Superchunk shows the value of persistence
Its one kind of victory for a long-running band to overhaul a sound; many do, or try to. (Innovation, it could be argued, is rocks old European disease.) But its 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 Superchunks 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 bands 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 Ballances bass; the rush and thud of Jon Wursters drumming; the high, reedy, major-key emotiveness and strong melodic top lines in Mac McCaughans singing; Jim Wilburs consonant, note-bending guitar solos and feedback song-endings. The song structures on I Hate Music are pretty rear-guard; theres not much here that couldnt have lived in slightly different form either slicker or rawer on a college radio playlist in the 80s.
Its 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 its rock against grandiosity. Over more than 20 years, with a few tentative exceptions, the band hasnt 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: Its worth the pleasure of a passing thrill, like this songs 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 ones core self. Theyre love songs about persistence, and thats embedded in the sound of the record; you dont need a lyric sheet to hear it.
Ben Ratliff, New York Times