IMAGE: Jason Arthurs
[INDIE-ROCK HEROES] Comeback albums aren’t supposed to be good. It’s practically written into the history of rock that any time a beloved act decides to put aside its differences or quibbles to tour and record new music, recapturing the old magic is much harder than just hitting play and laying down a perfect song. But in the case of indie-rock titan Superchunk—a band that went into an almost decade-long hiatus instead of actually breaking up—all it took was a few shows to discover what makes the band tick: playing loud, infectious, pop rock songs.
“I was a little nervous about putting out a new record after nine years,” says bassist Laura Ballance over the phone from the band’s Chapel Hill, N.C., base. “Over the years we have been playing shows here and there, and the songs we wanted to play the most were the ones that were stripped down, simple rock songs. I think that influenced how we wrote this record.”
Superchunk’s new LP, Majesty Shredding, isn’t just the band’s first since 2001—it’s also one of its best, a set of jittery, heart-tugging guitar workouts on pace with early-’90s landmarks like No Pocky for Kitty and On the Mouth. While the last few albums saw the group—Ballance, singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan, guitarist Jim Wilbur, and drummer Jon Wurster—experiment by adding subtle layers of instrumentation like horns and strings, Majesty Shredding barely takes a break to catch its breath. Almost every song sounds like classic Superchunk, from the instant singalong “Digging for Something” to the harmony-and-buzzsaw-riff-driven “Everything at Once,” an amazing feat for a band that spent most of the aughts out of the spotlight.
It’s not like the band wasn’t busy during its downtime: McCaughan put out four albums with his side project, Portastatic; Ballance ran Merge Records, the label she founded with McCaughan in 1989, now home to Spoon and Arcade Fire; and Wurster drummed for the Mountain Goats and is a frequent guest on The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling. But that only makes the band’s return that much more important, and gives fans who never saw it in the first place the chance to bounce along to both the old and new classics.
“Most of the time onstage I think Mac is thinking, ‘What song can I pick that Laura won’t remember?’” Ballance says, laughing. “And we have like 200 songs or something!”
SEE IT: Superchunk plays Friday, Oct. 15, at the Wonder Ballroom with Teenage Fanclub and Telekinesis. 9 pm. $20 advance, $22 day of show. 21+.