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The Summer of the Shark

Portastatic

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Album Review

When it was released in the spring of 2003, The Summer of the Shark marked Portastatic's first full-bore full-length studio endeavor in about five years, although a couple of EPs and a soundtrack had appeared in the interim. Mac McCaughan is still pretty synonymous with the "band" that is Portastatic, writing all the songs, handling the lead vocals, and playing many of the musical parts, with help from about half a dozen friends. It's accomplished, varied, and rather easygoing, though not gripping, indie pop/rock, with the sort of combination of the whimsical and the relatively conventional pop structures that characterizes so much Chapel Hill indie rock of the 1990s and 2000s. It's often hard to suss the worldview of a songwriter who comes up with lines like "we sit around with alligator clips on our eyes and it's a right spectacular view." But currents of mild disorientation, miscommunication, and vague dissatisfaction with urban stress surface, as do some mildly experimental electronic textures in the ominous instrumental "Through a Rainy Lens." The more accessible, straightforward guitar tunes, like "Chesapeake," are actually less interesting than the tracks in which the song strives for something more oddball, like "Swimming Through Tires," with its elementary piano chords anchoring mournful brass and unclassifiable clangs. In a poppier mode, "Hey Salty" is a highlight, giving McCaughan's high thin voice and cheerful romantic melodic bent a chance to shine at their brightest.

Biography

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,...
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The Summer of the Shark, Portastatic
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