Incidental Music 1991-95

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While Superchunk had already established themselves as indie rock icons on the strength of their frequently materializing early full-lengths, 1995's Incidental Music 1991-95 was their second singles collection and even more proof that the band excelled beyond its regularly brilliant boundaries within the confines of the B-side, rarity, or one-off track. Even stuffed with 19 tunes, the tighter focus the band finds on its singles results in a more consistent, album-like flow to this pieced-together patchwork of songs, free of filler and rivaling the quality of some of Superchunk's more constructed studio albums. Alternate recordings of singles like "Mower" and "Precision Auto" and an acoustic reading of "Throwing Things" explore different possibilities for those tunes, and songs that only appeared on singles show the band at its most versatile and driven. By turns, the direct punk-edged pop of "Ribbon" and the feedback-laden riffing of "Foolish" (not included on -- nor to be confused with the title track of -- the band's fourth album of the same name) meet up with the heartbreakingly wistful "Home at Dawn" as some of the band's best songs. A handful of cover songs show up, including great takes on better songs from influential acts like the Chills, the Verlaines, and a cheeky Motörhead cover. The centerpiece of the collection, however, comes with Superchunk's brilliant version of the Magnetic Fields' "100,000 Fireflies." Replacing the original's somewhat stuffy, metered affectation with nagging guitar leads and a buzzing urgency, it's one of those rare cases when a cover improves greatly on the original, conveying an entirely different set of emotions and intentions without losing any of the sentiment that made the song great in the first place. Incidental Music is an essential piece of the Superchunk discography and a snapshot of the band as it transitioned from the scrubby radiance of its early days into the more nuanced songwriting machine it became throughout the mid-'90s.

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