Superchunk Delivers Punk Rock Gem on ‘What a Time to be Alive’

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Superchunk turns anger into noise—and joyous noise at that—on the band’s newest album, What a Time to be Alive.  Twenty-eight years after their self-titled debut, the band’s fury and energy is as powerful as ever, as frontman Mac McCaughan’s vocals mesh with soaring guitars and the pulsing percussion of drummer Jon Wurster.  

The 2016 election has shaped much songwriting in the past two years, yet on What a Time to be Alive, the band strikes to the core of the political issues in a way that has seldom been used.  McCaughan’s vague lyrics yet pointed rage provide some of the best politically charged songs in recent memory. On an early highlight of the record in “Break the Glass,” McCaughan sings, “Break the glass, don’t use the door. This is what the hammer’s for,” reminding everyone to continue to speak out and fight back.

This record is a great piece of punk rock, reminiscent of the ’70s and ’80s. McCaughan gives recognition to the past on “Reagan Youth,” as he reflects on similar political fury from the Reagan administration behind the ripping guitar of Jim Wilbur. The band balances the pace of the record brilliantly, switching on a dime from the mid-tempo “Erasure” to the raucous “I Got Cut.” There is hardly a bad moment on the record. Although the short “Lost my Brain” lacks any real memorable moment, the album’s lightning pace immediately throws you into stand-out track “Break the Glass.”

From the opening riff of the title track, Superchunk shows they have their fists clenched and are ready for a fight. The album clocks in just slightly over half an hour, yet the band’s whirlwind of sound gives this record great impact over its short running time. Over its entire 73 seconds, “Cloud of Hate” gives increased ferocity to the record and highlights the band’s ability to do more with less.

The album’s best moment comes final moments on the terrific “Black Thread.” The band ends the record on a powerful yet controlled note, keeping its political tone, yet showing tremendous melody as McCaughan’s vocals intertwine seamlessly with winding guitars before urging listeners to “Cut the Black Thread.”

Throughout all 32 minutes of roaring guitar solos and cries to action, What a Time to be Alive proves to be a fantastic record. Listening to the album, it is near impossible to imagine a band 28 years into its career simply adding another LP to its discography. Rather, you imagine a band near its prime, creating music with great ferocity and even greater heart.

8/10

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