After almost 30 years as one of indie rock's most reliable bands, one might expect Superchunk to slow down a bit, or maybe turn to country rock as they ease into their dotage. Their 2018 album What a Time to Be Alive proves those suspicions to be 100-percent incorrect. The band sound royally pissed as they rip through a batch of angry, bitter, and bittersweet songs that were written in a rush right after the 2016 U.S. election, then recorded quickly and simply. The desire to get the songs down fast meant there wasn't any time for keyboard overdubs, and the need to include other voices led them to bring in Sabrina Ellis of A Giant Dog, Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield, and Stephin Merritt. It's the toughest sounding record the band have made in ages: The guitars, especially Jim Wilbur's leads, rain fire while the rhythm section drives it forward with precision and passion. Mac McCaughan's vocals have the intensity of someone plugged into a socket, and the backing vocalists add warmth and a bracing sense of community. Along with the band's anger about the "new" status quo, which flows like molten lava through songs like "Lost My Brain" and "Cloud of Hate," there is a sense that they're marshalling the forces to fight. The rousing chorus of "Break the Glass," the nostalgic fever of "Reagan Youth," and the resolute fury of "All for You" show that Superchunk aren't going to back down and neither should their listeners. The passion invested in the album is matched by the size of the hooks. In a career full of songs that slash through the static like the highest powered transmitter, the songs on What a Time to Be Alive are some of the most powerful and memorable they've made. The title track is a fist-pumping indie rock earworm, the jumped-up punk tracks like "I Got Cut" are perfect for shouting along to, and the midtempo tracks the band have made their specialty since "Driveway to Driveway" shine like diamonds. "Erasure" is on par with their best, and hearing Merritt singing along with Mac is worth the price of admission on its own. Add in Crutchfield's high harmonies and it reaches the pop-punk stratosphere. Superchunk have been a vital part of the indie rock scene for so many years that it can be easy to overlook them or consider them relics of a bygone age. Wrong on both counts! What a Time to Be Alive is the work of a vital band making music that needs to be made right now. They wrap their hard-won wisdom in urgent punk anthems and deliver their pop songs with an electric punch. It is desperate, important, and powerful music and it might just be the best album they've ever made.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra