Since releasing their first 7-inch in 1989, Superchunk has run the gamut of milestone albums: early punk rock stompers, polished mid-career masterpieces, and lush, adventurous curveballs. Conventional wisdom holds that a band two decades into its career can only rehash or reinvent, but with Majesty Shredding, Superchunk has done something entirely different. Neither a return nor a departure, Majesty Shredding telescopes two decades into 41 indelible, action-packed minutes. It is the sound of youthful exuberance fine-tuned with grown-up confidence. And it may very well be Superchunk’s best record yet.
Though it had been nine years since Superchunk released their last full-length album, Here’s to Shutting Up, Majesty Shredding is the result of a focused burst of creativity brought on by the band’s recent volley of live performances. Having cleared the deck of odds and sods with last year’s Leaves in the Gutter EP, Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan set about to write a batch of songs that would capture the spirit of the band’s live shows. From 1997’s Indoor Living through Here’s to Shutting Up, Superchunk had written most of their records together, building their songs through collaborative writing and rehearsal. But, in an effort not to overthink their new material (and because drummer Jon Wurster lives a couple hundred miles away from the rest of the band), Superchunk approached Majesty Shredding the same way they approached their early records: McCaughan provided skeletal demos to his bandmates, who in turn fleshed out the songs during a brief period of rehearsal and recording.
This sense of purpose is enhanced by the presence of Scott Solter, an engineer and producer known for coaxing exceptional performances out of the artists he works with. Majesty Shredding is a powerful document of Superchunk as a band, augmented as needed with well-placed harmonies, keyboards, and guitar overdubs (and some backing vocals courtesy of the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle). Each song seems perfectly suited to its respective treatment, as the band moves lithely from shout-along rave-ups like ‘Crossed Wires’ to melancholy slow burners like ‘Fractures in Plaster.’ As always, Superchunk strikes a unique and effortless balance between melody and force, craft and spontaneity, the energy of youth and the wisdom of experience. Majesty Shredding is Superchunk’s most thorough and thoughtful record, and it hits like a punch in the gut.
On songs like ‘My Gap Feels Weird,’ ‘Rosemarie,’ and ‘Digging for Something,’ McCaughan asks: How can we connect with our pasts and still move forward? Majesty Shredding offers an answer. During album closer ‘Everything at Once,’ McCaughan sings about how strongly we identify with songs about nothing in particular: ‘The feedback and the drums / The feeling noise becomes / Nothing and everything at once.’ We close our eyes and think about the kind of music that’s meant the most to us in our lives…and we realize that we’re listening to it right now.
Superchunk released I Hate Music, their tenth studio album, on August 20.
After taking nearly a decade off following the release of Here’s to Shutting Up, Mac, Laura, Jon, and Jim decided to shout it out again in 2010 with Majesty Shredding, an album perfectly described by its own title. It’s a celebratory set of whoa-whoa-whoas from a group so thrilled by making music together again that they can’t contain themselves.
The band’s forthcoming release, I Hate Music, is Majesty‘s dark twin. It’s similarly aggressive-often moreso (see “Staying Home”)-and every bit as energetic. It reflects the joys of a life spent immersed in music (“Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” “Trees of Barcelona”), but there’s a dark undercurrent as well. That title isn’t tongue-in-cheek, but it’s really more a question than a statement: When you’re 20, lazy co-workers and romantic missteps number among your biggest worries; two decades later, life’s bigger questions knock louder and louder, demanding answers.
I Hate Music is an album about love more than anything else: love of life, love of living, love of people, and yeah, love of music. It defies its own title so completely and diligently that it never even seems like a fair fight: There’s no pain this deep or yearning this severe without the type of love earned over a lifetime. “I hate music ? what is it worth? / Can’t bring anyone back to this earth” goes the first line in “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo.” That song and its ten companions can’t relive the past or resurrect those lost, but they can keep them close enough to see and hear and celebrate. It’s dark in here, but if we conjure the right words and sounds, maybe we’ll find our way out.