Rhythm & Views


When a great band's been around for a while, they end up with a lot of songs that weren't quite awesome enough to make the final cut. And when that band's members run a successful indie rock label, we get a lot of albums full of that ephemera every time the vaults get cleaned out. (One has to wonder, are there really actual vaults? What do they look like? And do they really sweep them out and stuff? Or is this all mere figurative talk?)

Cup of Sand is Superchunk's third release of the B-side/single/outtake variety, and this time, we get two whole discs of peripheral Superchunk, 1992-2002. The CD booklet is filled with each band member's thoughts on the songs, so Superchunk fans should make sure they don't do a first listen to this while operating heavy machinery; you can't help but read each little trip down memory lane as the songs swirl around you in all their Superchunky glory. It's like you're actually sitting in a cozy North Carolina living room with Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Jim Wilbur and Jon Wurster, going through dusty boxes, laughing and reminiscing.

Disc one is nearly all B-sides and compilation tracks, and disc two has some unreleased stuff as well as more B-sides and compilation tracks, and even if you have most or all of the songs somehow in some form or another, Cup of Sand puts them together in a semi-chronological way that flows better than the other earlier compilations, Tossing Seeds (1992) and Incidental Music (1995), which sound a bit piecemeal. That's simply because Superchunk didn't really come into their own until 1993's Foolish, so everything before that smacks of a band that hasn't quite figured out how to play their instruments the way the good Lord intended.

Nevertheless, Cup of Sand, since it's composed of a bunch of songs deemed unworthy for "real" release at some point, can get to be a little overpowering at times; it's as if the songs feel neglected, are bitter, and are out to drive their very existence into your eardrums.

Some songs stand out more than others, of course; says Wilbur of "A Small Definition," from 1996's Laughter Guns EP: "Here's one that always brings tears to my eyes." There's a cover of Adam and the Ants' "Beat My Guest," Superchunk-style, as well as a cover of DC hardcore band Government Issue's "Blending In" and Bowie's "Scary Monsters," which was released on the 1000 Pounds EP. McCaughan calls "Does Your Hometown Care?," recorded for the Suburbia soundtrack, "Our best Versus rip-off ever," and "Still Feed Myself," a previously-unreleased outtake from 1993's Foolish, is the epitome of early-'90s Superchunk, all jangly guitars and McCaughan's signature wail.

Many of the outtakes that ended up as B-sides or compilation tracks, such as "Fader Rules," an outtake from 1995's Here's Where The Strings Come In sessions, and "Becoming a Speck," from the Late Century Dream single, released after Here's to Shutting Up, are like listening to the records they were cut from through a different lens. The songs are kind of the freak stepchildren of the tracks that made it to the final print; the kids whose grades and buck-toothed smiles just didn't quite cut it, which makes them more endearing and more interesting.

Pulled together, Cup of Sand is yet another trip through the windy backroads of the indie-rock trajectory that is Superchunk's discography. It's cost-effective to have everything all packed together on two discs for the price of a regular record as opposed to buying every EP and single and compilation record; if you've already done that, then Cup Of Sand may only be worth your while for the little anecdotes in the liner notes. We now know that playing the Moog gives Ballance "the sweats."

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