***2015 RECAP*** MUSIC REVIEW | Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers (2015)

Writing about Superchunk’s 2013 album I Hate Music, I said, “[singer Mac] McCaughen sounds just as young and vibrant now as he did almost a quarter of a century ago… I Hate Music manages to keep all the best stuff form their younger days, without sounding like a sad, middle aged band trying to cling to those younger days.”  When I saw that McCaughen had a solo album out, I had to hear what this aging gracefully dude did when unshackled from the expectations of performing with his long time band.

Haunting synths that sound like they’re communicating with the aliens form Close Encounters of the Third Kind isn’t exactly how I was expecting this record to start.  But Your Hologram immediately becomes a Mac McCaughan song once his unmistakable vocals join the fray.

It’s not uncommon for a rock veteran to strip things back and explore their more sensitive side when they go solo, but McCaughen and Non-Believers put a fresh spin on the concept.  Only Do has the alternatingly jangly and palm muted guitars, but it also lightens things with a trippy synth and more harmonies than screaming.  And with the title being an Empire Strikes Back reference, this 90s indie rock all star knows how to cater to his 90s fans.

While the pairing of Our Way Free and Box Batteries might be the most Superchunk of any songs on Non-Believers, they’re still a little bouncier and more chipper than how I assume the full Superchunk band would approach them.  But it is nice to get a little hint of McCaughan’s guitar shredding abilities.

The biggest departure and most unexpected pleasant surprise is by far Real Darkness.  It’s lush harmonies, soaring (but way in the background) guitars, sweeping keyboards and vintage drum machine all combine to build a soundscape I never would have thought McCaughan had in him.  Not that I didn’t think he had the technical or song writing skill, it’s just such a left field combination.

The ending double of Wet Leaves and Come Upstairs ties things up on a jaunty note, with the tiniest hint of psychedelia.  And they also made me realise that there was a consistent through line of that combo through a lot of Non-Believers.   It’s a style that lets McCaughan play to his vocal and melodic strengths, while surrounding them with a lighter touch.  And it’s that adherence to everything I like about his contributions to Superchunk, while finding a new way to present them, that makes me like Non-Believers a lot and know that if he has any more solo or side projects in the works, I’ll be there.

Mac MacCaughan

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