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Be Still Please

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Album Review

Consistency is a troublesome thing, especially in the pop music game. You could deliver nothing but solidly great albums filled with bracing emotion, sparkling melodies, imaginative arrangements, and heartfelt performances and yet be written off as the same old thing while other bands with one-tenth of the imagination and power gain the accolades and sales you deserve. Consider Mac McCaughan's case. His bands Superchunk and now Portastatic have been shining beacons of consistent greatness, and apart from the beginning of Superchunk's career, his work has been mostly overlooked and underrated. Sometimes in favor of flavor-of-the-month bands (see Arcade Fire) on his own label, Merge. For those who have stuck with Mac throughout the years, the last Portastatic album, Bright Ideas, was the big payoff, as it was an astoundingly powerful record that spoke the truth about love and life and did so beautifully, both musically and lyrically. Well, there's more where that came from, because Be Still Please is another brilliant album. It's packed again with Mac's thoughtful and evocative lyrics, his one-of-a-kind voice that seemingly grows stronger with each release, and nothing but memorable and moving songs. From the tender ballads ("Sweetness and Light"), wrecked ballads ("Getting Saved"), and intimate ballads ("Like a Pearl") to midtempo mini-epics ("Sour Shores"), midnight confessions ("Cheers and Applause"), and possibly the catchiest rocker Mac has ever penned, "I'm in Love (With Arthur Dove)," this is an album the lucky few who hear it will embrace like an old friend. Like an old friend who keeps getting more interesting as time goes on, who makes some positive changes to an already rock-solid friendship, Mac adds some new touches on Be Still Please. There are very sweet female backing vocals provided by Laura Cantrell and Annie Hayden throughout and an overdubbed string section that both provides atmosphere and an extra layer of emotion as well as taking the place of guitars at times (the strings on "Sour Shores" sound just like a Superchunk riff). Most noticeably, while the songs themselves are less guitar-based, Mac unleashes his guitar soloing skills on many of the them, sounding like a pint-sized cross between J Mascis and Neil Young, especially on the rousing finish of "You Blanks." Add these fantastic updates to an already winning formula and you get an album that should be raved about and loved by blogs, TV networks, and the indie kids in dorms, the streets, and worldwide. Will it? Doubtfully. But for those who are in the know, Be Still Please is another hidden treasure from one of the truly important bands, and people, in pop music today.


Formed: 1992 in United States

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Mac McCaughan became an indie rock hero while fronting Superchunk and by founding and managing the successful Merge Records -- Portastatic was the outlet for his solo recordings and songs that didn't quite fit his day job band. The side project began in 1992 when Tom Scharpling of 18 Wheeler Records asked McCaughan to release some of his lo-fi four-track recordings; he obliged with the singles "Sandals with White Socks" and "Starter." Then in 1994 McCaughan released an entire Portastatic album, I...
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Be Still Please, Portastatic
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