January 08, 2002

Superchunk "Here's to Shutting Up"

I'll be up front about this review. It's been a difficult one for me to write. Now, don't fear; this doesn't mean that the album is bad in any way. If such were the case, I'd have no trouble writing this review. It's just that---well, what to do in a situation where the praise is to be expected, and a job well done is expected?

More specifically, What do you say when something is consistent? Superchunk are a rather ubiquitous band in indie-rock. Certain expectations exist; the fan base is pretty much love 'em or hate 'em, with more leaning towards the "love" section. I'm not one to simply love for the sake of loving, and therein lies the problem.

You see, boys and girls, in life, certain things exist that you can almost rest assured in knowing that they will be good. An Irving Berlin tune. A fine bottle of Remy Martin. A batch of grandma's homemade chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies. Suffice to say, I am more than happy to report that Superchunk's new album, Here's To Shutting Up is an utterly fine record.

Here's To Shutting Up marks the reunion of the band and earlier producer Brian Paulson. Though they have worked together in the past, this record is far from being a throwback to their former sound. In fact, Superchunk, who are, simply, the Last Great Indie Rock Band, have learned the lesson that many of their colleagues never did--in order to survive and thrive, you must bend and grow as artists, and evolve into your own groove. That Here's To Shutting Up can sound exactly like and nothing like their "Slack Motherfucker" era says a LOT about this band.

Personally, I think Mac's interest in experimental music has really helped liven things up in the Superchunk camp. From his ongoing project Portastatic, to his love of experimental jazz, and, hell, even to the other bands on his label, Merge, I think all of these have helped add a certain element to the band. It's good to see that the influence is a two way street at the Merge house.

When the first track, "Late-Century Dream," kicks off, your first reaction is to think that the 'chunk have grown mellower in their old age. Patience, son; it's just the first track. True, it's mellower, but at the same time, there are some new sounds to this new sound; those synths, for instance. As soon as "Rainy Streets" kicks in, that notion of a kinder, gentler Superchunk go out the window, as the band return to the harder rock styles of their mid-90s heyday.

There's something quite enjoyable about Superchunk's volley between rock and not rocking rock. Not content to stay within the confines of their own band sound, Superchunk have enlisted some of their friends from the band Japancakes to play along. Might I add that the use of cello, violin, and pedal steel guitar are simply inspired? Those Japancakes folk really help to add a certain depth to Here's To Shutting Up. (I was tempted to make a joke about saying they know where the strings come in, but decided against it. Too obvious, isn't it?)

From the country-rock of "Phone Sex," to the hard rock of "Art Class," and the mellower moments of the double-whammy album closer "What Do You Look Forward To" and "Drool Collection," Here's To Shutting Up is the album you know Superchunk is going to make every time. A good album. One that will surprise you , while reliving former glories and looking ahead to the future as well. That title, though, has me worried. Are Superchunk going to "shut up" soon?

With Here's To Shutting Up in mind, let's hope not. There's too many good things that could be in store. After all, much like Come Pick Me Up, I'm left wondering where the band will go from there. A Superchunk/Spaceheads collaboration? Maybe they'll borrow the Lambchop horn section and go gospel? Maybe they'll go herbal with Ladybug Transistor? Or, hell, maybe they'll get Stephin Merritt to do a kick-ass 80s retro-new wave remix. Who knows? I sure don't.

And that's the best part.

--Joseph Kyle

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