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For years, Portastatic was the quirky one-man side project of Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, a place where he could explore his bedroom lo-fi vision with gauzy, keyboard-driven paeans.

McCaughan released a trio of indie pop albums in the '90s, then used Portastatic to explore other interests, including jazz (The Perfect Little Door EP w/Ken Vandermark), Brazilian pop (the De Mel, De Melão EP) and a movie soundtrack (Looking for Leonard). But with several of Superchunk's members discovering domestic bliss and parenthood, in 2003, following the release of The Summer of the Shark, McCaughan took Portastatic out of the bedroom and on tour for the first time. His latest, Bright Ideas, continues to extend this more rock-driven aesthetic, sounding at times (as on "Through With People") very much like Superchunk.

"It's still me and I think the fact that `the songs are` distorted and loud – this time more so than on other Portastatic albums, maybe – kind of makes it feel like that, and the fact that it's a band recording – playing live in the studio, essentially what Superchunk does when they make records – it's closer to that style of playing," McCaughan admits. "If I know it's going to be a band playing the songs, then I think there is more of an impetus to make it a band-type album, rather than one where I'm playing everything."

McCaughan is joined by his brother Matt on drums, Superchunk guitarist Jim Wilbur on bass and Margaret White, a brilliant multi-instrumentalist who's toured with Cat Power, Sparklehorse and Belle & Sebastian. White's participation is particularly felt on McCaughan's older, quieter tunes, where her violin and keyboards capture the careening melancholia of Portastatic's early material. As for the 'Chunksters, they're not gone, even though they haven't released a new album since 2001's Here's to Shutting Up.

"We've played a couple shows this summer that were really fun with a few new songs," says McCaughan of the status of the band that's looking more and more like a side project. "It's a matter of getting everyone in the same place and writing enough songs to finish a record. We'd like to do that sometime next year, and I don't know if the album would come out next year; it all depends on how long it takes us to do that. But I really like the new songs we have, and it will be cool once the Portastatic thing settles down to get back together and work on some more Superchunk."

with The National, John Vanderslice

Sunday, Oct. 23
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