The time is no doubt shitty, but it's definitely better with What a Time to Be Alive.
March 7, 2018 | by Jocelyn Hoppa
What a Time to Be Alive
I was standing in my garage, where I often go these days to avoid people and mull stuff over, listening to “Bad Choices” from Superchunk’s latest release, What a Time to Be Alive, when these lines filled the room: “You gotta get out, out and about, meet your weird neighbors once in a while, take a deep breath of the air, oh get off of your bottom stair, stop taking pride in your white style.” Yeah.
From the start of lead/title track “What a Time to Be Alive,” hearing Superchunk again, now, 30 years down the road from their start, is goddamn refreshing. The crunchy guitar, the mounting drum beat, the lyrics "The scum, the shame, the fucking lies." The U.S. November 2016 election kicked off the making of the band’s first album in four years. In singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan’s words, “It would be strange to be in a band, at least our band, and make a record that completely ignored the surrounding circumstances that we live in and that our kids are going to grow up in.”
These may be protest songs steeped in a certain bleakness we’ve all come to know and loathe, but with the whole of What a Time to Be Alive it’s clear Superchunk has made another proper Superchunk record. The band — McCaughan, Jim Wilburg, Laura Ballance, and Jon Wurster — wonderfully maintain their DIY indie rock sound, punk-fueled screeds, earnest in attitude and catchy as fuck. Even if themes run down some depressing avenues, often meeting at the intersection of despair and defiance, the music is all raved up, restless energy.
Immediately, titles like “What a Time to Be Alive,” “Lost My Brain,” and “Cloud of Hate” will surely speak to thoughts and feelings we’ve all shared in the last year. “Break the Glass” is a call to stop our phone addictions by smashing these glowing gateways to our own misery. (I’m guessing.) The superb “Reagan Youth” reminisces about hearing the anarcho punk band that railed against a country embracing conservatism back in the ‘80s.
What a Time to Be Alive is frenetic right up to the eleventh final track, “Black Thread,” where the pace slows down and Mac sings, “The problem with letting go / No one to tell you how low is low/ The problem with holding on / No way to know when you’re really gone / And it’s stitched into your heart / And it’s wrapped around your head.”
Superchunk's latest is a fun-as-hell listen but also a neatly packaged gift to anyone needing a bit of a lifeline out of this mess. Cut the thread, clear your head, smash your smart phone, and listen to Reagan Youth. Especially that last part since the bulk of their career spanned Reagan’s two-administration reign, a chilling thought in our current condition.
What a Time to Be Alive features a rich roster of guest backing vocals, including Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit), Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields), Skylar Gudasz, and David Bazan.
“What a Time to Be Alive”
“Cloud of Hate”