On 2018’s What A Time To Be Alive the long-running outfit Superchunk delivered their most aggressive and successful album in years with a powerful lashing out of the failing world around them. They are still dealing with collapsing institutions but on Wild Loneliness they trade in their punk angst for sweet-sounding indie rock that manages to be just as effective.
Their twelfth studio album kicks off strongly with acoustic strumming and slow-building strings (injecting the occasionally light distortion) as frontman Mac McCaughan uses his patented whine to sing about the “City of the Dead”, confronting living through the pandemic/climate change head-on and with fearful grace. The opening successful run keeps climbing as “Endless Summer” goes even higher using Tom Petty pop-rock catchiness to discuss a burning planet with poise while the wildfires continue to be inflamed during the excellent, piano accented “On the Floor”.
The band (McCaughan – vocals, guitar, Laura Ballance – bass, Jim Wilbur – guitar, Jon Wurster – drums) adds some new layers with dramatic horn runs on the pumping “Highly Suspect” and more airy string arrangements on the retro-looking “This Night”. The homey acoustic effort “Set It Aside” breezes by like life, while the title track goes with a cool neon glow, complete with a sax solo and grooving mid-80s feel.
The heaviest effort here, the slapping “Refracting”, actually sounds the most out of place with its pop-punk angst. Tracks like the ooh-laden pleading of “Connection”, which returns to fossil fuel fears, and swelling panic lingering closer “If You’re Not Dark” (with vocal support from Sharon Van Etten) both work better with Superchunk’s aesthetic on this release. Writing about such heavy/weighty issues can be a drag, but not on Wild Loneliness.
The band has managed to successfully shift styles throughout their career and moving from aggression to a relaxed sense of calm and beauty, while still questioning the world crisis around them in a pseudo hopeful fashion, is a neat trick. Wild Loneliness is a whole lot different than What A Time To Be Alive musically, but spiritually it is a very worthy successor and up there with the best Superchunk has ever done.