Superchunk has a new album coming out in September, so it makes senset that Merge Records is reissuing No Pocky for Kitty and On the Mouth this month ahead of time. There may be no better way to drum up buzz than by reminding people why they loved this band in the first place, even if everyone’s busy focusing on far more bloggable groups. (Well, this might be a better way: Break up for five to 10 years, then release the new and old stuff. Guided by Voices just sold out a North American tour!) But these Superchunk albums are filled with meaty material that get the blood flowing in a primordial way; you’re supposed to pump the volume up and crank the bass. (Audiophiles beware!) It’s a throwback of visceral ‘90s rock, work that gets slapped with the beloved “seminal” tag, so you may as well bone up on your DIY history.
If you love their “hit” single “Slack Motherfucker” off the first album, you’re in good luck, because all the best songs sort of sound like that one. “Skip Steps 1 & 3” screams with slacker angst about a relationship going sour; “Seed Toss” whines and needles like a Dinosaur Jr. B-side, warning some asshole not to underestimate the narrator with ominous finger poking like, “You better memorize this face/ You better stay in my good graces.” Those short bursts of anger are balanced by a current of optimism, whether it’s the closing “Throwing Things,” which finds singer Mac McCaughan drawing a metaphor between autumnal and personal change (trite, but shit, it rocks) or “Tie A Rope To The Back Of The Bus,” a squealing chug of a song about leaving behind the dust of the past.
You can hear their struggle over trying to remain the only honest act in town at a time when indie was breaking big and every act was getting signed to a major in “Punch Me Harder”; McCaughan sings, “I don’t want to take anything/ I feel guilty when I buy it/ I’m writing my lines down from now on/ Maybe you should try it” while backed by muscular drum fills and that thick guitar fuzz that the entire album is swimming in. Oh, this album is indie rock at its core: big ole brusque guitar tone, wiry licks and lines, battering drums, shrill strained voices howling out from underneath the mix, hooks bouncing to and fro. You can picture the tightly packed ’90s club filled with record-store clerks and their girlfriends, the fists pumping, the beer spilling.
They’re time capsules of an era gone by, when DIY ethics could make a difference to a fanbase, when slackers with guitars were still chic, when Steve Albini was still “that asshole from Big Black” and not just “that asshole.” Superchunk has largely been relegated to popular indie music retrospectives and only with restraint: This album made the top 20 of Amazon.com’s best indie albums ever list, but it missed Pitchfork’s ’90s recap entirely. Hell, when Superchunk played Coachella in 2009, they played at 4:45 in the afternoon, before Calexico. And this is supposed to be one of the most “indie” bands of the ‘90s, the band that stuck to its chops, left Matador because its members didn’t want to be associated with Atlantic Records, started Merge and put out releases from acts like the Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel and Conor Oberst, to name a few. Superchunk has its place in indie-rock history, that’s for sure, even if it hasn’t remained as trendy as the years have passed.