Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Album Review: Superchunk, Indoor Living (reissue)

Merge Records

For those of us who were around but not actually listening to Merge records in the ‘90s, Superchunk existed as kind of an urban legend. You might see the bespectacled David Cross on Mr. Show with Bob and David wearing a Superchunk shirt but, this being life before the internet,  you’d have no clue what it meant. I’ll admit that was my experience with the band until 2011’s Majesty Shredding—their ninth—made me track down their back catalog. 

The new reissue version of 1997’s Indoor Living is manna from the musical heavens. Contrasted with The Laughter Guns, an EP released in 1996, this version of ‘Chunk is far less punk-driven and more expansive. There are also elements that weren’t there on older Superchunk albums, like the piano that shows up on the excellent yet somber “Under Our Feet.” 

But what’s more apparent now is the existential angst of the lyrics, dealing with love lost and hearts destroyed. On “Unbelievable Things,” lead character Mac McCaughan bitterly describes a relationship between “a queen with several kings / and I, a bird without wings,” and deep cut “Every Single Instinct” burns with resentment.  On the technical side, yes, much of Superchunk’s signature, ear-bleeding guitar work remains, on tracks like “Burn Last Sunday,” where a jangly riff builds inexorably to a mountain of noise—but you can also more clearly hear the low end, as John Wurster wrestles a coherent drum phrase out of thin air on “Nu Bruises,” and Laura Ballance provides “The Popular Music” with graceful bass. 

Especially entertaining in the reissued edition of Indoor Living is the appended live disc, Clambakes Vol 8: We’d Like to Thank the Homecoming Committee – Live at Duke 1997. It’s a great encapsulation of the band’s live show at the time, which was nearly as cuttingly funny as the band was tight.  Jason Robinson

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