Since releasing their first 7-inch in 1989, Superchunk has run the gamut of milestone albums: early punk rock stompers, polished mid-career masterpieces, and lush, adventurous curveballs. Conventional wisdom holds that a band two decades into its career can only rehash or reinvent, but with Majesty Shredding, Superchunk has done something entirely different. Neither a return nor a departure, Majesty Shredding telescopes two decades into 41 indelible, action-packed minutes. It is the sound of youthful exuberance fine-tuned with grown-up confidence. And it may very well be Superchunk’s best record yet.
Though it has been nine years since Superchunk released their last full-length album, Here’s to Shutting Up, Majesty Shredding is the result of a focused burst of creativity brought on by the band’s recent volley of live performances. Having cleared the deck of odds and sods with last year’s Leaves in the Gutter EP, Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan set about to write a batch of songs that would capture the spirit of the band’s live shows. From 1997’s Indoor Living through Here’s to Shutting Up, Superchunk had written most of their records together, building their songs through collaborative writing and rehearsal. But, in an effort not to overthink their new material (and because drummer Jon Wurster lives a couple hundred miles away from the rest of the band), Superchunk approached Majesty Shredding the same way they approached their early records: McCaughan provided skeletal demos to his bandmates, who in turn fleshed out the songs during a brief period of rehearsal and recording.
This sense of purpose is enhanced by the presence of Scott Solter, an engineer and producer known for coaxing exceptional performances out of the artists he works with. Majesty Shredding is a powerful document of Superchunk as a band, augmented as needed with well-placed harmonies, keyboards, and guitar overdubs (and some backing vocals courtesy of the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle). Each song seems perfectly suited to its respective treatment, as the band moves lithely from shout-along rave-ups like ‘Crossed Wires’ to melancholy slow burners like ‘Fractures in Plaster.’ As always, Superchunk strikes a unique and effortless balance between melody and force, craft and spontaneity, the energy of youth and the wisdom of experience. Majesty Shredding is Superchunk’s most thorough and thoughtful record, and it hits like a punch in the gut.
On songs like ‘My Gap Feels Weird,’ ‘Rosemarie,’ and ‘Digging for Something,’ McCaughan asks: How can we connect with our pasts and still move forward? Majesty Shredding offers an answer. During album closer ‘Everything at Once,’ McCaughan sings about how strongly we identify with songs about nothing in particular: ‘The feedback and the drums / The feeling noise becomes / Nothing and everything at once.’ We close our eyes and think about the kind of music that’s meant the most to us in our lives…and we realize that we’re listening to it right now.
Jim Wilbur – guitar and backing vocals
Jon Wurster – drums, backing vocals
Laura Ballance – bass, backing vocals
Mac McCaughan – guitar, vocals
The Superchunk Rock Vessel plowed forth from 1993 to 1996. The band put out one more record for Matador (On the Mouth) and then opted to release its own records, through Merge. The album, Foolish brought stylistic shifts and critical acclaim. A second singles compilation (the first was 1992’s Tossing Seeds) came out in the summer of ‘95. It was titled Incidental Music and contained most of their harder-to-find numbers (imports, b-sides, comp. tracks). Boston was the setting for Superchunk’s next album session. 1995’s Here’s Where the Strings Come In was recorded at the city’s Fort Apache Studios and slated for a fall release. The band toured hard for Strings all over the world, scoring a minor hit with the “Hyper Enough” single and video.
After a brief hiatus and another Australian tour the band released a limited-edition EP called The Laughter Guns. The band then started the writing process for what would become Indoor Living. Recording commenced in Bloomington, Indiana’s Echo Park Studios with Chapel Hillian John Plymale co-producing with the band. Superchunk stretched out a bit on Indoor Living, expanding their sound by adding some new instruments to the mix: piano, organ vibes and more. The album was by far their most adventurous and at the same time their most accessible to date.
To place their own indelible mark on the end of a decade, nay, the end of a century, Superchunk delivered Come Pick Me Up, their 7th full-length studio release for Chapel Hill’s favorite sons [and daughter]. It also served as part of the 10th anniversary for the band and their label, Merge Records.
Jim, John, Mac and Laura traveled to Chicago this time around for a recording session at Electrical Audio Studios with legendary abstract pop pioneer Jim O’Rourke. Set on continuing the musical journey that began on Indoor Living, Superchunk have continued the expansion and growth of their sound that started with Foolish, pushing themselves to new heights of creativity. O’Rourke was a perfect choice; incorporating strings and horns on some tracks and lending the expertise and studio savvy to help Superchunk create their most mature and enduring record to date. They’ve come a long way since those “Slack Motherfucker” days of working at the Kinko’s on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.
For Here’s To Shutting Up, the band traveled to Atlanta, GA’s Zero Return Studios to record the basic tracks, bringing producer Brian Paulson with them. The finishing touches were added at Paulson’s own Uwharrie Ridge Studios in Chatham County NC, just down the road from Chapel Hill. On Here’s To Shutting Up, Paulson enjoys the distinction of being the first producer to work with Superchunk twice (the first time being 1994’s Foolish LP), and this familiarity helped lend to a comfort zone that allowed the band to stretch out their musical sensibilities, creating a gorgeous tapestry of sound that is as refreshing as it is astounding.
Here’s To Shutting Up documents their ongoing maturation as both songwriters and musicians. Songs such as “Late-Century Dream,” “Phone Sex” and “Drool Collection” shimmer with intricate melodies and some of the most diverse instrumentation and stylistic innovations yet heard in the Superchunk canon. But the boys and a girl can still rock out with the best of them on tracks such as “Rainy Streets” and “Art Class.”