Twelve albums in, and the indie-rockers are still finding out what makes them tick.
Iâve always resisted the concept of a âgrown-upâ or âlaid backâ album because it has the same paradoxical quality of a guilty pleasure, which is another article for another day. All points are moot in this case when the eternally plucky Superchunk chooses to zig when youâre expecting a zag on the appropriately titled Wild Loneliness.
Make no mistake, this is definitively a âpandemic record,â which, sadly, is still a relevant comment for a band to make. Recorded separately from each other during the peak of COVID-19, the song hooks are still there but you cannot deny the craftsmanship in said hooks.
Wild Loneliness, however, could easily also be defined as âthe mellow record.â It combines the driving upbeat of 2018âs âWhat A Time To Be Aliveâ with the realistic navel-gazing of 2013âs âI Hate Music.â The lyrics reflect caution beneath the (perceived) calm in the early days of the pandemic. Some people were learning how to maintain a starter yeast, while guitarist Mac McCaughan ponders larger effects like, âBut Iâll still make the coffee, and we still make the beds, and the kids are scarred but smarter,â as heard in the album opener, âCity of the Dead,â or how the days bleed into the weeks with âNot to be a bummer but Iâm not ready for an endless summerâ with the aptly titled lead single, âEndless Summer.â
And as bleak (and accurate) as the songwriterâs assessment may be, hot damn if the mellow vibes of the album isnât apropos for a lazy Sunday afternoon and set on repeat. Whatever energy and guitar reverb is missing on âLonelinessâ is replaced with a lush string arrangement and brassy horns. Combined with the overall lo-fi aesthetic of the album, itâs a welcome new sound for the band. To some degree it fulfills the potential left behind on the bandâs earlier acoustic work on âCome Pick Me Upâ or âHereâs to Shutting Upâ
Itâs easy to look at Superchunk in two distinct eras with an 11-year gap between the two. The first half is the legendary upstart, bratty crew from Chapel Hill that delivered punkish songs about heartbreak while wondering what tomorrow would be like. Now that their return is officially as long as their first run, we see the band still bratty and punkish as ever, but fortunately with well-worn wrinkles. Songcraft has replaced speed in their music. Subtlety has replaced rage in the bandâs outlook. Knowing optimism has replaced blind hope in their lyrics.
Superchunk and Wild Loneliness have proven that growing up is not necessarily just getting older.