Listen: I Hate Music
Superchunk (Merge Records, 2013)
Bands don’t generally age well. Dropped from their labels, their albums gather dust, played only for nostalgia’s sake. It’s not an easy task to put out subsequent records and create a lasting impression. Do you keep writing the same songs, variations on the theme that first garnered your musical outfit attention? Or do you reinvent yourselves? One option runs the risk of sounding monotonous, the other of alienating once loyal fans.
On their 10th studio album, I Hate Music, Superchunk, purveyors of power pop, has done neither, instead developing the aggressive and jubilant sound that made them a standout in college radio more than 20 years ago. Nine years passed between 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up and 2010’s Majesty Shredding, and the latter was well worth the wait. But while Majesty reminded aging indie rockers of the joy of listening to music, I Hate Music asks them to stop and consider the trajectory of life, without sacrificing any of the breezy, sing-along worthy hooks that Superchunk is known for. It’s reflective without dwelling for too long on the past, sentimental sans the sappiness. Guitarist and singer Mac McCaughan ponders the existential questions of adulthood on the brink of middle age, questioning even the meaning of his bread and butter—music—singing, “I hate music, what is it worth? / Can’t bring anyone back to this earth.”
That line is even more poignant considering McCaughan and bandmate Laura Ballance have run Merge Records since 1989. It’s almost cause for concern. Still, on the penultimate track, “FOH,” McCaughan calls out from his internal struggle to check on everyone else, asking over driving drums and wailing guitars, “How’s everything at the front of the house?” It’s that shift in awareness to something other than the self that signals the graceful aging of this band.
This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 10, page 42).