It has been a decade since the North Carolina rock band known as Superchunk first burst onto the indie rock scene with their Gen X anthem, "Slack Motherfucker", a song that helped lay the groundwork for the alternative rock movement. In that decade, Superchunk have made numerous recordings that very rarely wavered from their trademark sound of stinging guitars and tuneful melodies. While they have never really made a bad CD, they were long overdue for a change in their sound to stay fresh, or else end up being the indie rock equivalent of Boston.
Enter their latest CD, Come Pick Me Up, and right from the getgo, you can tell things are going to be different as "So Convinced" starts out with drummer Jon Wurster banging out a weird rhythm as Laura Ballance's fuzz bass comes grumbling in the background before singer Mac McCaughan warbles his first word. The mostly midtempo song speeds up at the end with McCaughan and Jim Wilbur's guitars squalling at a furious pace.
If that song was not a wakeup call to longtime fans, then the next one,"Hello Hawk", goes even further in showing off a new Superchunk sound by adding strings and a horn section along with their trademark guitar sound. In fact, strings and horns turn up at the most unexpected times and with great effect throughout the CD.
This slightly new direction should not scare Superchunk fans away because the quirky pop of "Cursed Mirror" or the rocking "Good Dreams" sound like they could have come from any of Superchunk's CD's. And all the songs display the same fascinating lyrics and off-center melodies that made the band a cult favorite. However, the experimentation of the some of the song's arrangements have made a world of difference, because it helps make each song standout as a distinct entity while still flowing nicely as a body of work.
Other highlights include "Low Branches", a rock song that you could waltz to, also the multitracked vocals of "Pink Clouds", the slow but edgy "Smarter Hearts", the anger of "June Showers", and the catchy riff that starts off "Pulled Muscle".
The most experimental song is called "Tiny Bombs" which twists unexpectedly into a few different sections, trying out different vocal and instrumental arrangments until it culminates into an extended guitar solo, which is backed up by handclaps, of all things. This is followed by the closing song, "You Can Count On Me (In The Worst Way)", a straightfoward alt-pop ballad reminiscent of the Jayhawks.
Come Pick Me Up is Superchunk's most satisfying CD because it manages to be unpredictable without sacrificing any of their previous strengths. Kudos to producer Jim O'Rourke for helping this talented bunch make a CD that fulfilled their potential.