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Since releasing their first 7-inch in 1989, Superchunk has run the gamut of milestone albums: early punk rock stompers, polished mid-career masterpieces, and lush, adventurous curveballs. Conventional wisdom holds that a band two decades into its career can only rehash or reinvent, but with Majesty Shredding, Superchunk has done something entirely different. Neither a return nor a departure, Majesty Shredding telescopes two decades into 41 indelible, action-packed minutes. It is the sound of youthful exuberance fine-tuned with grown-up confidence. And it may very well be Superchunk’s best record yet.
Though it has been nine years since Superchunk released their last full-length album, Here’s to Shutting Up, Majesty Shredding is the result of a focused burst of creativity brought on by the band’s recent volley of live performances. Having cleared the deck of odds and sods with last year’s Leaves in the Gutter EP, Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan set about to write a batch of songs that would capture the spirit of the band’s live shows. From 1997’s Indoor Living through Here’s to Shutting Up, Superchunk had written most of their records together, building their songs through collaborative writing and rehearsal. But, in an effort not to overthink their new material (and because drummer Jon Wurster lives a couple hundred miles away from the rest of the band), Superchunk approached Majesty Shredding the same way they approached their early records: McCaughan provided skeletal demos to his bandmates, who in turn fleshed out the songs during a brief period of rehearsal and recording.
This sense of purpose is enhanced by the presence of Scott Solter, an engineer and producer known for coaxing exceptional performances out of the artists he works with. Majesty Shredding is a powerful document of Superchunk as a band, augmented as needed with well-placed harmonies, keyboards, and guitar overdubs (and some backing vocals courtesy of the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle). Each song seems perfectly suited to its respective treatment, as the band moves lithely from shout-along rave-ups like ‘Crossed Wires’ to melancholy slow burners like ‘Fractures in Plaster.’ As always, Superchunk strikes a unique and effortless balance between melody and force, craft and spontaneity, the energy of youth and the wisdom of experience. Majesty Shredding is Superchunk’s most thorough and thoughtful record, and it hits like a punch in the gut.
On songs like ‘My Gap Feels Weird,’ ‘Rosemarie,’ and ‘Digging for Something,’ McCaughan asks: How can we connect with our pasts and still move forward? Majesty Shredding offers an answer. During album closer ‘Everything at Once,’ McCaughan sings about how strongly we identify with songs about nothing in particular: ‘The feedback and the drums / The feeling noise becomes / Nothing and everything at once.’ We close our eyes and think about the kind of music that’s meant the most to us in our lives…and we realize that we’re listening to it right now.
Jim Wilbur - guitar and backing vocals
Jon Wurster - drums, backing vocals
Laura Ballance - bass, backing vocals
Mac McCaughan - guitar, vocals
Between 2006 and 2011, Chapel Hill's Spider Bags toured the U.S. in a countless crisscross, sharing stages with Reigning Sound, King Khan BBQ Show, The Golden Boys, and Titus Andronicus to name just a few. After releasing two excellent full lengths for San Francisco's Birdman records (A Celebration of Hunger, 2007 & Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World, 2009), the boys had hit a crossroads.
A heavy touring schedule saw members dropping like flies, with only mainstays/lifers Dan McGee (songwriter, guitar, vocals) and Gregg Levy (guitar, bass) left standing. But invigorated with a batch of brand new songs, they completed the current quartet lineup with mighty Rock Forbes on drums and Steve Oliva on bass.
The quartet packed up a few essentials into a mini-van and headed to their spiritual home of Memphis, TN. They set up shop in the home of engineer and musician Andrew McCalla. In a matter of only three days, the Spider Bags recording session became a non-stop party and impromptu "happening". The band played an in-store at legendary Goner records, a frenetic live show to a capacity audience, and all the while managed to record Shake My Head, sleep be damned. This record is a document of a true rock-n-roll party, where members of Memphis bands and luminaries like Jack Oblivian and Harlan T. Bobo wandered in and out of the sessions to either lay down some guitar or backing vocals or just drink a beer and have a good time. And a good time was had, as you can actually hear on the record itself.
For Shake My Head, Spider Bags have let go- kicking off the proverbial shoes, just going in for the pure fun of it. The result is a phenomenal blend of Beefheartian weirdness, gang vocals, and enough guitars and riffs to make any Reigning Sound, Royal Trux, or Ty Segall fan plenty happy. The songs themselves pull together a schizoid melding of Stax-style-R&B (Simona La Ramona), Brill Building melodies (Friday Night), west coast psychedelia (Shape I Was In ) and 'down on the street' swagger (Quetzalcoatl Love Song). These are the new "nuggets" for the freaks and heads of our technologically muddled/fucked world. Rejoice, brothers and sisters - for rock an roll is alive and well!