AF (Acoustic Foolish)

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The fourth album from Chapel Hill's Superchunk was 1994's Foolish. By the standards set by the jumpy high-energy guitar pop that preceded it, the album was at times subdued and emotionally heavy. The move from fuzzy, playful songs about packages getting stolen off the porch and lazy coworkers to themes of exhaustion and bitterness may have come in part from the breakup of band co-founders Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan. Instead of wallowing, the songs curiously explored the brooding sadness, relief, and mundanity of love ending, as well as how life goes on. Heartbroken, heartbreaking, and on the outside of anything resembling a personal or musical comfort zone, Foolish pushed Superchunk beyond their depths and was one of their finest hours. In celebration of the album's 25th anniversary, AF (Acoustic Foolish) revisits all 12 of Foolish's songs in a stripped-down style. String arrangements show up on several songs, Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) and Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak) contribute guest vocals, and distorted guitar leads are transformed into jazzy horn lines on tracks like "Saving My Ticket." The familiar strains of album-opener "Like a Fool" are well suited for acoustic re-imagination, and here a pensive string arrangement fills in some of the tension that once came in the form of crackling electric guitars. McCaughan's vocals have grown raspier and sit in the lower register on many songs. Without cloaking his vocals in high-volume guitar, both the angsty sentiments and weathered singing feel a little exposed and almost too friendly compared to the rawness of the original. While Foolish was more than just a breakup record (stylistically and thematically, some songs weren't much of a jump from earlier albums), it showed the first signs of weariness sneaking through the band's previously indefatigable pep. Metered, thoughtful songs like "Driveway to Driveway" and "Like a Fool" are among the best in Superchunk's catalog, and these revisitations just highlight how good the songs are. Parts of Acoustic Foolish, however, feel ill-fitting. Toning down the furious bile leaves many songs feeling like shadows of their former selves, or simply like detached and only partially realized nostalgia trips. Ultimately, AF is just a different view of 12 excellent songs from the band in one of what would be many prime phases. Trying to improve on the original would have been a fool's errand, and that doesn't seem to be the goal here. This particular reading of some of the band's best songs enriches a few but mostly serves as a reminder of how excellent the album was when it first arrived.

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