by Eric Hill @surgeryradio
Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers
This is a week that sees a trio of big time releases. A third album from vest rock giants Mumford and Sons; A new album from 90s Britpop pioneers Blur; and the briefly delayed vinyl release of Death Cab for Cutie’s Kintsugi. But we’re not going to elaborate on any of these fine albums.
Instead why not turn our gaze to a seemingly more modest entry into the pre-Summer pop stream: Non-Believers, a solo album by Mac McCaughan. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, and perhaps you’re listening to the track below and furrowing your brow at the slightly reedy vocal, though appreciating the underlying melodies and hooks, here’s the deal with Mac. Through the early 90s he headed North Carolina based indie rock band Superchunk. They first burst onto the scene with their own “well, whatever, nevermind” anthem “Slack Motherfucker.”
Far from slack themselves, Mac and Superchunk bassist (and then partner) Laura Ballance, put together the beginnings of a label to release their and their friends’ 7”s. Through hard work and a blossoming scene that label, called Merge Records, steadily grew… eventually releasing era-defining albums by bands such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon, and Arcade Fire. Twenty-five years later they are still standing and putting out great music despite not indulging in the major label co-op deals that helped/crippled many other similar labels.
On the band front, Superchunk also grew, not to megastar proportions, but to the kind of respected microgiant status of pioneering bands who never made the major label leap nor had a rousing ballad in the end montage sequences of Gray’s Anatomy. McCaughan indulged in a few non-Superchunk records under his Portastatic alias, starting with modest bedroom 4-track sketches, but eventually evolving into meticulously arranged multi-instrumental affairs highlighting his love of jazz and other broader pop forms.
Non-Believers looks back on the era where pop first mixed with punk… not in the 90s Green Day era… but back in the 80s where labels like New Zealand’s Flying Nun were putting out excellent noisy jangling guitar and keyboard records that savvy North Americans, like McCaughan, immediately fell in love with. This album has a simple immediacy that hits the teenage buttons of ennui and bliss in equal arcade-like mashes.
So in the end, the seemingly modest guy with the slightly nasal delivery turns out to be partly responsible for a lot more than those “big time” bands have in their respective legacies… AND he’s put out a pretty great new album to boot.