Superchunk didn't feel like a band built to last — their brand of buzzy, lo-fi indie rock sounded like the work of young players barely holding it together, a large part of its appeal. Yet as Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Jim Wilbur and Jon Wurster matured, so did their music. And since their post-oughts re-emergence, they've gotten increasingly better at balancing these two sides of their musical personality.
No record in their catalogue performs this balancing act better than What a Time to Be Alive, their eleventh full-length and first overtly political LP. Written in the weeks following the 2016 U.S. election, it finds singer-guitarist McCaughan writing some of his most succinct and direct songs in decades.
This being a Superchunk record though, don't head in expecting a bunch of "Fuck Trump" sloganeering. Rather, McCaughan's focused approach is more Trump-adjacent, specifically looking at how the average person gets on with their life with America in a political and cultural tailspin. He offers few answers, but from the sarcastic kissoff of the title track to the '80s hardcore references of "Reagan Youth," the record is cathartic, aided and abetted by buzzsaw guitars, speedy tempos and a conciseness unheard on a Superchunk record in the last 25 years.
As if to underline the "us versus them" lens, McCaughan invited a host of friends to join in — Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield, A Giant Dog's Sabrina Ellis, and Dave Bazan all lend their voices to the cause. Yet, the guitar-centric record — there are no keyboards or extra instrumentation — remains focused on the core quartet, only sharpening their attack.
Thirty years deep into their career, Superchunk throw yet another left turn into a career full of them, offering up a protest record about the people for the people. What a time to be alive, indeed. (Merge)