Here's Where the Strings Come In / Summer of the Shark / Non-Believers + Staring at Your Hologram

Superchunk, 1995 / Portastatic, 2003 / Mac McCaughan, 2015

Capturing a cultural moment is the sort of feat that requires equal parts skill and luck. Which makes it more amazing that Mac McCaughan has done it three times over. Hell, Superchunk had a such a run, it's fans will disagree about just which album captured the zeitgeist.

For my money, it's Here's Where the Strings Come In. It's where Superchunk transcended their heartfelt pop-punk roots (without forsaking them). In fact, it's one of their more visceral records. What sets Strings apart is its wide-angle scope, giving cinematic more force to Mac's lovelorn musings.

Sometime in the mid-90s, McCaughan began moonlighting as Portastatic. it acted as an outlet for smaller, more experimental work, but it eventually grew to overtake his work within Superchunk. Summer of the Shark is the project's pinnacle. Released in 2003, he perfectly captures the wounded soul of a confused post-9/11 America. There's a couple of indirect acknowledgements of the then-still-recent attacks, but mostly I'm struck by the near-perfect yearning of songs like Hey Salty. Summer of the Shark ranks alongside the best of Superchunk.

More controversially, I would argue that Non-Believers, the first record Mac McCaughan has cut under his own name, ranks alongside the other two. It resonates differently the others: the feelings he's chasing are now more reflective, but not wearier. Non-Believers is synth heavy, marking a major turn in his work, and aligning with the retro-fetish du jour. Non-Believers seems distinct, perhap as it's made by someone who witnessed the synth-pop so many are aping, but wasn't playing it at the time—so it's lived in, from the outside in.

Really though, with all three of these albums, it just comes down to the fucking songs. If I hear one of these albums, I'm humming them for days. These earworm melodies are never tied to trite or half-baked lyrics, so they both delight and fulfill.

(Just for shits and giggles, I also got the limited edition instrumental re-eits of Non-Believers as well. Mac seems like a such an unlikely figure to release a remix album, it was hard to resist.)

field report no.041917

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: New Rain Duets by Mac McCaughan & Mary Lattimore

Such a little thing can make such a difference…Billing this concert by Mac McCaughan and Mary Lattimore as 'an evening of semi-improvised music for harp and analog synthesizer' set all the wrong expectations. It might seem trifling to prefer a more accurate variation, like 'post-rock-tinged, ambient instrumentals', but the distinction matters. The tools to judge improvised music and ambient composition are vastly different. As the latter, it was a surprisingly successful set.

Mac McCaughan is indie-rock royalty: leader of Superchunk and Portastatic and co-founder of Merge Records—one of the most stalwart independent labels around. His latest release was a swell set of synth-driven, lower-case pop tunes. Here, he manned a handful of analogue synthesizers. I was not familiar with Mary Lattimore going into the evening, but she's featured on labels from small cassette outfits to the established electronica purveryor, Ghostly International. Their structures allowed some spontaneity—they managed to surprise each other a couple of times throughout the evening. While the format, perhaps, didn't play squarely into either artists' strengths, it's especially rewarding to see established artists willing to work outside their lane. 

NOTES: Mac McCaughan / Mary Lattimore duet; Oriana