive replicas of the victim's fingerprints to crack the biometric lock on his Samsung Galaxy phone.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.