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  Indoor Living  




Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan, Tracers, and Malimus  

Right now the Minions are tearing through a series of reviews on the Superchunk catalog in preparation for a Superchunk concert. But actually, writing about Superchunk pre-dates EvilSponge. Yes, that's right, i recruited these people in 2001, but back in 1997 they actually had a long email discussion about this record. Well, actually, most of the discussion is about the pointless philosophy stuff that humans argue about, but Indoor Living was reviewed as part of that discussion.

I have resurrected this ancient review from the vaults of the internet, for your reading pleasure.


I actually started this one off. A little bit of background might help put this in context. In 1997 i was working as an eLearning consultant, spending a lot of time travelling, learning software, and then writing instruction to teach other people to use software. I enjoyed the job okay, but hated the travel. If let me with lots of boring evenings sitting in hotel rooms with nothing to do but listen to the CDs i had brought with me.

And write email. Writing email to the people i knew who did not have to travel for a living was a big part of what kept me (relatively) sane. Remember:1997 was years before social networking, or even "The Internet 2.0". Email was the thing.

In 1997 there were two "big" CDs that got me through the year, OK Computer by Radiohead, and Indoor Living by Superchunk. We as a group were more familiar with Superchunk than Radiohead, but both records influenced that year.

Here is where the old review starts.

Life in New Jersey is so ungodly boring that i have nothing to do up here except listen to the albums that i brought with me over and over again. I keep coming back to Indoor Living, which leads me to OK Computer. So far, here are the meanings of the songs off of Indoor Living, as far as i can tell:

  1. Unbelievable Things: This is a cry AGAINST pop stardom (Mac acknowledging his punk roots and the standard punk hatred of the pop star), which is ironic, because it is a pretty damn good pop song in the style of today.

  2. Burn Last Sunday: A song about temporality and regret: "If we burn last Sunday, will that bring us back some time?" Indeed, Mac, are you feeling your mortality? What is it that you regret so much, and need the time back for?

  3. Marquee: Another song about fame? "The arc of lights above your head is not to be believed"???? (Or is that some sort of halo reference?)

  4. Watery Hands: A silly little love song. How typically pop.

  5. Nu Bruises: That little bit at the start, which at first sounds like a cassette, and then goes into the actual guitar intro, before the song gets started proper -- that little cassette bit reminds me of an earlier Superchunk song.... Then when they play it they play it in a different key in order to simulate the generational loss of the tape....??? i think. i dunno, it sounds really familiar, but it may just be some weirdo distortion thing...
  Personally, I love the opening chord structure of Nu Bruises (what punk song does that rhythm come from?) And I like most of the other songs as well...  

MEANING: this song, with its pogo inclined beat ("pogo in your head everybody") and distortion, is, quite simply, a dance song. Granted, it is a punk dance song, but i can imagine moshing to this at The Cotton Club. And since it is a punk dance song, one can interpret the line "new bruises on our bruises" quite literally... and what up with the Title? Mac tryin 2 B Prince?

  1. Every Single Instinct: Another tune of regret: "every single instinct/everyone i ever had". I really like the jam at the last minute of this song, long and slow, great guitarwork there guys! Reminds me of Beat Happening or Luna, or, really, one of a dozen or so indie guitar bands from the 80's! (Galaxie 500, specifically, sorry, i had to think of it....)

  2. Song for Marion Brown: The opening line "are you bitter?" Apparently, Mac is! This is another song railing against his critics: "Critic calls can be cold/With the new thing saving the old". Is Mac worried that Superchunk has been around too long and is, therefore, no longer fresh? And what about the line about "Pouring your heart out on stage gets old" (that's not exactly it, but you get the gist). It seems that Mac is tired -- maybe he needs a break! "They’re charging admission now/for your baby tooth and a lock of hair". Mac is railing against fame. I think that line particularly ironic because it is chanted over the recognizable chords of Baba O'Reilly by The Who (i half expect him to scream "teenage wasteland" at some point....)

  3. The Popular Music: "We were struck by lightning/it was like we'd never get old". Poor Mac. How old is he? My guess is that he just hit 30, or some other "big" milestone year....

  4. Under Our Feet: This is the song with that "frozen ground" comment. How very odd. "It rotted out from under our feet/you were a song in the dark". A song of hope after the despair of the past few songs....and yet, the hope is for the future, lying amongst the ruins of the past....

  5. European Medicine: My guess is that this is a song about touring Europe in the wintertime. It gets a might bit cold there for a bunch of southerners! I like the line about "drummer turning blue". Also, there are a lot of drug references, from the "drinking kills both parasite and host" to "smoked out" to "the fairie heaves" to "passed out on the ground". Apparently, they were decadent during their last European tour....

    In fact, this album seems full of travel references, and several of them seem to mention Europe. It is like Mac is bragging about his success and his worldliness...but that is a minor point. i think that the line "drinking kills both parasite and host" can pretty much sum up our alcohol dominated social group. Just an observation.

  6. Martinis On the Roof: I want to sing that Pixies song that starts off with Kim Deal singing "aha-ah, aha-ah, aha-ah". I guess that it has the same rhythm. I like the line "cheetos at one hundred proof". I get the impression that this song is about being courted by the big labels, which no doubt Superchunk are, and this must be a big conflict for Mac. On the one hand, they could be big with the right marketing, but on the other hand, how much trust would somebody have in Merge, if the founder's band left it for better marketing....again, great guitar coda (kinda like Sweet Jane in chord structure!)

OVERALL VERDICT: Mac is sad. He is at some juncture in his life, and he has to make a lot of decisions. i think there is a possibility that this is the last Superchunk album, and that he may move on to something new (maybe Portastatic full time????) or maybe take some time of from Superchunk to run Merge.... At any rate, all signs indicate that he is contemplating a big change. Something is going to happen!

As i listen to this disk, it comes across as light and happy. The words are deep and personal, and i empathize with Mac (i rarely go a day without questioning the direction that my life is taking!) but, by the same token, the inherent ~fun~ in the music hints that the decision, when made, will be accepted fully and with little or no regret. Mac is worried about the future, but not so worried that he can't have a good time.

And isn't THAT the secret of life???

  Not as of yet having acquired the new 'Chunk …  
  One general comment, and this goes for both Indoor Living and OK Computer. I have already commented on how Indoor Living has a certain ... 1970's feel to it, with the prog-rock-esque keyboards being so prevalent. And OK Computer has actively been compared with the masterpiece of psychedelic rock, Dark Side of the Moon. Both of these are phenomena from the era of rock music that punk was rebelling against. And yet, if you listen deeply at both of these albums, the guitar style is clearly influenced by Steve Jones, Mick Jones, and the guitarist in the Ramones (Dee Dee ? i can't remember). So you could describe both of these albums as Prog Punk?????  

Is it a function of getting older? Punk is by definition a young genre -- to have that much pent-up rage and anger is something we all had when we were teenagers. But as we've gotten older, we've mellowed, become more melodical.

The same can be seen in Superchunk (what *is* Mac's advanced age... 29? 30?)

  What up with that? Has punk, the musical style that i consider to be the most important in MY life become merely one of the many out there that an artist can draw upon?  
  Um, well, yeah. That’s why almost all of the new punk bands suck PostLibyan. I read an interview with Peter Buck, and he was talking about R.E.M.'s early tours, about how they would go to New York and the upper east coast, and all of the critics and people who know would tell them, "No, no, no, you can't play songs like that! You’ve got to play three chords and scream. You’ve got to be punk!" and Buck said, "And all i could think was, i thought punk was about doing what you wanted to do, no matter what everyone tells you have to be to be cool. I thought we were punk." Rehashing misses the spirit of it. But taking bits and pieces from it, rebuilding it into something new and different (and magnificent), detouring punk? Now that is interesting.  


And that is the original review, such as it is. Actually, the conversation was compiled into a fifteen page document that, mostly, discusses Radiohead's Ok Computer. But let's ignore that for now and focus on the task at hand. Tracers, Malimus: it's been fourteen years, any new thoughts on Indoor Living?
  Sure!  First off, I haven't listed to this since 1999 or so, which ought to tell you something.  

Well, i have a few, of course.

Up first, this album is kind of overproduced. What i mean is, a lot of their early stuff sounds like they pretty much played live in the studio. In the middle period (Foolish and Here's Where the Strings Come In) they had started being more of a studio band, but still tried very hard to replicate the live feel of their earlier releases. When i listen to Indoor Living, they have abandoned that. This is a record made for radio play, not necessarily to be played live. The songs are built of distinct layers, without a lot of blending between them. It's a different way of recording, and i think they do a fine job with it here.

Of course, it is a slippery slope between the type of production evident here and the over-production of Come Pick Me Up. Perhaps we just missed the warning signs and should have intervened…

  Ding! We have a winner. More so than any other Superchunk album, Indoor Living gets painted with the same icky brush as Come Pick Me Up. Listening to this record, I hear the band sliding towards the cesspool that is their next release. As such, the mellow melodies and overwrought production, which seemed merely anomalous at the time, just gets on my nerves.  
  Anyway, the songs on the record are pretty slow, but then again Superchunk had been slowing down for a few records at this point. The songs are still very catchy though. Burn Last Sunday, Nu Bruises, Song for Marion Brown, and Martinis On the Roof are all pretty darned good tunes.  
  Agreed. Nu Bruises is fine little punky tune and Song for Marion Brown always make me giggle, if only because of the Baba O'Reilly undertone (everyone now: "Teenage Wasteland!")  
  Then there are snoozers like Marquee, which has too many synths and a tepid pace. This really belongs on their next record.  
  I never did like Watery Hands myself.  

Overall though, this record is tinged with a nostalgia for the late 1990s, at least for me. It was the soundtrack to part of my life, and when i go back and listen to it now, it strikes me as very melancholy. More than any of Superchunk's records, this one belongs to that era. That's probably just me though...

Objectively, this is not a great album. There are worse records, but Superchunk made many better records.

  Heck, even AllMusic rates this one worse than Here's Where The Strings Come In, which the reviewer actively disliked.  
Related Links:

Also on EvilSponge:
   Introduction to Superchunk
   Album: Superchunk
   Album: No Pocky For Kitty
   Compilation: Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91)
   Album: On the Mouth
   Album: Foolish
   Compilation: Incidental Music 1991-95
   Album: Here's Where the Strings Come In
   EP: Laughter Guns
   Album: Come Pick Me Up
   Album: Here's To Shutting Up
   Concert: Thu.8.Sep.11


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