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If I’ve got to be Shredding Majesty, I’ll do it with Superchunk

September 14, 2010

rock and roll

Sometimes I need a lift.

Life is as chaotic for me as it is for you. As a solo pastor of a growing church in Franklin, Massachusetts, as a father of three kids under 6, as a generally type-A self-stressor, sometimes I need to be reminded that beauty lurks around unexpected corners.

Thankfully, today Superchunk released their 9th studio album, Majesty Shredding.

FULL DISCLOSURE (and it isn’t much): I know guitarist Jim Wilbur, have for years, though we are more of a “friends in common” connection than anything. We both went to Camp Wightman. We grew up in the same small town (Mystic and thereabouts) and we both played around in what was then called the “mystic music scene.” You can learn more about that at this cool site.  I only remember playing one  gig together once at the Webster’s house, and I think Jim played with Jeff Mihok and Andy Webster in one band while I played with Greg Svetz and Mike Baldoz in our then-junior-high-school punk band Defiance.  Jim may have just been there, though, without playing. A little fuzzy there. We’ve had some e-mail contact over the years. But I can say unequivocally that this connection does not influence one iota of my love for the ‘chunk. I would be a fan if they were a dimly-illuminated band from a far-away country. In fact, they’re right up in my top five.

So you know why I love Superchunk: the first memory I have of a record that changed my conception of music was the squalling blast of sound that came through my headphones when I heard Husker Du’s New Day Rising. It’s raw, wide open, ringing chords and battery of percussion laid the line for melodies that soared like kites on barbed-wire strings. I loved that record, and it rewrote my sense of what words like honesty and immediacy meant for music.  They took what I loved about their contemporaries and town-mates the Replacements and amped it up even further.

Jump ahead to 1990, when Sebadoh released The Freed Man. The song Brand New Love was a revelation, as were many of the other twenty-three songs on that record. I didn’t know you could be that loose and still be a band–well, I knew that the Replacements songs sometimes fell apart on stage, depending on inebriation levels, but actually recording this loose sounded so fresh and flip toward what was typical in music at that time.

But in 1991, the Freed Man was focused further through the lens of the Superchunk e.p. The Freed Seed, where they took three of those ground breaking songs and bled them out as their own. It was perfect. I loved Sebadoh more, because I “got” the songs better, and I instantly fell in with Superchunk because they soared. They had the aggressive guitar sounds I preferred, but they never lost the melody. Mac’s vocals were higher in the mix than I was used to for most indie bands; they sounded like other things I knew, but they also sounded fresher, more urgent, more honest and immediate.

The years churned on and so did the ‘chunk, crafting a serious of albums that catapulted them into indie-rock/college-radio royalty (a characterization they might not care for, but they can write their own posts).

On some albums, they sounded like the Superchunk I fell in love with on the Freed Seed. On some others, they grew, stretched, and found new ground. Some folks liked the hard and fast stuff but rejected the more lyrical albums (translation: loved No Pocky for Kitty but hated Come Pick Me Up or Here’s to Shutting Up). Some of us loved it all, and always knew we could check out a live show and still get a blast when we needed it.

Then the Big Gap, from 2002 to 2009, when we essentially had no new records, though the band still toured. I got a little sad, thinking that if bands like Weezer could still be putting out albums that their fans loved, why couldn’t Superchunk?  I don’t know what was going on for them all during that time, but it was worth it. 2009’s Leaves in the Gutter was a return to something…and got its own e.p. because the band said at the time it felt like the songs were from another time.

Hop ahead to 2010, and it looks like those songs might have been a secret message from the future; Majesty Shredding has arrived and feels like return, revolution and evolution all honest and immediate and downright fun. It rocks.  A rising guitar shriek of feedback (of course) brings “Digging for Something” in with the assurance of four souls linked in one rocking skronk. It’s tight; it’s loose; it’s singable and tuneful and loud. It makes me feel like I’ll get to everything eventually as long as I remember to take time and exult in moments like this.

Rolling on rails “My Gap Feels Weird” propels with nice guitar interlocks that Mac’s high tenor (or is it alto) rides across to the swinging “Oh my gap feels weird” and into the big chorus of “Here’s a song for the kids down on the corner/with a look that tells you time and transition is a wave that’ll put you over…” It rips.

“Rosmarie” is sweet and pretty, but my current highlight is “Crossed Wires;” how do they write songs like this in 2010? How are they still so infatuated with the power of a few chords and a sailing melody? How do they know to keep to so simple, so full, with guitar lines swirling around the choppy changes? I don’t know, but thank God they do. I could drive a lot of miles with “Crossed Wires.” It’s a song to listen to while planes take off or while you watch the odometer wind up on your way out.

“Fractures in Plaster,” “Learned to Surf,” it all bounces along on this wave of urgency. By the time you get to the understated, My Bloody Valentine moan at the start of Everything at Once, you realize: this day is full. I still have miles to go before I sleep. But I will get there. I have hope. I have love, I have the kind of inspiration that only comes from music that is this grand.

I told you my musical touchstones. If they meant nothing to you, then you may not like this record. You might like it in SPITE of all I’ve said here. But I hope you love it.

TODAY, September 14th, 2010 you can get Majesty Shredding at amazon.com for just $4.99 with the code PICKDEAL. But whether you buy it today for $4.99, tomorrow for $7.99, on itunes for $9.99, or get the big flat platter of vinyl direct from Merge (with digital download included) for $18.98, you’re getting MORE than excellent value for money:

You’re getting your own chance to soar.

Get out there and grab it.

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