Album Review: Superchunk – Majesty Shredding

[Merge; 2010]

Isn’t it strange how we change as we get older? Some of us become like the fathers we always hated, some of us become filled with bitterness as a result of the pain life deals out. People become more adventurous or more fearful of death, ultimately some give-up and some try even harder. It is impossible predict and unreasonable to attempt controlling, but the one thing that we can hold true is that every moment changes us in some way and our self is always in flux.
It’s an idea that goes back to Heraclites in Ancient Greece. But when you think about this in terms of music, it creates an intriguing filter. If a musician is always changing, from one experience to the next, and especially with every album they hear from their contemporaries, then you would expect the music they make to be changing as well, which is generally the case. I recently wrote about Rod Stewart, who over the course of his life has traveled from The Faces to easy listening. The Flaming Lips have spent the last 20+ years traveling from noisy drug music to, well, I guess it is still noisy drug music. But it’s better now! Anyways, year after year we see artists improve with experience and decline when their hunger is satiated and consistency is a very rare and cherished commodity, and when thought of in lights of our ever-changing selves, it may be more remarkable to maintain quality for long periods of time then to improve and eventually decline.
Now, unless you somehow got through two paragraphs without knowing what you were reading, you are aware that this is a Superchunk review and that I am probably going to praise their consistency. And while this would be apt, the thing that really strikes me about their first full length in nine years, Majesty Shredding, is how much is sounds exactly like the Superchunk of twenty years prior, aside from the sound quality that technological advancement is responsible for. Go back and listen to “Slack Motherfucker” and tell me that you could not place that single into this recent collection and fit it in seamlessly. You often hear the knock on bands like Interpol and The New Pornographers for maintaining the same sound for album after album, but the real criticism should be that the songwriting is not as strong as it was, so the sound is boring because we’ve heard it many times before before.
This is something Superchunk avoids, and it is not like the North Carolina group has never changed their style, in fact, they spent their first eight full-length albums changing, or growing, steadily, like a band is expected. Then they emerge from a long album hiatus with this, a glass-cut recreation of the band from twenty years prior. And after seeing them play recently, they are also recreating the enthusiasm of the young people who first popified the punk of their youth. There was jumping, bouncing, screaming, and smiling. Hell, even Jon Wurster looks like he could be a young man.
But who would want to hear music that was exciting twenty years ago attempted by a bunch of aging record executives with a radio comedian on the drums? Well, as one of the links between the ’80s hardcore scene and the 2000’s indie-pop phenomenon, Superchunk makes music that could appeal to pretty much anyone with a soft spot for energetic rock music or catchy melodies. The point being that what Superchunk does is timeless, never going out of style. There are just good examples of the genre and Superchunk top the list. There are some horrible ones. Listen to the new Wavves and tell me Superchunk isn’t all over that, but then again, you could make the same argument about Paramore.
With the earnestness in Mac McCaughan’s lyrics and his whining/screaming style, which I admit can wear on a listener, whether the audience believes him and whether the audience cares become important issues. But credibility has never been an issue and they deserve every benefit of the doubt they receive, as they embody the DIY work ethic to a T, shunning major labels when they were starting out in favor of self-releasing their own material. And as founders of Merge, they are responsible for bring us acts like Neutral Milk Hotel and Arcade fire. This history takes some of the sour flavor the cheese of songs like “Learn To Surf” can leave in your mouth, with the questionable lyrics “I can’t hold my breath anymore, I stop swimming and learn to surf.” But when seen in light of the band beginning it’s third decade, McCaughan attributes the ease of staying together to not looking to the future or overplanning. Yes he learned to surf a long time ago.
And his songwriting sounds as easy as everything from functioning as a band to running a label, have always seemed. “My Gap Feels Weird” is pop perfection, while “Fractures In Plaster” forces you to realize where The Thermals sound came from, and show Superchunk out-thermaling even the younger band’s best material. But this fountain of youth of a record is hard to measure song for song, as they are all good, and more importantly, they are all worthy to bear the heavy weight of the classic band’s name. It is one of the surprises of the year and the music world is lucky for it. It may be getting a little cold for pop-punk, but find an opportunity to spend an evening with Majesty Shredding, if only to see your world turn to summertime and everyone in it to return to youth… if only for the moment.