Music

Superchunk: Leaves in the Gutter

For over 20 years, Superchunk has built their own ground to stand on, and it is on that firm land that they've created Leaves in the Gutter, taking all their well-established talents and weaving it through a mature and infectious tunefulness.


Superchunk

Leaves in the Gutter

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2009-04-07
UK Release Date: Available as import
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"If I seem out of it ..." are the first words we hear Mac McCaughan sing on Leaves in the Gutter. Since they're the first new words we've heard him sing on a Superchunk record in eight years, it might be easy to read them as a weary harbinger of a let down coming on. After all, a five-track EP is as a pretty slight return for patient fans. Even if the eight years since Superchunk's excellent Here's to Shutting Up have yielded a number of great records from MCCaughan's other band, Portastatic, Leaves in the Gutter is still a hotly anticipated return from one of the great rock bands of all time, and it would be a shame if that return found the band sounding "out of it".

But any worries that Mac hints at mediocrity with those opening lines are quickly allayed. Leaves in the Gutter classifies as a sharp, if brief, return from Superchunk. In some ways, it can sound like a quick review of the band's subtly shifting sound. The full-pop brightness of "Learned to Surf" could easily be at home on Indoor Living, while "Misfits and Mistakes" could settle nicely into On the Mouth. "Screw it Up" sounds most like the Superchunk we last heard from in 2001, while the moodier crunch of "Knock Knock Knock" would fit well on Foolish. On top of these, the band throws in an acoustic version of "Learned to Surf", which is not only hushed and excellent in its own right, but it falls into a long line of acoustic versions -- "Detroit Has a Skyline" and "Throwing Things" are some highlights among them -- that have been popping up on the band's singles and EPs for years.

None of these comparisons to older sounds are simple or balanced. "Knock Knock Knock" does not, for instance, equal "Driveway to Driveway". Instead, these serve as nostaligic signifiers for the band's fans. After such a long drought without a record, it's easy to get wistful hearing new stuff. The opening riff of "Learned to Surf" could easily launch someone into reverie, remembering the first time he or she heard the blissful noise of "Hyper Enough" or "Like a Fool". While these new songs do use talents the band has well established -- the stretched-out and noodling riffs, cacophonic solos, the blunt force of power chords and the propulsion of Jon Wurster's drumming -- it gets woven through much tighter songs more interested in mature tunefulness than frenetic angry-young-man energy.

The songs are not just air-tight and catchy, but they also sound effortless. Through a long career, Superchunk has worked hard to get to this point: The point where they have nothing left to prove. The quartet simply writes great songs, one right after the other. From the anthemic rock of "Learned to Surf" and "Misfits and Mistakes" to the subtler layers of "Screw It Up" and "Knock Knock Knock", this quick blast of music never lets up. The band sounds like they're standing on fresh legs, ready to dive back into the rock landscape again to take it over.

The EPs bright production helps to bolster the notion that this band, though they may only play a few times a year and are short on new material, are exactly where they want to be. The moodier struggling sound of, say, Foolish was the sound of a band still working it out. Sure, they were better than most, but they were still pressing to find new ground. But with all those searching records, Superchunk built their own ground to stand on, and it is on that firm land that they've created Leaves in the Gutter. They may have settled in, but it hasn't dulled their focus, and "Learned to Surf" and "Misfits and Mistakes" -- two of the finest rock songs to come out in 2009 -- can attest to that.

Superchunk claim they had to get these songs out of the way if they were ever going to make another record. But Leaves in the Gutter cannot be labeled simply a hold-over disc or a brief pay-off for fans who have waited these eight years. While it does work within some indie rock nostalgia -- back to the height of the 90s college rock sound or to a time when EPs were vital pieces to your favorite discographies -- it isn't just a retread by a band who's been around long enough to patent their sound. What it is, above all of that, is simply a great bunch of songs. And, really, does it need to be any more than that?

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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