What a Time to Be Alive (Superchunk)
2018 had a good number of quality release and What a Time to Be Alive by Superchunk was on my listening list for a while. The album was getting praises and I wanted hear it for myself. I had heard some of Superchunk’s music several years ago. It was played at a tea lounge on Brooklyn and I really liked what I heard. I would do college course work at the lounge and hear some great music over their PA like David Bowie’s Hunky Dory (before he passed) and other underground favorites. What a Time to Be Alive is a fairly short album with a concise songs on it, some are less than two minutes long. The sound of the album is uniform. Each track has a different flow and really interesting textures.
The subject matter varies on What a Time to Be Alive. Dysfunctionality, passive aggression and things other than the everyday topics are put to music by Superchunk. The songs are really well written. “Reagan Youth” is about hardcore in the 80’s. The song is a nod to RY and other bands like them from that era. I found an unplugged version of the song which really exhibits the band’s musicianship. It sounds a lot different than the LP version. The tune really works well on acoustic instruments.
“All for You” is a catchy cut that breaks the orthodoxy as far as what we expect to hear in a song. Not grove driven, not based on a blues changes, it sounds like a jet taking off. “Bad Choices” is chaotic and expresses the sentiment of “I could have, I should have.” Superchunk is very good at vearing away from the run of the mill song structures.
One of my favorite tracks from this album is “Break the Glass” which has these qualities. It has a jet rock & roll feel and sing songy melody on top of a full sheet of sound. Superchunk uses this formula effectively throughout the album. They really know how to maximize their tones with two guitars, bass and drums. They have a pretty big sound for a quartet. This is another song that translates well unplugged. I found some rich live acoustic footage of this song.
“Lost My Brain” and “I Got Cut” are some of the shorter ruckus tacks. The band balances the contrast between the melodic and the trashy. Superchunk reaches for their punk roots to some extent: 80’s hardcore in which an idea can be express in a as little as thirty seconds. Bands like the Circle Jerks which did a whole album called Group Sex which not one song is over a minute and forty seconds long. This was a response to the extended jams and the stadium opuses that was prevalent during the early 70s.
“Dead Photographers” has a really sweet intro. It is energetic and bright. The song has the color and texture I was expecting from Superchunk.
“Erasure” is a cut with catchy instrumentation and the smooth tones that make the album interesting to listen to. The song has video that light of the current turmoil. Specifically, Trump Induced Depression. The video taps into and pokes at the anxiety folks suffer now because they are fixated on the news. It has images of the protagonist going to psychotherapy, getting hooked on prescription drugs and trying different coping mechanisms. Superchunk takes things that aren’t funny and finds levity in them. It’s a sort of dark humor. “Erasure” is a great track and its audio stands up on its own. The video is silly and I give the band credit because it’s not easy to come up with something different and not fall into the trap of overusing cliches.
“Cloud of Hate” has a fun video also. Barely a minute long, it has animated effects, most of them very well thought out stop motion sight gags. It is a sensory overload that is both funny and artistic in a way that is anything but ostentatious.
The closing track “Black Thread” is about letting go. Superchunk is elegant with words but not in an obvious manner. They can make a statement in an unassuming way.
Overall, people have been talking about What a Time to Be Alive and there’s a reason why. You can find the album on Bandcamp and Youtube has a number of great live and unplugged versions of the the album’s playlist. It is a really well done album.