Superchunk’s What A Time To Be Alive points and riles up the troops


Superchunk’s What A Time To Be Alive points and riles up the troops

By Kevin Tiongsonn

Superchunk’s new album What A Time To Be Alive starts with healthy self-awareness right off the bat: “What a time to be alive/we can’t pretend to be surprised,” howls guitarist and lead vocalist Mac McCaughan on the title track.

With the recognizable fuzzed-out guitar tone and building drums, the title track is emblematic of the band’s classic, unique sound, which continues for the rest of the album, becoming a flashback to the band’s earlier days while doing much more than that.

Released Feb. 16 by Merge Records, the independent label of McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance, the album was created in reaction to President Donald Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, fulfilling the hope of punk rock fans that the political bands of yesteryear would come back to record new music.

The album’s fifth track, “Dead Photographers,” kicks off with quick ferocious drums that say this is Superchunk at its finest. The song’s vocals are “mixed a bit too low,” a classic style from the band a la Husker Du, also featured its 1994 album, Foolish. The song “Reagan Youth” is a down and dirty homage to the anarcho-punk bands such as Bad Brains, Reagan Youth or The Dead Boys.

“Break the Glass,” one of the album’s strongest songs, features the lyrics: “Everyone is acting normal/but no one’s sleeping through the night,” a line which exemplifies the unease many are feeling.

What A Time To Be Alive comes out louder and somewhat rougher around the edges compared to the band’s previous releases. This new album brings the teeth back, coats each poppy note in old whiskey, and sun-dries it. This is the band’s most barebones record since its 1990s self-titled debut. Just the essentials: vocals, guitars, bass and drums.

It was written and recorded quickly and in secret, rid of all the flash and polish that time brings to most recorded music. While the album deviates from the last few Superchunk records, it brings back the rawness and immediate sucker punch of a wall of sound the band was known for at its inception.

The album is a product of frustration and anger that only music can communicate. Despite the title’s cheekiness, the album is not a downer, the upbeat and happy chord progression and repeatable chorus lines give What A Time To Be Alive an optimistic feel.