Superchunk, “What a Time to Be Alive”

What a Time to Be Alive

When Superchunk returned after an almost decade-long hiatus and released 2010’s Majesty Shredding, it marked a ferocious comeback for the influential Chapel Hill band behind Merge Records. That record saw the four-piece blast back into the scene, full of as much vigor and energy as they ever had. It was (fairly) swiftly followed up with 2013’s I Hate Music, which didn’t have quite the same zest and existential energy of its predecessor, but still revealed a band brimming with inspiration and vitality.

What a Time to Be Alive—the band’s eleventh full-length of its twenty-nine-year–long career—comes five years later, but it seems those years have been spent recharging their batteries to full capacity. Bolting out of the gate with the title track—an ironic reference to both youthful vernacular and the sorry political state of the USA—Superchunk are full of verve and swagger on these eleven songs. Combining, as they always have, the irreverent with the thoughtful, the jittery and chaotic melodies reflect a nervous wreck of a world, one that seems to be in constant turmoil with no end in sight.

Despite that, there’s optimism in droves here—in the jaunty and uplifting “Break The Glass,” the frenetic, buzzsaw guitars of “Dead Photographers,” the urgent-but-happy, Superchunk-ified punk of “Reagan Youth.” Admittedly, these songs are all underscored by the inherent melancholy of Mac McCaughan’s distinctive vocals and his flair for nostalgic lyricism, but this is a record that finds the band on more of a mission than ever before.

It’s easy to attribute this newfound sense of purpose to the current political climate—and this is, certainly, as much of a political record as Superchunk has ever made—but What a Time to Be Alive runs deeper than that. Just listen to “Black Thread,” a relatively slow song by this record’s standards, that concludes the album in a burst of joyous yet wistful defiance. It’s about personal triumph over overwhelming adversity—emotional and political, micro- and macrocosmic. As such, it’s a song—as this is a record—that dives straight into the heart of humanity and comes out swinging. In other words: We’re far from dead yet.


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