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Cup of Sand

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Album Review

Superchunk has been at it for a long, long time, 14 years when Cup of Sand, a double-disc (25 tracks) roundup of singles, B-sides, rarities, and unreleased songs recorded between 1992 and 2002, was released in 2003. Through its entire career the band has maintained a steady track record, having never put out a record that is anything less than first-rate indie rock. This disc is no different. It is jam-packed full of songs that deserved to be collected under one roof, and has funny and insightful liner-note remembrances from the four bandmembers. Even fans who have all the singles, EPs, and comp tracks will want to own this because of how good the songs sound one after the next. Superchunk is a firm believer in giving its fans value for their money, and the group's B-sides are always strong. In fact, some of the band's best songs end up tucked away on its EPs and singles. Examples: the absolutely aching "Small Definition" from 1996's Laughter Guns EP, a beautiful acoustic take on Here's Where the Strings Come In's "Detroit Has a Skyline" from 1995's Hyper Enough single, the sweet shuffle "Sexy Ankles" from 1999's Hello, Hawk CD5 that sounds like a classic Thin Lizzy track and has one of Mac McCaughan's most artful vocals, a lovely laid-back acoustic version of "1,000 Pounds," and "A Collection of Accounts" from the Art Class CD5, a sparse tune that has one of McCaughan's most heartbreaking melodies and vocals. The band never hands out throwaway tracks to compilations either; the buzzing "Dance Lessons" from 1993's Rows of Teeth, the almost funky "Fader Rules" from 1995's Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation, the chiming and rambunctious "Clover" from 1997's Oh, Merge, and the wonderfully emotional and melodic "Does Your Hometown Care" from the soundtrack to 1996's Suburbia are ample proof of this.

"Does Your Hometown Care" is a perfect example of why this band is so great: the twin guitar attack, the powerful rhythm section, McCaughan's heartfelt and then some vocals, the sharp and poignant hooks, and the sentimental and clever lyrics. It is the kind of song that will have you rocking with tears in your eyes. It is the kind of song that Superchunk seems to be able to knock off at will. There are also a few unreleased songs that are fun to hear but not too essential: the charging but formulaic "Still Feed Myself" recorded for Foolish and wisely left off that record, a hilarious cover of Adam & the Ants' "Beat My Guest" recorded during the On the Mouth sessions in 1992, a fiery cover of Government Issue's "Blending In" with drummer Jim Wilbur taking over on vocals, and the energetic "Thin Air" recorded for 1999's Come Pick Me Up. The discs hold up well to repeated airings and each time through you just have to marvel at how steady and consistently powerful and moving Superchunk's music is. Superchunk is one of the great American rock bands. Period. And this is an absolutely smashing collection that is one more argument in favor of that.


Formed: 1989 in Chapel Hill, NC

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Perhaps no band was more emblematic of the true spirit of American indie rock during the 1990s than Superchunk, the pride of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Following the D.I.Y. ethic to the letter, the bandmembers operated solely by their own rules, ignoring all passing trends by sticking to their trademark sound -- typified by the buzzing guitars and high, impassioned vocals of frontman Mac McCaughan -- and rejecting all major-label advances in favor of the unlimited freedom afforded by owning their...
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