21st Century Rock
The evolution and current state of rock ‘n roll seems to be a consistent topic of discussion in the music world. Many argue that following the turn of the century, the bite that classic rock fans craved slowly disintegrated. Yet, Superchunk is attempting to keep it afloat.
The rock band from North Carolina formed in 1989, and What a Time to Be Alive has recently been added to their impressive 11-piece discography. With 29 years on the music scene, the group has had time to hone in on their sound. Even so, they take their time to perfect what they do, taking five years between What a Time to Be Alive and the previous release, I Hate Music.
Heavy guitar thrashes through the beginning seconds of the album in “What a Time to Be Alive” — indicative of the heavy rock sound which will continue throughout the album. The sound is reminiscent of the ‘80s rock scene in its grit and urgency. Other tracks such as “Lost My Brain” and “Cloude of Hate” are quick and to the point in both pace and duration. These moody interludes amplify the forcefulness of the album. The tone slightly calms down on the final track, “Black Thread.” While still a rock song, the pace slows hauntingly — especially in comparison with the intensity of the other songs. However, Superchunk is not merely trying to imitate the music produced at the height of the rock scene. Lead vocalist Mac McCaughan’s vocals bring an alternative spin to the band’s music and Jim Wilber’s thrashing guitar often leans the albums sound toward punk rock.
The 11-track album is a direct response to the 2016 U.S. presidential election as frustrated sentiments shine through the lyrics. In “I Got Cut,” McCaughan sings, “All these old men won’t die too soon / Flesh balloons still waving their arms around and / Slipping over the sides / Closing my eyes, making room / Oh, for somebody else.” While the title of the album is seemingly positive, the sarcasm is clarified in the lyrics. “To see the rot in no disguise / Oh what a time to be alive / The scum, the shame, the fucking lies / Oh what a time to be alive.”
Rock n’ roll is often defined by anger and frustration being channeled into music in the form of crashing drums, electrifying electric guitar and gut-wrenching emotional vocals. In this case, Superchunk is utilizing their accumulated energy from the 2016 presidential election and successfully pouring it into their newest album, What a Time to Be Alive.