Music

Superchunk: I Hate Music

I Hate Music is undeniable proof that creating something with resounding beauty is the ultimate defiance of death.


Superchunk

I Hate Music

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2013-08-20
UK Release Date: 2013-08-19
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Maybe we were just fooling ourselves, but even though they came together before the end of the Cold War, Superchunk had thus far managed to avoid seeming like they're actually, you know, getting old. Maybe it's the fact that their surging "whoa-oh-oh" choruses and buzzsaw guitars still sound just as electrifying as they did during the Clinton years, or maybe it's that onstage the band still bounces around like a bunch of slap-happy twenty-somethings, but for whatever reason it seemed like Superchunk had this whole punk-after-40 thing figured out. By keeping busy with excellent side projects (Jon Wurster drums for the Mountain Goats, Mac McCaughan and Jim Wilbur play in Portastatic, and -- oh yeah -- Laura Balance and McCaughan own and operate Merge Records), they leave enough time between albums that the music always sounds fresh, even though they’ve been using same basic formula for over two decades.

But even Superchunk can’t hang forever suspended in some amber of eternal youth. The band started showing its increasing lyrical maturity on 2010's triumphant Majesty Shredding. Songs like "Digging For Something" revealed a nostalgia and wistfulness that seemed to include just a little more hard-earned wisdom than their earlier work. Now, in the aftermath of the death of their friend, filmmaker David Doernberg, the band has created one of the one finest examinations of mourning and loss in the pop cannon.

The album’s cover features a park in the dead of winter covered in a heavy blanket of snow, which presages the record’s weightiness and introspection. Superchunk generally writes music meant to be spewed from car speakers into bright sunshine, but I Hate Music’s subject matter lends itself more to the cold and seclusion of a winter’s day. But as much the album is focuses mortality and loss, this isn’t dark music. Given the subject matter, it would be easy for songs to veer into morbidity and depression. On I Hate Music, McCaughan isn’t singing about death -- he’s singing about life in the face of death.

Not that moving on is easy to do. For most of the record the singer confronts death by retreating, either into angry darkness or soothing nostalgia. He indulges in both in “Out Of The Sun”, which starts as a dreamy recollection of happy times before the pain of loss washes through the song, taking it for a hard left turn. The retreats into darkness are few, but powerful. On “Overflows” McCaughan despairs at every moment that passes because it’s one that he can’t share with his friend. “Staying Home”, meanwhile, is just concentrated anger packaged in 75 seconds of pure catharsis. Wurster pounds his skins like they angered him while McCaughan screams some version of the title over the squall of a raging guitar. It’s the one moment on the record where things sound close to coming unhinged, providing a stark counterpoint to the more constructive grief that makes up the rest of the disc.

Indeed, it’s the album’s nostalgic songs that are the most effective and affecting. The memories invoked here -- listening to ska records in a van, skinny-dipping in Spain, dancing through a summer’s night -- are so lovingly recounted that they manage to create a sense of secondhand loss in the listener. In “Your Theme” McCaughan takes it a step farther and manufactures his own nostalgia, imagining one last afternoon with his friend which he knows can never happen. As he grapples with the transience of these moments compared to the eternity of death, McCaughan at times seems on the verge of collapse. But ultimately the power of joy felt in those memories is enough to make life worth living, even in the face of the inevitable. “All I see is a void,” he complains at one point before easing up on the throttle of despair, adding “but I don’t believe everything I see.”

The slow-building closer “What Can We Do” finds McCaughan directly addressing the question he’s been wrestling with throughout the record: how to go on living in the face of death. The answer he comes to is simple, obvious, and profound: “build something new." It’s a natural response for a group as ardently D.I.Y. (not to mention prolific) as Superchunk. Though the record’s title might claim that music is meaningless in the face of mortality, the band knows deep in its hearts that art is one of humanity’s greatest attempts at immortality. McCaghuan’s right that music “can’t bring anyone back to this earth" (at least not physically), but it can help keep a person’s spirit alive in the hearts and minds of others, and that’s surely what I Hate Music will do. This album is undeniable proof that creating something with resounding beauty is the ultimate defiance of death.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image