Wednesday, September 24, 2014

First Impressions: No Pocky for Kitty

We're slap-bang in the middle of First Impressions Week, in which I listen to albums I've never heard before and blog as I go. Monday's blog was all about Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain by Sparklehorse; today, I'm going to take a look at Superchunk's No Pocky for Kitty.

I bought I Hate Music - Superchunk's latest album - last year, and while there were some fantastic songs on that CD (Low F and Me & You & Jackie Mittoo were highlights), I found the overall album to be...well, not quite a classic. I had expected Superchunk to be a legendary indie rock band, but some of IHM's less spectacular songs sounded like the work of old jobbers from the '80s who were still churning out albums long after they should have called it quits.

Still, given Superchunk's reputation, I'm confident that No Pocky for Kitty - one of their earlier albums - will serve up a generous helping of the indie awesomeness that I crave. Let's jump in...
  1. Skip Steps 1 & 3
    Well, this is a brisk start. It's not totally unlike the songs that made up I Hate Music, but it does sound a bit more punky, as if the band were listening to The Replacements (more on whom in a couple of days) immediately before entering the studio. Compared to Overflows - IHM's rather gradual opening track - this is a frantic start indeed.

  2. Seed Toss
    Superchunk's sound is hard to pin down. They kinda straddle the line between indie and classic rock; they're too musically accomplished to be entirely the former, but too noisy and left-field to be totally the latter. What we end up with is songs like Seed Toss, which mix coy indie sensibilities (check out the line, ripped straight from the playground, about putting sticks in bicycle spokes) with sweet guitar solos and bucketloads of melodic nous. Yep, this is a good'un.

  3. Cast Iron
    This one opens with a nice, chugging guitar line, and Mac McCaughan's vocals sound a little more ragged than they did on the first two tracks. The overall effect is a little more mean-sounding; while Seed Toss and Skip Steps 1 & 3 flowed seamlessly from verse to chorus to verse, Cast Iron changes direction a lot, brooding and growling at you while it works out where it wants to go.

  4. Tower
    These guys seem to be getting angrier with each track. This one sounds rather formidable indeed, with a nice, dirty bassline and lots of guitars. The breakneck pace has been swapped for something more slow-burning, to great effect - true to its title, this song really does tower over the listener.

  5. Punch Me Harder
    I'm listening to this album on headphones, and those harsh opening chords are panned all the way to the right - my ear didn't entirely enjoy that, I have to say! Still, this is a fun track once it finds your other speaker; we're back to the same speedy-gonzales tempo with which the album opened, and where previous tracks made an effort to show off Superchunk's musical creativity and guitar chops, this is just a pedal-to-the-metal punk cut, aiming only to prove how fast 'n' furious these guys can play.

  6. Sprung a Leak
    Ooh, grungey. This one could be a Hole song, at least until the vocals come in and you realise that it's not Courtney Love singing them. I'm not hugely fussed on the verses, but I do like the chorus: "Yesterday, you talked to me, today I feel I've sprung a leak" almost soars, albeit in a distorted garage band kinda way.

  7. 30 Xtra
    I'm not dedicating a lot of brainpower to figuring out what these songs mean, largely because the band seem keen for me to focus on the guitars instead. Seriously, though, what kind of a song title is '30 Xtra'? What does that signify?

    It doesn't matter much - this is a pretty short, inconsequential song, although it still finds time to get bored of itself and change everything around before it gives up. Faintly irritating.

  8. Tie a Rope to the Back of a Bus
    This is better - more focused, easier to get your teeth into. I'm finding, though, that this whole album is starting to feel a bit...blah. It's exciting at first, but the (super)chunky guitar riffs sort of lose their edge after a half-dozen tracks or so. Perhaps it's because I'm using headphones - perhaps this album needs a whole room to breathe - but the fuzzed-up sound is just getting on my nerves now.

  9. Press
    Nope, it's no good - I'm going to have to take a break and come back later. I can tell that this fast-paced number should be enjoyable, but everything's just bugging me at this point - the guitars, the vocals, and especially the fact that I'm constantly struggling to spot any meaning (and sometimes even a solid melody) in amongst this rocked-up chaos.

    So yeah, I'm gonna give my ears a rest for now. I'm sure the last few tracks will blow me away once I'm refreshed and ready for more.

    [time passes]

    Right, let's get back to it...

  10. Sidewalk
    See - all it took was a few hours, and now this album is fun again! Sidewalk is a little slower than the tracks I was listening to earlier, but the same guitars and vocals that irritated me before are now pretty sweet.

    In all honesty, this track probably isn't as good as Press and Tie a Rope, but listening with fresh ears makes a surprising amount of difference. Note this down, y'all: if you ever get bored mid-album, switch it off and resume from the same point later. You'll be surprised.

  11. Creek
    Ah, another fast punky one. It's completely throwaway, but it's good fun, innit?

    That said, this is another one (like 30 Xtra) that changes pace several times in less than 2 minutes. While I'm enjoying the album's sound a lot more after that break, these gear changes are still bothering me - why can't they just find a groove and stay in it for a couple of minutes?

  12. Throwing Things
    This is better. It's a bit easier to find the structure here, and while I don't want to be the guy who rubbishes anything that isn't laid out in a simple verse-chorus-verse format, I have to say that I'm enjoying this far more than I enjoyed Creek. And knowing that this is the last track makes those spiky guitar lines sound all the more triumphant.
I desperately want to love Superchunk - they founded the label that released 69 Love Songs, for Christ's sake! - but once again, they've left me only half-satisfied. Obviously, this is just a first impression (and I don't doubt that No Pocky for Kitty will grow on me), but as things stand, I much prefer I Hate Music to this disc. None of the twelve tracks mentioned above scratch the itch into which Low F so effectively dug its nails, and while IHM felt like it was actually about something (namely the death of a loved one), No Pocky just sounds like a big blustery whatever,

At least, that's how I feel now. I felt similarly let down by Tallahassee during my last First Impressions Week, and it didn't take me long to start loving that album. Perhaps No Pocky for Kitty will take a similar trajectory in my affections.

First Impressions Week will conclude on Friday, when I'll be listening to Tim by The Replacements for the first time. Be there!

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