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Over the years, Portastatic, Mac McCaughan's side project, has grown from a lo-fi solo thing into Superchunk: Version 2, incorporating classic Superchunk rock with country twang and a few songs that fall somewhere in between. Bright Ideas was recorded at Tiny Telephone studios with Tim Mooney; it has Mac's brother Matthew playing drums and Superchunk's Jim Wilbur on bass. As with Superchunk, Portastatic's sound from album to album has matured, morphed and become more sharply produced.

Superchunk-esque songs are in the majority on Bright Ideas, and while they showcase the brilliance of McCaughan's songwriting, it's the in-between songs that make this a well-crafted Portastatic record. The title track starts the album on a cynical note, with McCaughan singing, "Sometimes you want to put the past in the past / But every generation gets bit in the ass" over a surfy guitar and a fuzzy bass line. "I Wanna Know Girls" is McCaughan as a kooky romantic ("I wanna know girls, don't wanna know men / I'm already stuck inside the head of one of them"), with The Heavenly States' Geneveive Gagon on violin. "Truckstop Cassettes" again features Gagon's haunting violin, with the acoustic guitar, upright bass and simple rhythm creating a sleepy strangeness

The lyrics continue to depict bleakness ("There's a black balloon imploding at the center of the world full of nothing tonight," from "Center of the World") while the Superchunk-style rockers maintain a happy energy. Bright Ideas, then, seems almost sarcastic and gleefully nihilistic, and true to McCaughan form: sharp, smart and catchy as hell.

More by Annie Holub


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