Monday, July 13, 2009

chunky, not smooth.

remember the eighties and nineties? there were those tape thingees. and for most people i knew that meant that you had a pile of pirated cassettes (taped on double-deck stereos of real, bought tapes sometimes, but mostly they were from records. i certainly had a high percentage of my music on tapes horded from friends. it was (cough. and is) a good way to exponentially increase one's buying power. barry would bring in the pixies. jay would get the retro stuff. all of us would tweak out on sub pop's many offerings. don't even get me started on the mixtapes; john cusack can do a better job singing their praises.

i used to have a superchunk tape. leave it to me to not even know which one i had*. i doubt i knew anything then more than their name, and how that tape sounded. how it sounded was different. different from the ur-indie stuff we could scrabble together, like the pixies and the smiths and the vaselines. different from the scene happening around us: the green river and mudhoney, mother love bone and screaming trees, the butthole surfers and nirvana. i was maybe as snotty then as i am now, but i really didn't have the knowledge or experience to explain how superchunk was different from grunge. i couldn't articulate now how i thought it was different. it was though, and i enjoyed listening to that tape. that, and pj harvey, and seaweed and they might be giants. haha.
as with so many parts of our youths, that tape disappeared somewhere along the line and, rather than miss it, i forgot about it as new sounds greeted my young ears. explosions of screaming riot grrls and gentle strums of twee maestros vied for attention with the newly-discovered (for me) nicks cave and drake. and others, more and more, for years.
i remembered superchunk's name, and "oh, those guys.... i had that tape." couldn't remember how it sounded though.

a few years ago i was rifling through the used cd bin at a local record store and i came across a superchunk cd ("on the mouth"). i said, "oh hey, those guys," and picked it up. it sat on my shelf for a little while, and when i put it on the player, i was a little shocked at how good and how raw it sounded. i hate to admit that after that playing, it went back on the shelf as some other record (in all honestly, probably one by the mountain goats...) took over my affections with an iron grip.
then several months (okay, maybe eight or so) ago, i came across another cd ("come pick me up"), this one for a real price, and i picked it up, and both went onto rotation chez matt. it all started to come back to me, the significance of this fine exponent of rocking the fuck out without being douchebags. i started getting wistful thinking about mac playing with the bats for their stellar "spill the beans" ep; about how jon was revitalizing the otherwise two-man mountain goats with his insanely good drumming; about the whole romantic history of a great band giving birth to a truly legendary label, merge records.
it was all just to much, and i fell in love properly this time--not just a fleeting crush.

i would've been content to harbor my feelings within if a few recent reminders had not spurred me into some rusty writing: i discovered mac mccaughan's excellent "portastatic"** blog, and have been enjoying that; then came the announcement, timed perfectly to co-incide with my recent unemployment, that not only was a superchunk ep now available, but a 7" single on clear vinyl would be available for pre-order--two more temptations from the nearly irresistable merge catalogue at just the wrong time; then there was portastatic's gorgeous cover of franklin bruno's "tableaux vivant" that scott from fayettenam hooked me up with. it was all too much. i caved and ordered the ep and single--i couldn't hold out any longer, and after all, what are credit cards good for if not going into debt for what you love? amiright? (it's gonna be rough this fall when merge puts out the clean's new studio album. argh. gnashes teeth.

unfortunately the single, "crossed wires b/w blinders (fast version), and crossed wires (demo)" met the vinyl production delay indie record geeks have come to regard as a natural pitfall of their endevors. however, in a classy move, the label sent out the download coupons included with purchase early so we who bought would not lose hair waiting. they are absolute darlings down there in north carolina, i tell ya. so i've been listening to three songs all day (ok, with a little julie doiron thrown in for swoonability purposes)--actually, two versions of one song, plus the middle one. ha. nerdy? yes i am.
but holy shit, they are so good.
especially good is the third track, the demo version of "crossed wires." the single track is awesome, and kicks every ass in the room, but the intimacy and immediacy of the more-acoustic version, with stereophonicly jangling guitars perfectly setting up mac's inimitable high-pitched and plaintive drone, is nearly impossible to top in my opinion. it showcases the strength of the song, one that's capable of being rocked to the edge, but also the depth of a more "humble" treatment. that it also highlights the range of this venerable punk band is a point almost rendered redundent, but it is one i will make nonetheless. can't wait to get some income again; then i can delve deeper into the back numbers...

* upon reflection, it was most likely 1990's "superchunk"
**portastatic being mac's longstanding other project.