Cup of Sand

Since 1989, North Carolina's Superchunk has been a mainstay of America's underground/indie-rock scene, steadfastly refusing to go mainstream. The band has resisted overtures from major labels, resolving to stick with Merge, the label it founded. Furthermore, the bandmembers have shied away from going MTV/Hollywood, which unfortunately means no photo ops with Ben Affleck or the cast of That '70s Show.

This two-CD collection of mostly singles and compilation tracks from 1995-2001 (with a few from '92, and a smattering of previously unreleased oddities) finds the main aspects of Superchunk's sound still firmly in place. Stylistically, they're something of an American counterpart to Britain's Buzzcocks: Mac McCaughan's adolescently high, just-this-side-of-whiny vocals mix well with the buzz-saw guitars, steady-as-a-redwood bass playing, and propulsive drum-bashing. But don't get the notion Superchunk's stuck in a punk rock cul-de-sac -- while they carry the banner of pop hook-laden punk proudly, they're not limited by it. "The Length of Las Ramblas" is a pretty, psychedelically tinged ballad with forlorn vocal harmonies. The winsome mini-epic "1000 Pounds" recalls late-'60s Beach Boys, weaving a charming, wide-open West Coast amalgam of reflective folky melody, shimmering vibraphone, and an idyllic country banjo motif. Elsewhere, the Chunk takes David Bowie's 1980 deadpan gem "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" out for a ragged romp. But the bulk of this set is taken up by vintage Superchunk: Surging, anthemic, power chord-driven tunes like "The Hot Break" and "Dance Lesson" are in the vein of their classic single "The Question Is How Fast." This collection is proof that Superchunk has indeed pulled off one of the neatest tricks in contemporary rock 'n' roll: They've retained the old-school punk rock verities (economy, wit, urgent angst, directly infectious melodies) while managing to age gracefully.


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