Reviews

Superchunk: Crowding up Your Visual Field [DVD]

Dave Heaton

Superchunk

Crowding up Your Visual Field [DVD]

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2004-02-17
UK Release Date: 2004-02-16
Amazon
iTunes

The central focus of Superchunk's Crowding up Your Visual Field is documenting the band's career thus far through the 12 music videos that they've made. These show Superchunk's evolution, their route from a ramshackle and noisy blast of energy to a band that injects their often-copied form of guitar rock with well-crafted melodies, sonic atmosphere and above all raw emotion. They also show musicians with a do-it-yourself, non-corporate attitude seeing what they can do to keep the inherently commercial entity that is a music video interesting. Most often this means simply capturing the band doing what they do -- playing their style of loud and fast rock and roll -- and then adding in vaguely conceptual elements or unusual visual tricks to keep things from being boring. The videos are directed mostly by either Phil Morrison, Norwood Cheek, or Peyton Reed (except one by Jesse Peretz), are mostly quite low budget, and suit the songs fine, without being particularly cutting-edge. The best of the early videos either find images that fit the songs just right, like the racing-through-the-streets fast-paced images of "Precision Auto" or the grainy performance/fireworks footage of "Tie a Rope to the Back of the Bus."

As the years have passed, the band members have become more comfortable with making fun of their (non-)status as rock stars and do so to great effect in more recent videos, particularly in the mock inner-band conflicts and subsequent band therapy session in the video for "Hyper Enough" and in the hilarious video for "Watery Hands," which features David Cross and Janeane Garofalo as video directors with big, wacky concepts.

A DVD like Crowding up Your Visual Field is first and foremost a gift for the die-hard Superchunk fans -- but through the videos and the DVD's other features, one gets a pretty complete picture of what the band is about, from their music and personalities to what the experience of being in an independent-label rock band for 15 years is like. Viewers get the basic musical story of Superchunk from the videos and a collection of live performances which range in date from the band's first show in 1989 to songs from shows supporting their most recent album, 2001's Here's the Shutting Up. But there's also a story here that goes beyond the music -- through the friendly yet candid audio commentaries for the videos and a fascinating tour documentary called Quest for Sleep, you get a sense not only of the rewards of being in a band but also the hardships.

In his audio commentary for the group's most recent video, "Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama)", drummer Jon Wurster (who has a welcome "class clown" presence throughout the DVD, yet on the commentary tracks offers heartfelt opinions about life in Superchunk), talks openly about a rough time in the band's history when he was sure that they were going to break up. That time was a world tour Superchunk went on in the fall of 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, which Wurster describes as a "disheartening trek across the globe," where fans weren't showing up and they were left to deal with the drudgery that accompanies touring. That tour is documented in the hour-long film Quest for Sleep, essentially a home movie the band made while on tour in Japan, Europe, and the US.

In the DVD's liner notes, the band states "hopefully the movie conveys some of the fun, the tedium and the rock and roll involved with touring," but the rock and roll is shown only in second-long snippets and the focus is mostly on the tedium, plus moments of fun and humor that seem to be mostly in self-defense against the tedium. Quest for Sleep doesn't overplay how hard touring is, or make over-explicit the post-9/11 context; instead, it's an in-the-now document of what it was like. As such, it holds a moment under glass for posterity, a moment where the band seems nervous about what's to come but is doing their best to cover it up by indulging in the routines of a tour, from answering rather silly questions from journalists to meeting new friends and soaking up local culture. Quest for Sleep has a nervous casualness to it -- there are no explosions of emotion yet things are often on edge within the band. The film rounds out Crowding up Your Visual Field nicely -- as a result the DVD stands as a compelling human portrait, not just another videos collection.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image