There’s an anguished significance layered within the title of Superchunk’s tenth studio record, I Hate Music. The Chapel Hill quartet have have been rocking stages and stereos since 1989, with bandmates Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance also founding the tastemaking record label, Merge, around the same time, forging a long, celebrated career on both sides of the music industry. But the title isn’t a bitter lament, nor a case of biting the hand that feeds — Superchunk clearly love music and all the creative roads it has taken them down, both literally and figuratively.
Rather, I Hate Music and the sombre but still spirited tracks found on the record form a dark statement about losing friends and colleagues that you’ve made specifically through the songs that you’ve written and the industry you’ve chosen to lead your life in. And that no matter how loud or fast you play the next song, those shared moments are gone forever and you’re left with only memories and the music that brought you together. It’s ultimately become both a blessing and a curse for Superchunk, bringing them all plenty of joy as well as sorrow. But thankfully the batch of new music itself, though imbued with a myriad of raw, vulnerable emotions, still churns with a vibrant, wistful potency that we’ve come to expect from the veteran band.
The moody electronic hum that starts the album is oddly reminiscent of U2′s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name,’ before giving way to a mournful acoustic guitar strum and McCaughan’s poignant initial lyrical offering, “Everything the dead don’t know piles up like magazines and overflows/And everything that you won’t see just swirls around/Comes down and buries me.” But rather than wallow in those disconsolate sentiments, the beat kicks in and the electric guitar starts to soar and the band shakes off their sadness the best way that they know how. The catchy pulse of ‘Me & You & Jackie Mittoo’ echoes back to the group’s raucous early days, both lyrically and musically, and clarifies the melancholy significance of the album’s deliberately shocking but symbolic title.
‘Void’ has a punky spirit despite the crestfallen subject matter, one which erupts fully in the minute-long fury of ‘Staying Home’ as the band properly clears the cobwebs out of the corners of the room with the blistering guitar squall that pushes the track breathlessly forward. ‘Low F’ and ‘Trees Of Barcelona’ represents the sturdy and inspired middle section of the record, with buoyant guitar riffs galore giving Mac’s recognizable soaring choruses even more of a bite. Whether it’s the unifying act of catching someone singing out loud to a song that you also love dearly (‘Low F’) or running wild through the streets on a night you never want to come to an end (‘Trees Of Barcelona’), both tracks are vividly coloured with tender, indelible memories that the listener can immerse themselves in.
Following the insistent drive of ‘Breaking Down,’ with its urgent themes of turning the page and getting on with rebuilding the life we are left with, the album slows down ever so slightly with the pensive fragility of ‘Out Of The Sun’ and ‘Your Theme.’ But the sting of loss still courses within these numbers, especially ‘Your Theme,’ with its aching lines of yearning for a friend that they would give anything to hang out with just one more time, “Oh, what I’d do/To waste an afternoon with you.” But the unrelenting, blazing catchiness of ‘FOH’ lights one last powerful fuse on the album, with the concerns of the front of the house questioned even while the band is making music, as the distraction of noise is done away with in favour of those friendships that are more meaningful and rewarding in the end.
I Hate Music ends with the longest song on the record by far, the slow-burning ‘What Can We Do,’ which finds Mac quizzically repeating the title for a while before the back beat kicks in and the song begins to swing, albeit quite introspectively. “I’ll say I’ll love ya/I won’t say goodbye,” McCaughan repeats like a mantra he has clung to desperately in these dark times, before the emotional song takes flight. Rather than let heartbreak render the band static and immobile, Superchunk has thankfully turned to their faithful creative outlet of music once again, and the memories and spirit of their lost friends will resolutely live on in the stirring songs they have written to honour them.