Gosh, I'd intended to make more headway cataloging the perfect records in my possession. But here I am at the end of 2023, writing Perfect 02. Perfect 01 introduces the notion of a flawless record and makes the case for Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home by The Geraldine Fibbers. Actually, "makes the case" isn't really accurate. Carla Bozulich made the case. I merely sing its praises as the finest alt. country cowpunk record of all time (with apologies to Uncle Tupelo and Spider Bags... owners of perfect records themselves, but I'll get to those in another post).
Perfect 02 belongs to Superchunk's Here's Where the Strings Come In. "Wait. What? That's late Superchunk. There are better Superchunk contenders," shouts my twenty-something self. "Patience," the middle-aged man I am today replies (a response that would be frequently applicable to 1990s me).
As if on cue, the record begins with hammering drums accompanied by a brisk riff and lyrics so indecipherable that an EP was later released called "Laughing Guns" that featured an audio clip of two college/independent radio DJs trying to decipher this song's lines. Don't bother. All that's important is the chorus of "I think I'm Hyper Enough as is." Clearly, this is a TODD POUND ANTHEM. And here's what makes this song and the rest of this album so damn relatable: it's punk rock achieving and acknowledging adulthood. "When all our bones and muscles hurt, what's so funny about that?" This is shouted. To quote Jello, "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you." Then the song turns whispering low as we're assured that we're "never alone." The guitar that follows is sublime. Hot damn, this is just the first song. It's gorgeous and bittersweet and it's not even the best on this record.
Silver Leaf and Snowy Tears. "I wish I could have frozen time this year. You nothing grows up here. It's all silver leaf and snowy tears." This is Superchunk showing their affinity for the Cure. The words and guitar are pure Robert Smith. "I'm scratching out the lines I thought you'd never cross." I'm glad that's audible because it's a splendid breaking-up line. Or maybe a wish for one's return. This is just about as close as anyone's gotten to covering the Cure without covering the Cure (this year, Superchuck released a Cure cover. It's not very good. But this is.)
I love love love the drums & bass on Yeah, It's Beautiful Here Too. "Why am I telling you?" is the next line. This is a rough patch relationship song with a chorus of "Last year. Last night. I'm tired. Let's fight." This is delivered with Ramones energy. Mac McCaughan's always honest and clearly been in uncomfortable places that we've all been. "I'm tired. Let's fight," is a stage that can doom love and a terrific lyric for its distilled simplicity.
Iron On. More pleasant riffs above an absolutely stiff drum. Uh oh, this one's post-breakup. Hmm. This record might belong in the pantheon of great albums born from heartbreak. This is a sad song but its interspersed with humor. "We got so drunk that night, I hardly remember driving you home" is a funny line. Oh and the chug chug riff near the end is lovely.
HOLD ON. BEFORE WE JUMP INTO THE NEXT, TAKE A MOMENT TO REVIEW THE FIRST FOUR SONGS FOR THEIR MUSICAL CRAFTSMANSHIP. EACH MOVES WITH GRACE AND PRECISE TIMING. THIS IS A SUPREMELY HIGH-SKILLED BAND OF MUCISIANS.
Holy shit, the intro to Sunshine State is dreamy. Wait for this song to build. We've got a love song here, folks. "I will be the steward of your Southern Lands. If you would only take my shaking hands." This is one of my all-time favorite lines of woo. I think I know where to find one's southern lands/shores. It's forward. Fresh. Almost crass. Except that the narrator really just needs his trembling hands held. Sweetheart punk.
Detroit Has a Skyline is the best song on this record and features my favorite rock and roll line:
I had a crush
Nothing worked out
Well, I had faith
You could not have known; don't even say it.
Think back to a crush you had. Remember the urgency? The fierceness of that feeling? This song has it and, to me, that sensation is the essence of rock and roll. Also, I had a crush that really worked out. Maybe that's why I love this song so much.
Okay, moving along. Eastern Terminal really leverages the band's talent. It's in no hurry, which fits the song's premise of being stuck at an airport terminal. "Do you think your friends will show?" "I don't, I don't know." "Because the light is beginning to go..." Again, Superchuck specializes in putting you places you've been.
Urgency is back. Guitar is buzzing again. Animated Airplanes Over Germany. "Sometimes I think there's only one warm place in this world and it's under a flag of your love unfurled." Maybe? I'm not even sure the interweb knows. Whatever he's saying, this song is the most sung, so to speak.
Snare hits aplenty on this record, huh? Get ready for the bass and guitar on Green Flowers, Blue Fish. When they hit at 1:24, it's enough to bring goosebumps. It's okay to nod now. Or dance.
The song that lent its name to the album. Way down here. Here's Where the Strings Come In might not actually have any strings, but it's a brilliant name for a breakup song.
Certain Stars builds into what one hopes is a hopeful end to this record. "Hotel telephone exchange rates aren't what they used to be" is delivered with punk flourish. Alas, the song segues into a critique of astrology's link to a breakup. Yet another heartbreak song.
But that's okay. Heartbreak belongs in rock. Also — and this is important — Superchunk lyrics are not designed to be thoroughly analyzed or scrutinized. There are lines worthy of celebration (see above), but Superchunk's punk roots mean that the vocals are subserviently & appropriately buried below everything else.
The band delivered truer punk records before and after Here is Where the Strings Come In. This album is a tentative foray into indie rock, a hybrid that sometimes receives a kneejerk reception as inaccessible to fans of punk and indie/alternative alike. And I might be initially guilty of dismissing this record as too indie. But, oh how it's grown.
Superchunk is hugely important to me. It's one of just a handful of bands that's a surefire pick-me-up. Their little EP Mower, featuring the song On the Mouth (which is not included on the brilliant record of that name), is a fucking godsend of instant, adrenalized joy. On the Mouth is one of my top 5 favorite songs. All time. And Todd's little helper. Again, the entirety of the lyrics isn't important, only that the crux and climax of this song is a kiss on the mouth, which is sweet... even if the song itself ain't so sweet.
The gist of On the Mouth is everywhere in Here is Where the Strings Come In (a splendid title for a heartbreak record, as if it's the moment in a movie that begs for violin and cello). Like this song, this album is full of feelings that are unpleasant but so familiar. It's great to listen if you are in love, 'cause it captures the alternative so perfectly. It is an album with subtlety, vulnerability, and complexity in both tone and sound that deserves attention.