Really, could there be a better moment for new Superchunk sounds than during the 20th anniversary of the record label they founded? Not hardly. But it’s also been over seven years since the last release of any new music from the band, so anything at this point is welcome. The band’s last two full-length LPs of new material – 1999’s Come Pick Me Up and 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up – were the marks of a band aging gracefully into a softer, more nuanced version of their sound. And for awhile it seemed like that might even be the last thing we heard from the band. Which makes the Leaves in the Gutter EP all the more thrilling. Not only because it exists at all, but because it ends up showcasing a latter-day Superchunk blasting through a set of songs reminiscent of their mid-90s albums like Here’s Where the Strings Come In.
The EP opens with one of the most pure blasts of the classic ‘Chunk sound heard in ages. “Learned to Surf” has the wall of guitars, the snakelike lead lines, and the high, shouty Mac McCaughan vocals, complete with infectious chorus lyric (“I can’t hold my breath anymore..I stopped swimming and learned to surf”), that begs for repeat plays. “Misfits and Mistakes,” a song previously released in 2007, is here re-recorded and is a powerful blast all its own. Are you starting to get the picture? “Screw It Up” and “Knock Knock Knock” follow with equally forceful bravado and the EP ends with an acoustic demo version of “Learned to Surf.”
So, the question: is this EP really that good, or is it just awesome to hear Superchunk sounding like the ‘Chunk of old, if only for an EP’s worth of songs? The brevity of the EP works to the songs’ advantage. The short, powerful sound that Superchunk has perfected over the years really works best in short bursts, and here the four songs blow by at a rapid clip, and the acoustic demo gives you just enough time to realize how starting the record over isn’t really a choice, it’s mandatory. It also helps that Superchunk hasn’t been prolific by any means, and the return of one of America’s finest indie institutions, especially in such fine fettle, is definitely an exciting event. word/ j neas
Related: Superchunk :: Foolish (Merge Records 1994)
MP3: Superchunk :: Misfits And Mistakes
Amazon: Superchunk – Leaves in the Gutter
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