Match Frame

Thoughts from an American editor and filmmaker in New Zealand about film and video production and post-production. Plus whatever else I feel like talking about.

Location: Balmoral, Auckland, New Zealand

A work in progress.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Superchunk (my favorite band in the world)

In a month, I'm travelling to the States, and amongst other things, I'm going to be seeing Superchunk four times (twice in Las Vegas at Matador At 21, once in Seattle, and once in Portland). As a result, I've been digging out old Superchunk albums, and coming to the conclusion that they are, in fact, my favorite band in the world.

Which begs the question: why? It's difficult, for lots of reasons. For one, hearing someone talk about their favorite band is like hearing someone tell you that their wife is the most beautiful woman in the world. You nod, but you don't believe.

So: all I can do is testify as to how I fell in love.

I first heard Superchunk in 1992. I had been drafted into a band at the end of my freshman year of university. I was instructed to return with my drum set and three songs under my belt. One of them was "Cast Iron" by Superchunk.

SUPERCHUNK - CAST IRON from Lance Bangs on Vimeo.

(The other two: "The Wagon" by Dinosaur jr. and "Alec Eiffel" by the Pixies.)

I dutifully went out and bought NO POCKY FOR KITTY and ... well, honestly for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what the deal was. At the time, I'd been DJ'ing for a semester at KTRU, discovering all sorts of new kinds of music, and getting excited about crazy! different! sounding music. Superchunk was almost the opposite - it seemed completely uninflected, like water.

Sometimes something feels so natural to you, I learned later, that you take for granted how right it feels. Also, water is my favorite beverage.

As I dug into "Cast Iron", I realized that it wasn't so obvious - there's a dropped beat that breaks up its 4/4 rhythm, some little interstitial parts that make it more than verse/chorus/verse, and the lyrics were slightly obscure. Was this a song about alien visitors? Maybe.

The more I got to know NO POCKY, the more I liked it. "30 Xtra", "Punch Me Harder", "Seed Toss", "Skip Steps 1 & 3", all singalong anthems. (Incidentally, I was thrilled when the secret meaning of the last song was recently revealed, which makes me appreciate that song all the more.)

But the song I fell in love with was "Throwing Things".

It's a great love song (whose heart is even more obvious in an acoustic version that appears on the INCIDENTAL MUSIC collection). It's tactile and specific, vividly drawing the moment, and throwing in one great true love lyric for the ages ("Head over heels/my hand's on my heart/I'm making a promise/and that's a start") without leaning heavy on saccharine; more pointedly, it doesn't lean on the semi-creepy possessiveness that pollutes a lot of love songs, particularly from the indie rock camps.

And so maybe that's part of the appeal of Superchunk - there's something about the lyrical approach I've always related to. Their fourth album, FOOLISH, is the breakup album, and "Driveway to Driveway" is more "musically mature", I suppose, but also maintains the evocative approach of "Throwing Things", another moment of running after a loved one, only one that ends badly:

It's not all love songs, of course, not even close. Possibly their most misinterpreted song is "Slack Motherfucker", which various major media outlets took as them declaring their slackerdom, when it fact it's just the opposite (a fact that is blatantly self-evident if you listen to the verses, which excoriate a lazy co-worker):

(As an aside, these live videos also help give some of the flavor of live Superchunk. I've seen the Chunk quite a few times, and the older I get, the more I hurt afterwards, but watching Mac (the singer/guitarist) pogo, I can't help but do the same.)

Superchunk (along with Jawbox) were one of the first bands that I saw that made me feel like I could get onstage too. I grew up listening to lots of metal, bands like Rush that were great technicians, and other music that always felt unapproachable in one way or another. I'm not a stylish guy, but Superchunk made it feel like you didn't have to be. A work ethic and passion meant way more than how you dressed. (Obviously, a gift for writing great hooks and anthemic lyrics doesn't hurt either.)

They were also just bloody nice. Through a really random series of circumstances, I put up Chris Knox in Houston when he opened for Superchunk, and he invited me backstage afterwards, and I wound up sitting down and talking with Mac for 10 minutes about New Zealand (some place I'd never been at the time). Sometimes meeting your idols doesn't really work out, sometimes it does.

As Superchunk went on, they experimented more with tempos, production, and instrumentation, but kept their independence (even moving back from intermittently independent Matador to their own label, Merge, also home at various points to Spoon, Neutral Milk Hotel, Magnetic Fields, the Arcade Fire and many many more, and whose story is chronicled in the fawesome book OUR NOISE). I wanted to include a link to "Unbelievable Things", the lead track from the sorely underrated INDOOR LIVING, as 3:06 into that song is one of my favorite moments in any song ever, but it appears not to be online. Instead, take "Art Class", from their last album from 2001, HERE'S TO SHUTTING UP.

After a particularly trying tour in 2001 (not aided by the fact that their album was released right around September 11), they pretty much shut things down for a while, to work on other projects: running Merge, Mac's 'side project' of Portastatic, parenting. Their drummer, Jon Wurster, put out comedy albums, and wound up joining The Mountain Goats (one of the only serious contenders for that 'favorite band in the world' title). There were the occasional one-off shows, each one tempting me to travel ludicrous distances for one last glance of the Chunk, but the sense was that things were over, and that the glory of pogoing my way through a high-energy live show would never happen again.

Luckily, I was wrong. MAJESTY SHREDDING, the new album, comes out very soon. I hear it's leaked, but I refuse to get it that way. I may have to buy it online instead of the record store, as I've been doing with every Chunk record since HERE'S WHERE THE STRINGS COME IN, but by accounts that I trust, it's up there with their greatest records.

Superchunk - Majesty Shredding from Merge Records on Vimeo.

So, wait, why is Superchunk my favorite band? Sometimes I think it comes down to this: every time I meet somebody who's also really into Superchunk, I know we're going to get along fine. And sometimes I think it comes down to this: every time I listen to Superchunk, things feel just a little more right with the world.