Come Pick Me Up

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It is an objective fact that Superchunk have never made a bad album, but after the early one-two punch of No Pocky for Kitty (1991) and On the Mouth (1993), the band often seemed to be looking for something different to do with their aggressive but emotional sound without always finding it, especially on the harrowing breakup album Foolish (1994) and the energetic but emotionally spent Here's Where the Strings Come In (1995). Bringing in horn charts and orchestration might have seemed like a strange new path for a group that thrived on simple but galvanized guitar bashing, but 1999's Come Pick Me Up proved an inspired stylistic detour for Superchunk. Working with producer Jim O'Rourke, who brought in horns, string sections, and keyboards for many of the tracks, as well as giving the recordings a less dense and more open sound, Superchunk seemed more comfortable exploring the pop side of their formula than their amped-up punk rock attack, and the result was an album that still decisively rocked but honored the intelligence of Superchunk's melodies in a new and refreshing way. If the smooth string breaks on "Hello Hawk" or "1000 Pounds" seem surprising on first listen, the yin and yang of orchestral instruments vs. rock & roll guitars proves quite satisfying as the album wears on, and when Mac McCaughan wears his heart on his sleeve on "June Showers," "Pulled Muscle," or "You Can Count on Me (In the Worst Way)," the added musical textures (as well as the more carefully executed harmonies) work wonders. (It also helps that O'Rourke's arrangements are intelligent and punctuate the melodies without smothering them.) Come Pick Me Up is more artful and layered than most of Superchunk's recorded work, but it's still clearly their work, with their aural signatures in plain sight, and it's an experiment that works remarkably well, showing this band can mess with their formula and still sound strong and in command.

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