First Listen

First Listen: Superchunk, 'Majesty Shredding'

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Majesty Shredding is Superchunk's ninth album and first since 2001. i i

hide captionSuperchunk is about to release its ninth album — and first since 2001.

Jason Arthurs
Majesty Shredding is Superchunk's ninth album and first since 2001.

Superchunk is about to release its ninth album — and first since 2001.

Jason Arthurs

The music industry has shifted dramatically since we last had a new Superchunk record: In the years since 2001's Here's to Shutting Up, MP3s have risen and major labels have declined. And just this summer, Superchunk's own Merge label — which Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance founded more than 20 years ago as a way to release their own music — topped the album charts with Arcade Fire's The Suburbs.

For all its label's success, Superchunk — a Chapel Hill, N.C., band synonymous with the do-it-yourself spirit — has mostly laid low. The group never broke up or even went on hiatus, at least not in any official capacity, but its members simply began working on other things. McCaughan and Ballance turned Merge into an unlikely music-business success story thanks to their business savvy and artistically driven aesthetic. Meanwhile, Superchunk's other members have remained musically active: Jon Wurster plays drums for The Mountain Goats and participates in a popular radio show on WFMU, while guitarist Jim Wilbur plays with Portastatic, McCaughan's other band.

So after all this time — and at such a well-deserved high point — there's a sense of inevitability that Superchunk would and should reunite for a victory lap.

The group's long-awaited ninth album, Majesty Shredding, is a lean 41 minutes of rock; a return to the trademark punk-infused power pop and garage rock the band helped popularize in the '90s, but far from a rehash. Superchunk seems reinvigorated and at ease with its songs' turn-on-a-dime transitions and spitfire rhythms. As always, its fuzzed-out pop gems and fist-pumping rockers crackle with buoyant energy.

Nearly every song is built around McCaughan's impassioned vocals and crunchy power chords — beginning with the standout opener "Digging for Something," which showcases Superchunk's flair for searing guitar solos and melodic lyrical hooks. Elsewhere, the band flexes its poppier sensibilities in "Learned to Surf" and "Rosemarie," as well as the string-driven "Fractures in Plaster."

The caliber of Superchunk's music remains high throughout Majesty Shredding, which feels as finely crafted as any record the band has made. Musically, it's as if it never left.

Majesty Shredding will stream here in its entirety until its release on Sept. 14. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

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First Listen