May 06, 2003

Portastatic "The Summer of the Shark"

All hail the return of the Mac! The Summer of the Shark is the first 'traditional' Portastatic in years, and personally I'm glad that Mac decided to head back in a more songbased direction. Okay, so the last few Portastatic releases have been most interesting--a cover of Tropicalia songs sung in Portugese, an all-instrumental score for an art film, and a live recording with Ken Vandermark--they've been quite far away from the lo-fi, everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink work ethic that produced such gems as Naked Pilsners and The Nature of Sap.

Having just written that paragraph, I realize that Portastatic's nature has always been an experimental one. In fact, The Summer of the Shark is as much a bold experimental step for Mac as Looking for Leonard was. What's experimental about this album, though, is that it's unconventionally good. I'd hesitate to compare this to the lo-fi works of the past; Mac's grown so much as a songwriter that these songs no longer sound like Superchunk demos or not-quite-good-enough rejects. In fact, I'm probably not far off in saying that this certainly rivlals his best Superchunk work.

Of course, certain things are par for the course when dealing with Portastatic; Mac's high-pitched voice singing slightly-sad songs, all tempered with a bit of shambly instrumental backing, and every bit of it recorded at home. The Summer of the Shark shows that either he's upgraded his home studio system, or he has a bigger bedroom, because every second of the album is as grand and lush as the last Lambchop album. In fact, if you didn't know it was a home-recorded album, you wouldn't believe it; I know that I was immediatly impressed by how darn good the album sounds.

Oh, and the album sounds wonderful! The Summer of the Shark is certainly a varied album. From mellowed-out grooves of "Noisy Night," "Don't Disappear" and "Paratrooper," to the near punk-rockin' sounds of "Windy City" and the classic-rock sounds of "Drill Me," Mac never sits still when it comes to the music. He even has a wonderful, indie-rock Captain and Tennille duet with Janet Weiss on the utterly beautiful "Oh Come Down,." Mac's muse hasn't failed him yet, and it shows that Portastatic might just out-rock Superchunk one of these days.

It's good to know that Mac has set aside a retirement project that's just as good as his signature band, Bricks Superchunk. While their future seems to be winding down (hey, it's okay, it's been well over a decade, even the Beatles didn't last as long as the 'chunk), Mac's future as an excellent songwriter and musician seems assured. The Summer of the Shark proves that he's still got it, and isn't going to stop the ROCK.
Long may you rock, sir. Long may you rock.

--Joseph Kyle

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