Portastatic: “Autumn Got Dark”
If you’re at all familiar with Superchunk, you’re aware that their brand of buzzing post-punk has an underlying sense of melody, not far removed from the Buzzcocks. So it wouldn’t come as a surprise that lead ‘chunker Mac McCaughan is a fan of power-pop; what might be more surprising is how much that power-pop comes to the fore in his side project, Portastatic.
But that’s why he started Portastatic to begin with, as an outlet for the songs that didn’t really fit Superchunk’s style. And it’s clear that means songs where the melody comes to the fore, rather than the crunching, headlong drive of Superchunk. For solid evidence of that fact, just take a listen to today’s awesome power-pop gem, “Autumn Got Dark,” from Portastatic’s 2003 mostly-covers EP, Autumn Was a Lark. It’s another gate-charger, as I like to think of them — songs that waste no time bursting out at full speed, like there’s some ultimate reward waiting for them at the finish. Sounding very much like an XTC song circa 1986 (think “Earn Enough for Us,” from their Skylarking album), blended with some Badfinger and Beatles, it’s a super-catchy song that simply won’t be denied, with a blazing guitar solo at the end. The lyrics tell a bit of a different story than the seemingly upbeat music, one of fleeting good times dashed:
So much for the summer of the shark
Autumn was a lark to you I know
A turning of the key, a breaking of the weekend of the slow
Thankfully for the indie rock world, McCaughan hasn’t given up recording great material despite not really making a big impact commercially; presumably, the great and hugely successful Merge Records — which he co-founded with Laura Ballance, Superchunk’s bassist, as a way to release Superchunk’s music — has been paying the bills quite nicely. And that’s a plus for all of us, because McCaughan is one of music’s hidden treasures in all his guises, just waiting to be discovered by inquiring musical minds.