Now that Sonic Youth is gone, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina treasure that is Superchunk is rivaled only by Hoboken, N.J.’s Yo La Tengo as the longest-running, most-inspiring band in indie-rock, as well as its veritable conscience—or at least the conscience of what that community and idea once meant. (Because in the ’80s underground from whence the band emerged, it always was more of an ethic and a bond uniting many wildly diverse musicians than it was a particular sound, much less a genre description, as it is for many in the present.)
The band’s deceptively simple popish punk sound—hard-driving, constantly melodic, and never less than super-enthusiastic—never has changed much. But it hasn’t had to.
“I hate music/What is it worth?” the irrepressible Mac McCaughan sings on “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” from the band’s 10th album. “Can’t bring anybody back to this earth/Filling the space between all of the notes/But I’ve got nothing else, so here it goes.”
As McCaughan and his musical and Merge Records partner Laura Ballance age, just like many of us peers, the theme of loss looms ever larger, via the absence of now-departed loved ones and the fading of iconic bands and bastions of community (say, the aforementioned Sonic Youth in the case of the former, or the now shuttered Maxwell’s as an example of the latter).
But Superchunk isn’t reveling in nostalgia or the fading glories of its youth. No, as the 11 relentlessly effervescent, purely celebrating tracks on the new disc prove, the quartet is adamantly devoted to living in the moment and celebrating it with every but of the gusto it had 10, 20, 25 years ago.
The group honestly has never made a bad album, but some certainly have been stronger than others. Released in 2010, its last effort, Majesty Shredding, actually was the most potent since the classic No Pocky for Kitty (1991). And with tunes such as the ferocious “Overflows,” the insinuating “Trees of Barcelona,” the pounding “FOH” (a shout-out here to super-drummer Jon Wurster) and that killer anthem “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” with its timeless image of a band in a van with the musician riding shotgun putting his or her feet up on the dash while dialing in the perfect sounds on the stereo, I Hate Music is as great a gift as any the group ever has given us.
Superchunk, I Hate Music (Merge)
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.