Kurt Braunohler Talks Superchunk, Music, Time and Loss
Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t know how to review music. I could say “I love it!” or “It sounds angry like a blender!” But is that helpful to you? Is me, a stranger, telling you “this sounds fun” useful to you in any way? How do you know I don’t love terrible music? Maybe my favorite song is “I’m a Little Teapot” as sung by Tuban throat singers (which is different from Tuvan throat singing in that’s it’s just dudes with tubas shoved down their throats). Or maybe I have extreme synesthesia and can only see music. “This album looked like a whale riding a bike.” (Actually, I’d buy a record based on that review. Where’s that guy? Get him a job at Pitchfork right now.)
I’m equivocating here because it’s hard to be objective about a band that helped curate my musical tastes at such a young age. Further complicating things, I have a very difficult time separating music from personal experience. Like a lot of us, for me, albums and bands are linked to specific places in space and time. I can’t listen to Wolf Parade without thinking of the Delaware Water Gap. I can’t listen to the Chromatics without seeing the hotel room in Atlanta where I took mushrooms. So in order to tell you anything about I Hate Music, I first have to bring you back to 1993 in Wall, New Jersey, when my friend Kevin played Superchunk’s On the Mouth for me for the first time. I remember sitting in his Ford Taurus and hearing something utterly familiar and obscenely foreign. Listening to On the Mouth felt dangerous in suburban New Jersey. Kevin later left Jersey for the seemingly magical Olympia, Washington, never to return. He was a kind of artistic hero to our group of friends and we missed him when he left. Superchunk was the magical talisman that we would play in cars late at night to invoke his spirit and ask for his punk rock blessing.
That sense of loss and mourning is in full effect on I Hate Music. The titular lyric hits it home right off the bat: “I hate music/What is it worth?/Can’t bring anyone back to this earth.” There’s an existential acceptance of life’s inherent shittiness here. And just as Superchunk spoke to me as a 16 year old, it speaks to me 20 years later, but in a much different way. Kevin and I had a weird falling out a few years ago. It was no one’s fault, and it was both our faults. You know, the way things actually happen in the real world. But we haven’t spoken to each other in over two years. I think about him a lot. And this album feels like it understands how messy, complicated, and sad life can get. It’s like it was written with the understanding that life only moves in one direction: once decisions have been made, there’s no going back and changing them.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this album feels mature. But not mature in a bourgeois-cheese way; more like a “we’ve seen some shit” kinda way. It’s music made by adults. And that’s not to say it doesn’t rock. It fucking rocks; especially “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” which gives the album its name, and “FOH,” which is arguably the most “Superchunk” song on the album. But I don’t want to misrepresent I Hate Music as being melancholic or sad. It’s definitely not. Ultimately, it’s a very hopeful record — if for no other reason than it shows that a band can continue to make relevant and beautiful rock records for over 20 years. Long live Superchunk. V. Good, A++.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an e-mail to an old friend I need to send.