PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

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
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

"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

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.