In the five years that led up to Here’s To Shutting Up, Superchunk’s last album before taking an extended break, the Chapel Hill indie heroes seemed to grow increasingly weary of the spunky, punk-inspired sound that characterized their first four albums. Naming their fifth album Here’s Where the Strings Come In turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as from that point on, chamber orchestras and horn sections became regular players in the group’s sound. On Indoor Living they slowed their tempo dramatically, and on Come Pick Me Up, the strings were almost as prevalent as guitars. No amount of orchestration could hide the group’s exuberance, nor Mac McCaughan’s eternally teenage vocals, but when Shutting Up finally did arrive, the group had mellowed quite a bit since the days of “Slack Motherfucker.”
Since 2001, Superchunk has kept an extremely low profile, only occasionally playing shows or releasing the odd compilation or single. But while nine years may seem like a particularly long time for a band to remain inactive, the breather has served Superchunk remarkably well. Majesty Shredding, Superchunk’s new album in nearly a decade, sounds very much like a Superchunk album is meant to sound. It’s loud, it’s fast and electric, but good-natured and infectious. Whatever influenced the band’s turn toward more elegant textures before their hiatus has since been removed from the equation, leaving only the hard rocking anthems that longtime fans have every reason to expect from the indie rock vets.
On Majesty Shredding, Superchunk not only picks up seemingly right where they left off, but actually seem to have gained quite a bit of energy following their previous, relatively chill endeavor. In fact, Shredding follows closely in the vein of earlier records like On the Mouth or Here’s Where the Strings Come In, and offers a surprisingly good batch of songs, many of which stand up alongside some of the band’s best. The guitar crunch, the unstoppable tempo, and of course the high pitched humanism of Mac himself sound as crisp and invigorating as they did 15 years ago. That this is actually a new batch of songs and not merely a collection of holdovers should make the album even more endearing to fans who remained patient during the group’s uneventful absence.
Crashing the gates with the melodic, fists-in-the-air anthem “Digging For Something,” Superchunk kicks off the album with a brilliant single, packed with stunning vocal harmonies and more than a few prime opportunities for singalongs at home. Ditto for “My Gap Feels Weird,” an even faster pop-punk number that finds McCaughan twisting its title into infectious rhythmic permutations. “Rosemarie,” one of the album’s prettiest tracks, juxtaposes acoustic and electric guitars for the band’s equivalent of a power ballad, which is to say only a slightly softer take on their careening rockers.
However, “Fractured In Plaster” finds the band taking that power ballad idea and running with it, adding the lone touch of strings during the verses while the chorus turns into a badass start-stop stomp. But the softer moments are few and far between here, which is just fine, as the jerky rocker “Learned to Surf” and tom-tom pounding highlight “Winter Games” are so much fun that too many dips in tempo might just ruin the party.
Whatever the inspiration was for Superchunk to regroup and record a new album, it’s hard not to imagine the Chapel Hill foursome doing it just for the sheer fun of it. Part of sounding like they haven’t lost a beat since their vintage days means sounding like they’re having the time of their lives. And when a band sounds this energized, its infectiousness is inevitable.
Video: “Digging For Something”