For a generation raised on punk rock that was influenced more by Sonic Youth and Minor Threat than by the Sex Pistols or the Clash, indie rock is built on this premise: There's an article of faith called music, made by honest people full of honest emotions, which can fill up every hole the straight world digs into our lives. This image puts Superchunk -- the most important guitar-driven band since Sonic Youth to a DIY generation of Kinko's-influenced American youth -- and its 10-year-old label, Merge, at the center of whatever's left of American punk rock.
Though hundreds of bands have already come and gone since the late '80s -- including generation-defining bands such as Nirvana and the Pixies -- Superchunk's guitarist Mac McCaughan is not really interested in discussing the band's legacy. This, even though many of the songs on Superchunk's new recording, "Come Pick Me Up," read like frank and open letters to an aging fan and peer base. McCaughan, now 32, denies such conscious attempts. "If there is any theme to this record, it's more about people wanting to change their lives -- or not being able to change their lives."
He's alluding to tracks such as "Hello Hawk," where characters brood and torture themselves while sensing their need to be lifted away. They realize that where they are -- spiritually, emotionally -- is no place to call home. McCaughan seems to admit that these songs of displacement, tiredness and eventual submission or transcendence are questions the band members keep asking themselves.
"There are definitely things you end up writing about that are just about what you are doing, like being in a band, and that sort of thing -- is that a real job? Is that an unrealistic life to be leading or is it worthwhile? Do you need to really answer that or can you just do what you are doing?"
But there's more to the new album than just a simple introspective shift in lyrical tone. "Come Pick Me Up" features the work of producer-savant Jim O'Rourke who, McCaughan argues, gave the band the opportunity to expand "the palate and the textual stuff." This new "stuff" -- horns doubling guitars and string arrangements fit for any upstanding classical composer -- glides together with McCaughan's simple, clean vocals, as sweet as they are (still) ferocious, mirroring the guitar power chords tossing underneath. All of this while continuing to have a recording "that sounds like a band is playing the songs."
The strength and focus of the CD point to more than just expert knob-twiddling, though. The band's increased potency, despite rock & roll's generally waning cultural impact, hints at the necessities and passions which lie beneath Superchunk's will to rock. For McCaughan, it's the simple wish to create lasting music, the kind that in his younger days made him want to play in the first place. If it's up to McCaughan the band will be making albums you can grip to your chest for as long as you believe.