Superchunk - Leaves in the Gutter (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Leaves in the Gutter (2009)


People often use relationships as an analogy for bands, and in a lot of contexts it makes smashing good sense. We can all relate to getting those little butterflies listening to a new release from a band we love similar to the feeling Marcie would get when Peppermint Patty walked into a room. If Superchunk were a relationship their breakup would have come after the couple celebrated their 13-year anniversary with the most delicious triple chocolate brownies, a Dylan Moran DVD, some edible body paints, a delightful day-sex romp, and then decide it'd be best to follow that up by spiriting themselves away to parts unknown never to speak to each other again. It doesn't make a whole lick of sense but that is what Superchunk did with Here's To Shutting Up seven years ago. The Leaves in the Gutter EP, sounds like what would happen if those estranged lovers met several years later in the produce aisle of the local supermarket and decided to relive the summer of their youth via coitus amongst the cream cheese and goats milk.

Superchunk do what they did extremely well: three-four-minute pop songs with strong hooks and duelling guitars, and from the intro on "Learned to Surf" you can tell the band knew not to mess with the winning formula. Instead, the band has retooled the direction they were going in their last few albums, eliminating extra embellishments found in synths and strings (not abandoning them completely) in favour of a bare-bones approach relying heavily on vocalist Mac McCaughan's signature high-pitched shout to carry the song. He accents the verses by extending the vowels in certain words to mimic the noodling guitar lines, a quirk that'll have you singing along in no time. It is all at once familiar and fresh, using old methods to produce something new and exciting, never reveling in nostalgia to fester into something ugly. This idea of escaping stagnation is echoed in the chorus of "Learned to Surf," where McCaughan proclaims: "When I learned to walk, you know humans roamed the earth, I can't hold my breath anymore, I stopped sinking and learned to surf."

Although, like much of their career, the sentiments on Leaves in the Gutter tend to be conveyed through an abstract naturalistic lens, it isn't to say the band is looking back with rose-tinted romanticism either. The band kicks up the noise as much as they did on No Pocky for Kitty and On the Mouth with their tambourine shaking and pleading on "Misfits and Mistakes," updating that sound with very subtle dark synthesizer flourishes. The refrain of "put all the random pieces together" winking at the borrowing of different, seemingly desperate points in their career continues in the rest of the album, especially on "Knock Knock Knock." The rad guitar solo and swift chord changes building into the chorus of "Knock Knock Knock" displays how dynamic and accomplished the band has become musically without sacrificing any of their muscle, exemplifying how, unlike some reunion efforts, Superchunk is rediscovering themselves as much as the listeners and the results are startlingly fantastic.

If you were an old fan that strayed with their last few releases, Leaves in the Gutter should rekindle that ol' fashioned feeling; if you always worshiped at the Church of ‘Chunk your faith will be reaffirmed; if you've never heard the band before you'll be in a great mood all day because you'll be chunking your troubles away with Superchunk. Stop listening to boring music. Stop having a boring life.