Album review: Superchunk, “What a Time to Be Alive”

by Jon E. Lynch

Superchunk, “What a Time to Be Alive”

Available: Friday, Feb. 16, via Merge Records on compact disc and vinyl LP. Preordered vinyl bundles also include a turntable slipmat adorned with the album artwork. For the collector/fan, there is a limited-edition pressing on pink-in-clear vinyl that includes a 12 by 24-inch foldout poster. While these are already sold out from the label, you can check in with a variety of independent record stores to purchase the exclusive version. Which is awesome.

Durham, North Carolina-based Merge Records was founded in 1989 by Superchunk guitarist and lead vocalist Mac McCaughan and bassist/vocalist Laura Balance, at the fore of the DIY movement in (what was then considered underground/indie/alternative) music, as a vehicle to release their own band’s albums and, eventually, records made by their friends. What was first started as seemingly nothing more than a means to an end became so much more.

Some of the most iconic, groundbreaking, and cherished independent records of the last 30 years have been released by Merge and their artist roster. Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, The Magnetic Fields, Spoon, The Mountain Goats, Lambchop, and Dinosaur Jr. have put out timeless, classic releases on the label. In 2010, Arcade Fire released their third full-length album, “The Suburbs,” which debuted at No. 1 on a variety of charts and won Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammys. A couple days ago marked the 20th anniversary of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” The label’s contribution and canon is as impressive as it is undeniable.

With each Merge release, I am reminded that it all essentially began with Superchunk. On their 11th proper full-length, Mac and Laura are joined by longtime members Jim Wilbur (guitar, backing vocals) and Jon Wurster (drums, backing vocals). The record is a scathing critique of the current political climate, presidential shit-[eff]ery and the ascendance of the Idiocracy. Many have been waiting for a firm statement record of protest and the indie punkers have beyond delivered. Pulsing, breakneck, screeching guitars are accompanied with lyric content that is direct, needed, and presciently observant. While it may not be the first record of social commentary and political backlash, it is a more-than-solid offering and hopefully the first of many.

Recommended for fans of Guided by Voices, Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Built to Spill, Sebadoh, or any of the artists listed above.

Jon E. Lynch[email protected]

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