Like a lot of college radio stations, 90FM proclaimed a strong dedication to local music. In the case of our station, we expanded “local” to mean anything that originated, even initially, in the state of Wisconsin. By the time I arrived there in the late nineteen-eighties, no one was really thinking of Violent Femmes as a Milwaukee band, for example, but that’s where they started, so that was good enough for us. There was one band that showed up in the mid-nineties that was not only from our town of Stevens Point, they were populated by, on who you asked, classmates, roommates, castmates, and future teammates. Their second album, Shamefaced, was local enough that I couldn’t even find an image on the album cover online, hence the promotional image over there, nicked from the Facebook page of the fellow on the far left there (who I have a feeling is dead serious about that hair). The same individual has made sure a track or two from the album has shown up online for your listening pleasure. Other than that, I can tell you that the official release party for Shamefaced was held at Tremors dance club. So that’s something.
47. Superchunk, Here’s Where the Strings Come In
Here’s Where the Strings Come In is the fifth Superchunk album, but it somehow feels like it’s early and seminal. It followed Foolish, which was something of a breakthrough for the band, both artistically and in terms of the band’s prominence with college radio programmers (it’s a major stretch to call any Superchunk album a true commercial success). Even now, Foolish is largely considered to be the one must-have release in the band’s catalog. Presumably, that would give Here’s Where the Strings Come In the general vibe of a band with something to prove, or else maybe a group of performers straining to duplicate recent success. Maybe it’s the accumulation of all sorts of other Superchunk music to compare it to since, but neither likely characterization fits to me. Instead, all I hear are the indie heroes of Chapel Hill, North Carolina bashing out their trademark sound, content in their own slacker clatter.
The album bounds to life with “Hyper Enough,” Mac McCaughan repeatedly singing, “I think I’m hyper enough as it is.” The band that spoke for the lackadaisical restlessness and knee-jerk dissatisfaction of Gen Xers everywhere with their brilliant early single “Slack Motherfucker” was still very much in that mode six years later. Even when the songs come across as deliberately cryptic or strain for a more universal openness, there is a strong sense that it’s all about being a twentysomething adrift in a stalled modern era, doing absolutely everything wrong. “Iron On” sketches out that with the perfectly chosen throwaway details of an especially insightful mumblecore film: “We’re passing the bottle over to you/ Across the floor of our sinking, dug-out canoe/ We got so drunk that night, we got so drunk that night/ I hardly remember driving you home.” All that mopey scuffling can distract from how tight and propulsive the band is, as on the headlong roar of “Detroit Has a Skyline” and the Replacements-style barroom assurance of the title cut.
This wasn’t only the fifth Superchunk album, it was their fifth album in six years, a terrifically prolific stretch for a band that was simultaneously growing their own label, Merge Records. The same day Here’s Where the Strings Come In was released also saw Merge issuing the Magnetic Fields’ full-length Get Lost. Forget the preciousness of refined artistry. Superchunk was approaching their modest but respected place in the music business as if it were a job that they were plainly obligated to do, punching the clock each and every day. That may not have been the approach, but the output sure suggests that. If that doesn’t sound like a compliment, I’ll state directly that a compliment is precisely what I mean it to be. They kept plugging away following this album, with such dependability that even a later layoff of nearly a decade found them picking up and issuing new albums that were better termed continuations than reunions. I’m not sure how many of us would have pegged Superchunk as truly built to last back in the day, but we should have. It’s there in every last damn note.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You