Superchunk‘s sixth album, Indoor Living, found the Chapel Hill band at a crossroads. The band’s previous albums, 1994’s Foolish, and 1995’s Here’s Where The Strings Come In, were critically well-received and, in terms of independent record sales in the mid-1990s, both were commercially successful. As often happens in the case of bands with a long, steady release history, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the band started to experiment with their sound, resulting in an album that was strikingly different from its predecessors.
From the first notes of album opener “Unbelievable Things,” one can’t help but notice that this is a darker, more melancholy affair. Sure, the riffs are big, but there’s a certain sadness to Mac’s singing, tempered with a sound that’s fuller and deeper. At the time, I said that Superchunk had decided to become Blue Oyster Cult. Funny as it sounds, I still feel that way; the band’s use of synths and other non-traditional rock arrangements add to the lyrical density. Songs are longer, too; most go well over the four minute mark, with several going nearly six minutes–a radical departure from the band’s quick, concise punk-rock attacks. Moments of a more typical brevity, “Nu Bruises” and “Under Our Feet” seem to lack the punch of earlier releases. Even the video for the album’s lead single, “Watery Hands,” emits a sadness, even though its cast of David Cross and Janeane Garofalo add the always-humorous element prevalent in the band’s videos. Heavier topics also come to light; “European Medicine” is about the band’s disatarous European tour with Seam, while “Martinis On The Roof” is about the sudden death of a close friend of the band’s.
For this reissue–released as part of Merge Records’ 25th anniversary–Indoor Living has been packaged with a contemporaneous live show recorded at Duke University. Unlike Indoor Living, it’s Superchunk at their finest, sharpest, and cleverest, delivering their always consistent, powerful live set. Loose, fun, and funny, it shows that even as the band was experimenting in the studio, they were still the same fun, good-time live band, as they play their familiar hits, as well as covers of The Mice and Big Dipper.
Indoor Living finds Superchunk at a crossroads, and in retrospect, it’s easy to recognize this as the sound of a band changing its priorities. After all, forthcoming would be the label’s first major non-Superchunk successes with Neutral Milk Hotel and 69 Love Songs, while the band would ease up on the touring and releases, with diminishing record sales, and eventually they would go on hiatus, and focusing on other projects and the label. Still, Indoor Living is a mature record, one that captures the band maturing and willing to experiment with their otherwise classic sound.