Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Superchunk, I

Superchunk- No Pocky For Kitty

I spent much of my freshman and sophomore years of college trying to be punk as fuck- I was loosely affiliated with the tastemakers at the college radio station and read Maximumrocknroll with a fervor that bordered on fanatasicm (a hell of an equation, I realize now, after the fact).

Despite my façade, I fell into listening to a bunch of bands that didn’t quite qualify for P.A.F. status. Jawbox and Shudder To Think and Samiam all signed to major labels, relegating them to a status that was somewhere on the outskirts of poseurdom. Pavement played what essentially pop music obscured by sheets of obfuscation and feedback. And there was Superchunk, too.

The argument that I always used to hear from the hardercore-than-thou kids I sometimes skated curbs with was that chicks liked the band, which made them tremendous pussies. Why liking Superchunk was strictly a feminine trait was something I couldn’t figure out, because, honestly, they didn’t SOUND that different from a lot of bands that were being listened to. ‘No Pocky For Kitty’ was a record that moved at a zillion miles per hour more than half the time, with an unclean production provided by Fluss that made the band sound up-front and real every time they stepped on the distorto to end or emphasize a song. They reminded me of Husker Du, even back then- the pop kernel was hidden under the pounding wave of noise, if you wanted to be patient and wade through it. If not, the growl was enough.

MIX TAPE: Seed Toss

Superchunk- Come Pick Me Up

How far back in the Superchunk discography can you toss the seeds? I’d say all the way back at ‘On The Mouth’, the act’s third proper LP, which followed the driving high-octane blueprint the band had laid down and out on the first two albums- infectious, pounding punk albums which left subtle bubblegum pop aftertastes in yr. mouth after you’d chewed on ‘em for a while. Still, though, back then the band’s evolution was in full effect, boyee, even though it wasn’t so visble as it is now with years of hindsight.

Go back to ‘Swallow That’ on ‘On The Mouth. It’s rudimentary, not too far removed from the rest of the band’s catalogue, really, but it works- the slow build, the development, chorus, culminating in the furious outro. I mention the song because it was my first inkling that Superchunk wasn’t going to be a stagnant band. The succession of albums that followed supported the theory- “Foolish”, the breakup album, contained blazers, sure, but the band slowed down the tempo and turned down the volume, allowing songwriting to take center stage, a trend that continued on “Here’s Where The Strings Came In” and arrived most fully at “Indoor Life”, the band’s quietest, lushest and in many way most successful album to date. It was a bit of a shock for me when it arrived, because I was still very much in knee-jerk mode, still raw and riding on the notion of the thing more than the thing itself, hanging ten on didactic waves looking for some sort of definition.

“Come Pick Me Up” picks up where “Indoor” left off, finding the band in the same well-orchestrated, rehearsed space, except with more experience and confidence. As a listener, I was over the kinda initial shock of the aging, the toning down, and simply dug the record for what it was- thirteen tracks of exceptional pop songs. The flavor of the gum has changed, though- the pop’s up front, and the punk thing, the aggressiveness, is the aftertaste. The band’s pogoing days informed their pop stage- they wouldn’t have arrived at the pop if they hadn’t spent so many nights, years blowing their voices out hollerin’, scraping fingers raw on bar chords.

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