Portastatic Be Still Please

Merge Records certainly isn’t suffering from co-owner Mac McCaughan’s relentless schedule, but his band Portastatic is. Beginning with 2003’s career best Summer of the Shark, this marks the third Portastatic album in three years, not counting various EPs and this year’s soundtrack to Who Loves the Sun. Sadly, the returns are diminishing for the nicest guy in indie rock. The best moments here are courtesy of Margaret White’s violin and Carrie Shull’s oboe, while too many of McCaughan’s songs fall short — musically, at least. Lyrically, he still scores points on the heartbreaking "Getting Saved,” the poetically political "Like a Pearl,” and the playful "(I’m In Love) With Arthur Dove,” an ode to America’s first abstract painter. But in the absence of his Superchunk band-mates, McCaughan could really use an outside producer or collaborator to push him into new territory — or at the very least, convince him not to layer his voice with the same harmonies he’s been using for 15 years now. Until that happens, the album title seems all too apt. (Merge)