Unbelievable Things: The Story Of Superchunk’s Indoor Living

Superchunk's 6th full-length Indoor Living is a beautiful and difficult  record,  one riddled with the anxiety of a vital, effervescent group beginning to fully wrestle with the inherent conflicts of productive adulthood juxtaposed against the rudderless life of a touring band. By  September of 1997, when the album was released, the  "alt-rock" panic of the early 90s had largely abated, and for the first time in several years Superchunk  faced an audience  that seemed  to be shrinking rather than growing.

While there is no shortage of hooks and energy present over the album's eleven tracks, the palpable  air of panic and melancholy is unmistakable. From the first track  "Unbelievable Things", with its fearfully  claustrophobic opening sentiments "When you commissioned your cage/ Indoor living became all the rage" to the devastating final elegy for a deceased friend "Martinis On The Roof" it is obvious we are in uncharted terrain for a band that had been reliably triumphal, angry and romantically wounded, but never quite  so existentially disturbed.

There is a woozy quality to Indoor Living, it seems at times to wobble and reel about the premises with a guileless confusion. The lovely but profoundly strange "Marquee" is a showcase for frontman Mac McCaughan's  newly established penchant for falsetto vocals, an aesthetic decision that somehow deeply  flatters his inherently  reedy voice. "Marquee" would not sound out of place on Big Star's Sister Lovers; it's an ambitious and mournful track that somehow evokes that album's  signature co-mingling of the orchestral and the made-up-on-the-spot. Still more lovely is the crushing ballad "Every Single Instinct", which suggests all the melodic and lyrical cleverness of  American Music Club  at their dyspeptic  peak, and featuring a plaintive, near perfect opening line of inquiry: "Oh, what did I think was going to happen?" The question answers itself: nothing good.

That is the essence of Indoor Living. Approaching  a decade  of yeoman's  work  in the indie rock salt mines, the prospects for Superchunk had never seemed dimmer. Years of great effort, deprivation and hope had yielded frustration, disillusion and the threat of whole lifetimes wasted and unappreciated. The sense of frustration and identification could not be more palpable than  on the great "Song For Marion Brown", a tribute to the avant-garde jazz saxophonist whose obscurity belied his genius.

With the passage of time and the release of a handful of exemplary records, including last year's terrific I Hate Music, Superchunk has incontrovertibly burnished their legacy as one of the crucial acts of the past three decades. But in 1997, nothing felt remotely so assured.

That same month, in September of '97, Bob Dylan released the  harrowing and death obsessed  Time Out Of Mind.  Retrospectively, it serves as a sort of senior companion piece to Indoor Living, a rock-bottom meditation on mortality and failure. Rock and Roll  generally deals badly with the twin scourges of death and aging, to the extent that it deals with it at all. These two extraordinary, painful and uncompromising records, released four weeks apart, did a great deal to remedy that shortfall. It may not be Superchunk's greatest album,  but it is a bona fide classic that certainly belongs on the short list  of any conversation.  On the occasion of the recent expanded reissue of Indoor Living, we were lucky enough to talk to the members of the band about their recollections and current thoughts on this seminal achievement.

Aquarium Drunkard: From the opening measures of Indoor Living there is a sense that we are in store for a very different sounding Superchunk record.  While each  of the previous records had a great and  distinct personality, Indoor Living feels like a kind of  full-fledged reset. From the patient, tension-building tempo of "Unbelievable Things"  to its prominent doubled-tracked vocals, it seems immediately clear that this is a band devoted to a new agenda. Was there a particular impetus to bring the vocals, and consequentially the narratives,  front and center? By this time,  Mac had done a handful of terrific,  essentially solo  records as Portastatic. Do you all  feel that experience impacted Indoor Living in a significant fashion?

Jon Wurster (drummer):  This seems addressed to Mac so I'll leave this to him.


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