Superchunk has come a long way since "Slack Motherf---er." The band's guitarist and singer Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance founded the now Durham-based independent record label Merge Records in 1989. Since its founding, Merge has become integral to the cultural history of the Triangle music scene. Although Merge is now home to some of the most well-known and critically acclaimed acts in indie rock, including The Mountain Goats, Neutral Milk Hotel and Arcade Fire, the label first released modest pressings of 7”s and cassettes out of a small rented house in Chapel Hill. Since the mid-1990s, various independent labels, unable to sustain themselves economically, have either gone out of business or have been forced to develop partnerships with major labels (such as Matador Records and Atlantic Records as well as Sub Pop and Warner Music Group). Merge, however, has managed to preserve a community-minded, artist-friendly ethos both because of and despite their success.
This success is owed to Merge’s dedication to its musicians and patrons, as well as its consistency in offering the public some of the most important, innovative, and gratifying records of the last twenty years; this includes seven out of Superchunk’s ten full-length releases (their first three were initially released through Matador). Their latest record, "I Hate Music," carries on their distinct manner of anthemic, heartfelt power pop. And although it does not venture into new musical territories, "I Hate Music" retains a refreshing and sometimes childlike energy that rings both impressive and rather unusual for a group that’s been around for over twenty years. “Staying Home,” for example, clocks in at just 1:15 minutes. Its simple refrain begs listeners to yelp along and its unrestrained guitar feels like a throwback to basement punk shows and the early days of Superchunk and Merge.
The rest of the album is equally infectious, though it hints at a motif of death and loss throughout, despite its instrumental enthusiasm. The album title is taken from the track “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” and its vigor and meditative yet playful lyrics layered over Superchunk’s signature boisterous guitars make it one of the standout tunes of the record: "I hate music—what is it worth?/Can't bring anyone back to this earth/Or fill in the space between all of the notes/But I got nothing else so I guess here we go." “FOH” is another highlight and, like “Jackie Mittoo,” seems to mourn but refuses to mope: “We get reports, we struggle forth/Maybe the windows never close/Maybe if we wear your clothes/Maybe we can keep going/How’s everything at the front of the house?” Superchunk’s lyrics and themes have become more pensive since their 1990 self-titled debut, and this shift is especially salient in I Hate Music.
Superchunk played their third date on their current tour—excluding an intimate surprise show at the Pinhook—at Cat’s Cradle on August 24th, performing with a new bassist, Jason Narducy. (Ballance’s hearing problems make it difficult for her to tour and play live.) The band opened with “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” to an eager and committed crowd clearly already familiar with the new album. Superchunk also performed “Low F” from "I Hate Music" for the first time live, as well as a cover of labelmates The Magnetic Fields’s “100,000 Fireflies” during a second encore. Although the band members are now in their mid-forties and their songs have matured along with them, they’ve still got a sense of their old teenage gumption—and this is obvious both live and on the record.