Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Album Review: Superchunk - I Hate Music

“I hate music. What is it worth? Can’t bring anyone back to this Earth,” Mac McCaughan sings to open “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo,” one of the highlights of Superchunk’s tenth full-length album, I Hate Music.

Other musicians have uttered “I hate music” – both Paul Westerberg and Leonard Bernstein wrote songs titled “I Hate Music” – but it’s often in response to the culture and the expectations surrounding professional musicians.

Superchunk takes a different route by questioning music’s power. Can it heal? No. I Hate Music is blunt about that. What makes the album great is that McCaughan doesn’t tackle this issue in the abstract. He wrestles with it through a specific lens: when a close friend dies and all you’ve done your entire life is make music, how do you cope?

According to those opening lines of “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo,” you can only keep going. “I hate music. What is it worth? Can’t bring anyone back to this Earth or fill the space between all of the notes, but I’ve got nothing else so I guess here is goes.”

Despite such weighty subject material, I Hate Music feels as energetic and pogo-worthy as previous Superchunk albums. John Wurster’s drumming pops on each song and will again make listeners realize that a great drummer shouldn’t be taken for granted. Is there another band on the planet that could make songs about staying home sound so anthemic?

McCaughan’s lyrics set up small vignettes of the mundane – hopping in the tour van, standing on a corner in the snow, a sound check – and turn them into a powerful slideshow. His youthful vocals still drive Superchunk’s songs as much as Wurster’s drumming, but his voice now lends a wistful and weathered quality to each track.

I Hate Music doesn’t have the sheer force of Majesty Shredding, but from “Overflows” to “What Can We Do” it’s a more thoughtful album with a deeper emotional impact.

I Hate Music is out today on Merge Records.

Superchunk will play the Cat's Cradle on August 24 with The Parting Gifts. Tickets are $15 in advance.

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