Record Review: Superchunk Swings for the Fences with What a Time to Be Alive | Record Review | Indy Week

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Record Review: Superchunk Swings for the Fences with What a Time to Be Alive



Conventional wisdom holds that veteran bands tend to mellow out and lose the fire in their bellies as they make more records. Superchunk has done exactly the opposite. Beginning with the release of 2010's freewheeling Majesty Shredding, the quartet has become more galvanizing and outspoken.

Accordingly, What a Time to Be Alive is an economical, no-frills encapsulation of the infuriating times in which we live. There are no keyboards or elaborate arrangements, just heaps of distortion-lacquered, melodic punk and power-pop tunes. Highlights encompass warp-speed hardcore (the Hüsker Dü-esque burst "Clouds Of Hate"), and boisterous, thrashing rock on "Dead Photographers" and the title track. Yet What a Time to Be Alive also makes space for intricate vocal details. "Erasure" boasts subtle harmonic shading from Stephin Merritt and Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield, and on "Bad Choices," Mac McCaughan's clipped singing falls in lockstep with lashing guitars and precise rhythms on the song's pointed, emphatic chorus.

Although What a Time to Be Alive alludes to hot-button issues (gerrymandering, draining the swamp, oppressive policies), its lyrics aren't explicitly political. About as direct as it gets is "I Got Cut," which features the couplet "Family planning/Free Chelsea Manning" and the exclamation "All these old men won't die too soon." This thematic flexibility frees up McCaughan to offer trenchant societal observations—the electrifying fuzzbomb "Reagan Youth" is oblique commentary on the return of eighties conservative thinking—or survival techniques. "Lost My Brain" is about escaping the overwhelming news cycle for the sake of those around you, while "Bad Choices" tells people they should leave the house and "meet your weird neighbors once in awhile."

Thankfully, while What a Time to Be Alive is often angry and oozes frustration—and the title can certainly be read as sardonic or celebratory—it's not a cynical record. There's an undercurrent of solidarity beneath this exasperation that's unifying, even exhilarating. What a Time to Be Alive ends up feeling completely life-affirming.

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