w/ the Promise Ring, Love as Laughter
Sat Aug 25 at the Mural Amphitheatre (Seattle Center), all ages, FREE.
The Promise Ring may be plopped in the middle, but this bill is really all about the opener, Love as Laughter, and the headliner, Superchunk. Both bands have upcoming albums that prove what indie rock should always be: a forward-moving entity.
Sure, an argument could be made that Superchunk is always just Superchunk. The band rarely deviates from the sound it pioneered and is beloved for--sweet, glimmery pop with a hard edge that maintains nearly anthemic post-adolescent angst. But each album differed only quietly until 1999's Come Pick Me Up added strings, horns, and Jim O'Rourke to the mix, signaling a huge departure (in theory). Vastly layered and subtly composed, Come Pick Me Up was a beckoning finger to listeners who might be up for a challenge, but still appreciate the safety of home. It sounded new, blending elements of singer Mac McCaughan's other band, Portastatic, with traditional Superchunk aesthetics. New, but not scary. Ages from 1991's Steve Albini-produced No Pocky for Kitty, but every bit as urgent and galvanizing. Grown-up? Maybe a little, but here was a grownup who knew, in his heart of hearts, that although the vessel may get a little slower and things might fall away (or appear without warning), the soul it carries around remains 22 years old forever. And thank God for that.
Though it won't be released until September, Superchunk's latest album, Here's to Shutting Up, finds the band maturing further while remaining gloriously young at heart. Recorded in Athens, Georgia, with Brian Paulson (who worked with Superchunk previously on 1994's Foolish), Superchunk's eighth record is exhilarating on some songs ("Phone Sex," "Out on the Wing"), pensive and ruminative on "Act Surprised," and invincible on "Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama)," a power-pop gem featuring the inimitable Chris Lopez from Rock*A*Teens. Other surprises included on Here's to Shutting Up include pedal steel and cello (from members of Japancakes), and some violin from Anna Balka of the White Lights. But perhaps the biggest surprise on the album is the constantly present addition of keyboards, alternately leaping or looming. Acoustic guitar is also prominent, most notably on the Spanish-inflected "What Do You Look Forward To?"
From humble beginnings as a one-person outfit, Love as Laughter has been an ever-evolving band, even if the only constant member is Sam Jayne. Honestly, it took a couple of records for me to finally come around, and I'll go so far as to say I hated LAL's 1996 release, The Greks Bring Gifts: I found it cruddy in every way. And if being cruddy was the point back then, well, the point was lost on me. In 1996, cruddy aimed to be high art, and many a chin-stroker believed it to be, but I never bought it as a finished product--to me, trying to sound bad just didn't sound good.
So it wasn't until Destination 2000 was released in 1999 that I became a Love as Laughter fan. Admittedly, I still hadn't completely let go of my former opinions, and felt that Destination 2000 lacked cohesiveness and genre-hopped way too cavalierly. However, the fact that the genres hopped and the artists imitated were ones I cut my teeth on--the Rolling Stones (especially Exile on Main Street), Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, and maybe a little Cheap Trick--meant that I was able to ignore all of my former doubts. It took months for me to recognize readily that it was Love as Laughter when the disc came on the Breakroom's jukebox; invariably, I thought it was some long-forgotten classic rock nugget.
Produced in part by Phil Ek and Unwound's Vern Rumsey, and out on Sub Pop on September 4, Love as Laugher's Sea to Shining Sea is a new joy--and from start to finish, the album is the pure coalescence of a music fan who has taken his own influences and welded them into a unique, personal sound. Sure, Jayne's been studying singer/ songwriters of nearly three decades ago, but no song on Sea sounds dated. "Miss Direction" is informed by Mike Nesmith, I'd wager, but it's a modern-day, torn-down love song. "Druggachusetts" skips in like diamond-glittering Beatles, but soon rocks out with power-chord-laden abandon, only to pull in and spiral back out in whirls of distortion and harmonies.
The Promise Ring, on the other hand, has proven to be a one-trick pony. Emo, left to boil rather than boil over, becomes boring and everyday. This is indie that doesn't move forward. And the band hasn't got anything coming out next month, either.