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.)