Music review: 'I Hate Music'

The New York TimesAugust 31, 2013 

Superchunk's "I Hate Music."

  • Rock Superchunk “I Hate Music”

Superchunk shows the value of persistence

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 creative, too.

“I Hate Music” on Merge Records, the indie-rock band Superchunk’s 10th album since 1989 and its second after a nine-year break from recording during the aughts, reflects an evolution almost like that of a group working the mainstream jazz language: refinement by slow degrees. The band’s connection to its core virtues has become at the very least a roadmap for getting older, at most a kind of ethical standard.

Superchunk knows its power source: the neat, fast eighth-note rhythm drive of Laura Ballance’s bass; the rush and thud of Jon Wurster’s drumming; the high, reedy, major-key emotiveness and strong melodic top lines in Mac McCaughan’s singing; Jim Wilbur’s consonant, note-bending guitar solos and feedback song-endings. The song structures on “I Hate Music” are pretty rear-guard; there’s not much here that couldn’t have lived in slightly different form – either slicker or rawer – on a college radio playlist in the ’80s.

It’s the sound of modesty in celebration mode, rock with a studied awareness of where the stresses should fall and where the notes should ring. But it’s rock against grandiosity. Over more than 20 years, with a few tentative exceptions, the band hasn’t done a fundamental, lasting rethink. It really likes its own ceilings.

References to travel and music, the practical life of a band, run through the lyrics.

In “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” McCaughan asks, “I hate music – what is it worth?” But he knows: It’s worth the pleasure of a passing thrill, like this song’s joyous chorus.

Other passing thrills referred to here: summer baseball (“Out of the Sun”), navigating a foreign city (“Trees of Barcelona”), staying home (“Staying Home”). But really the songs seem to be about aging and maintaining relationships, with others and with one’s core self. They’re love songs about persistence, and that’s embedded in the sound of the record; you don’t need a lyric sheet to hear it.

Ben Ratliff, New York Times

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