Release Date: Aug 20, 2013
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
Maybe we were just fooling ourselves, but even though they came together before the end of the Cold War, Superchunk had thus far managed to avoid seeming like they’re actually, you know, getting old. Maybe it’s the fact that their surging “whoa-oh-oh” choruses and buzzsaw guitars still sound just as electrifying as they did during the Clinton years, or maybe it’s that onstage the band still bounces around like a bunch of slap-happy twenty-somethings, but for whatever reason it seemed like Superchunk had this whole punk-after-40 thing figured out. By keeping busy with excellent side projects (Jon Wurster drums for the Mountain Goats, Mac McCaughan and Jim Wilbur play in Portastatic, and—oh yeah—Laura Balance and McCaughan own and operate Merge Records), they leave enough time between albums that the music always sounds fresh, even though they’ve been using same basic formula for over two decades.
Despite starting off in their traditional feedback swell, I Hate Music finds Mac McCaughan jumping in acoustic with "Overflows. " The rest of the â??Chunk kick into a mid-tempo electric jam featuring Mac's high whine, creative drum beats courtesy of Jon Wurster, concrete basslines by Laura Ballance and screaming guitar leads from Jim Wilbur. Just the stuff we can expect from the ultra-consistent Merge leaders Superchunk.
Merge Records founders and mainstays Superchunk returned in 2010 with the triumphant Majesty Shredding, an album that, more than anything else the band has released, exemplified the term “pop rock.” It also cemented the band as a force to be reckoned with once again. Now, Superchunk has released their tenth studio album, the ironically titled I Hate Music, in 2013. Indeed, what’s ironic about the title is that the album itself, after just one listen, makes you feel the exact opposite emotion towards music that the title suggests, as Mac McCaughan and company have created an album that fits, like its predecessor, atop the most energetic and best of the band’s legendary catalogue.
Often overlooked and undervalued by both the mainstream and alternative press during their initial lifespan and ignored for the most part by a Nineties alt-rock audience sated either by brutalist angst or retro stonerisms, Superchunk have spent great portions of the last 25 years quietly (but very, very loudly) producing a series of immaculate albums that are filled with youthful glee, artful introspection and tunes so skyscraping you could hurt your neck looking up. Leaving a nine year semi-colon (discounting the excellent Clambakes Series… of live albums and a b-sides collection) between the nostalgic, inspiring Here’s To Shutting Up and 2010’s ferocious, delicious Majesty Shredding, Mac McCaughan’s Chapel Hill crew have returned relatively swiftly this time with I Hate Music. It's a record by a band now firmly in their forties who are using the strong proposition of doubt conjured by the title as an opportunity to illustrate in the most vivid colours available exactly why they are compelled to continue living the band life more suited to kids in their twenties.
Superchunk’s 10th album is advertised as having a “dark undercurrent,” but to the extent that there is one, it’s buried far beneath the band’s reliably chipper chords and sunny choruses. This record finds Chapel Hill’s greatest export at its most vibrant and emotive since 1994’s Foolish (despite the ironic title, which calls to mind 2001’s Here’s To Shutting Up). There’s a punk song that lasts barely one minute (“Staying Home”), a hard-rocker (“Void”) and a smattering of introspective tracks (“FOH,” “Trees of Barcelona”).
"I hate music - what is it worth?" That question, sung at the beginning of Me & You & Jackie Mittoo, gives Superchunk's 10th album (their sequel to 2010's Majesty Shredding, which followed a nine-year hiatus) both its title and theme. The answer, informed by mid-life doubts after years spent in dingy rock clubs and crammed into smelly vans, isn't so much provided lyrically as implied musically. As fuzzy, upbeat and yearningly anthemic as the sounds of their 90s heyday (if not more so), I Hate Music defiantly stares the indie rock lifestyle in the face and shouts, "I do it because it's fun, goddamn it!" There's no reason to question Superchunk's dedication.
When Superchunk released their ninth studio album in 2010, it had been nine years since their previous record. While the significant weight of expectation that accompanied it could have resulted in flat disappointment, the Chapel Hill indie stalwarts (and founders of ever-influential label Merge) crafted an album of effervescent ebullience, fusing joy and sadness with a skill that built on their two decades of existence. This relatively swift follow-up is just as infectious, belying its title by delivering 11 tracks full of a passion, love and understanding of music, and which celebrates the power it holds.
Superchunk has always stayed cool by never being too hot. They're both of and above the indie culture they helped create with 20-plus years of doing things exactly how, where, and with whom they wanted. When the major labels were tossing around big money in the early '90s to anyone that could vaguely be considered “alternative,” Superchunk made a stand, along with the similarly minded Fugazi and Ani DiFranco, by sitting the whole thing out.
After returning to the scene with the glorious Majesty Shredding album in 2010, Superchunk could have packed it in, again secure in the knowledge that they had made one last power punk noise classic. The album's focus may have been on thoughts and issues relevant to old-timers, but the music was ferocious enough to blow away even the most energetic young band of whippersnappers. Since they didn't give up and did indeed release another album in 2013, I Hate Music, the question is, did they need to? Did they have more to say? Could they maintain the high level of crackling energy and keep the intensity flowing? The answer is a resounding yes, yes, and yes.
I Hate Music—the 10th album from Chapel Hill’s Superchunk—isn’t as cynical as it sounds. After all, music has been awfully kind to this band for almost 25 years. And in turn, they’ve been supremely important to indie rock (whichever definition of the term you choose), both musically and—for bassist Laura Ballance and guitarist-vocalist Mac McCaughan—as the proprietors of the venerable Merge Records.
When bands have been around awhile, people tend to discuss the way age has entered their work, even if the topic doesn't quite fit. With Superchunk's 10th album, I Hate Music, a collection that focuses on the forward march of time and the pain that goes along with it, this kind of commentary is unavoidable. The Chapel Hill quartet has been a reliable and surprisingly consistent force for almost 25 years.
A key component of the '90s alt-rock scene was that many of its musicians had an ambivalence bordering on downright contempt for the very art form they practiced. This thread ran from Mudhoney's irreverent nonchalance, through Pavement's one-eyebrow-raised detachment, to the tragically extreme method of retirement expressed in Kurt Cobain's suicide note. The title of Superchunk's second record since their nine-year '00s sabbatical suggests a band still waging an existential wrestling match with the inherent ridiculousness of music-making.
"I hate music/what is it worth?" sings Mac McCaughan on Superchunk's latest full-length. The line, a seemingly snide dismissal on a track that still name-checks a relatively obscure Jamaican-Canadian reggae artist ("Me & You & Jackie Mittoo"), is actually meant as a sad lament for a lost friend. That the North Carolina unit plucked it as their album title shows that age hasn't blunted their self-aware wit.
Superchunk releases their 10th studio album, I Hate Music, this week. To discuss the new record, Consequence of Sound writers Matt Melis, Dan Caffrey, and Ryan Bray sat down in the most indie, DIY location in Chicago: a Starbucks inside a Dominick’s (a major supermarket chain). Matt Melis (MM): So, what struck everyone most about I Hate Music? Ryan Bray (RB): For me, the record’s more of a long haul than their other records.
John Mayer has made a career of growing up (or failing to grow up) in public, and Paradise Valley, his sixth studio album, continues that autobiographical journey. As its title (a reference to Mayer's Montana retreat) indicates, this chapter finds him in a relaxed, joyful frame of mind. And why not ….
The timid may be tempted to beg off Superchunk’s latest opus, not only due to the aggressive, angst-intensive title, but more because of the ferocity with which they actually rebut that notion. In truth, I Hate Music affirms the fact that Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Jon Wurster and Jim Wilbur are as passionate as ever when it comes to their musical inclinations, and if there’s any animosity whatsoever, it’s likely mooted by the pent-up fervor with which they exorcise their emotions. (Since the recording of this album Ballance had to quit due to hearing issues and was replaced by Jason Narducy.
There’s an anguished significance layered within the title of Superchunk’s tenth studio record, I Hate Music. The Chapel Hill quartet have have been rocking stages and stereos since 1989, with bandmates Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance also founding the tastemaking record label, Merge, around the same time, forging a long, celebrated career on both sides of the music industry. But the title isn’t a bitter lament, nor a case of biting the hand that feeds — Superchunk clearly love music and all the creative roads it has taken them down, both literally and figuratively.
If I hated music, nothing would please me more than to start an independent rock band and, staying true to my punk ethos, start a record label to release my awesome singles. Eventually, we’d become one of the most influential independent labels in the country. We’d tour for decades and release music from some of the most important musicians of our age.
It’s one kind of victory for a long-running band to overhaul a sound; many do, or try to. (Innovation, it could be argued, is rock’s old European disease.) But it’s an equally valid kind of victory to make continually good records, the focus slightly tighter each time around. Persisting is ….
Superchunk I Hate Music (Merge) Sebadoh Defend Yourself (Joyful Noise) Is this what The Big Chill sounds like for Gen X's college radio subset? Despite a title that reads like perfunctory cynicism, Superchunk's 10th studio LP delivers a perfect strike at the heart of mature-stage alienation. Against the backdrop of a virulent fuzz-pop riff, Mac McCaughan kicks off "Me & You & Jackie Mittoo" by singing, "I hate music/What is it worth/Can't bring anyone back to this Earth." With Ray Davies precision, he sums up these melancholy times as assuredly as a besotted pub sage. Same with "Staying Home," a hardcore-infused broadside against going out, clocking in at just over a minute.
After the mournful preamble of opener 'Overflows' the tenth studio album by Superchunk truly roars into life on second track 'Me & You & Jackie Mittoo' with the emphatically negative war cry "I hate music, what is it worth?" accompanied by their trademark bouncy chords of punky power pop. And although the album title I Hate Music also suggests that this is the sentiment that pervades a band twenty years on from their post grunge peak, in their own words "they’ve got nothing else so here it goes!" As someone who is also two decades on from my pogo-ing nadir I’m happy to come along for the ride again. OK, I roughly know how the Superchunk ride goes and like a roller coaster whose twists and turns you’ve become de-sensitised to it doesn’t stop you getting back on.
North Carolina’s Superchunk have been around the block a few times. They’re… mature. They’re very wise. Look they’re old, okay? They’ve been stamping on distortion pedals and jumping around in plaid shirts for a good couple of decades now. It’s easy to see how they might get a bit ….