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  Laughter Guns  




Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan, Tracers, and Malimus  

A year or so after their masterpiece Here's Where the Strings Come In, Superchunk released this little EP. Apparently it was originally available only at live shows, but Merge Records has it for download.

  I'm glad to know this can be downloaded now. I'm also quite happy to note that the first three tracks on this EP are available as part of the Cup of Sand compilation, although I prefer this original 4 song arrangement.  

This EP is the transition between two eras of Superchunk. That is to say, by 1997 Superchunk had completely abandoned any pretension of being a punk band. That might have been where they started off, but after McCaughan had his soul crushed on Foolish and then moved on during Here's Where the Strings Come In, Superchunk had become a classic pop act. The songs here involve vocal harmonies and instruments that are not the guitar. This is, i think, the first time i noticed keyboards on a Superchunk song. They were to continue down this path for the duration of their career, until their hiatus in the early 2000s.

  I think Certain Stars has a keyboard/organ bit, but it could have been just a muted guitar line. But I agree: this is the first time the keys are relatively prominent within the Superchunk milieu.  

There are five tracks here, let me go over them.

A Small Definition is a nice, slow pop song. This is not angry, or heart-wrenching, it just moves along at a nice slow pace with McCaughan harmonizing with Wilbur to nice effect. The song builds nicely.

  I've always liked A Small Definition, as it such a nice pop song. However, in retrospect, this is a tune that foreshadows the songs and arrangements found on Indoor Living and Come Pick Me Up. I think if I'd realized that future state Superchunk would me more like this and less like, say, Her Royal Fisticuffs, I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much.  

Her Royal Fisticuffs is three and a half minutes of furious energy. This could almost have been on On the Mouth except that it has keyboards. Still, it's a happy, energetic song.

  This is another fine "anthem" type tune, with its fast pace and catchy little melody. It's nicely done and holds the dubious distinction about one of the last drivingly good Indie rock tunes Superchunk ever released.  

Superchunk get moody on The Mine Has Been Returned To Its Original Owner. Keyboards dominate here, and Wilbur and McCaughan seem to share vocal duties, trading lines back and forth. This is very different for Superchunk, a new direction they were to explore on their next couple of albums. I actually like this tune: it's got a kind of new wave thing going on, perhaps due to the fact that Ballance's bass is very prominent.

  Moody, indeed! I hadn't ever heard the New Wave influence when I've listened to this in the past. However, now that PostLibyan points it out, it does seem like a fairly clear comparison. I guess this is a case where, since I don't normally equate Superchunk with New Wave, I miss the bleeding obvious.  

The fourth track here is Hero, and to be honest i had forgotten about this song entirely. Each of the previous three songs are tunes i enjoy for various reasons, but for some reason in my mind the next thing should be ... well, i'll get to that in a minute. Instead, i came across this song, which is less than three minutes long. The voice is mixed very differently here, and the guitars use a different type of distortion than Superchunk usually use. It reminds me of something off of the first Clash record, or perhaps early Smithereens... Not a bad little song actually.

Further research reveals that this is the only song on this EP that did not make it onto the Cup Of Sand compilation, so it is kind of a lost track. And of course, it pales in comparison to the track that comes next, which is one of the strangest things i own on any CD. The CDDB that supplies track names as you rip them to your MP3 player calls it Cool-Ass Motherfucking Bonus Track. On the Merge Records site they call it The Laughter Guns Episode. What it is, is forty-two minutes of a tape recording of the radio show "Into the Groove", by some people who were "analyzing" the album Here's Where the Strings Come In. The thing is, they never make it past the first song! These people spend the entire time discussing the lyrics and tempo of Hyper Enough, and that's it.

  And, please note, they don't come to any real conclusion regarding Hyper Enough. I'd have loved to see what they made of the rest of the Here's Where the Strings Come In.  

I remember the first time i heard this. Tracers and i were sharing an apartment off of Northside Drive (turn left at the Girls R Fun!), and we were doing normal household tasks, like cleaning or whatever. I put some CDs in and just let them play to provide backing noise while we went about our afternoon. The first four songs of this EP played, and then suddenly there were people talking. We both stopped what we doing, sat on the couch, and just listened.

The whole thing is ludicrous and silly ... and i have not listened to it again until just now, for this review. It's not exactly something you will want to play often, but if you are a Superchunk fan, you need to hear it at least once. It is incredibly silly. They count beats, discuss the lyrics to Hyper Enough is depth, and even take callers. The callers usually disagree with the radio hosts, and at one point when they are debating the lyrics, someone calls in to say, "You have the lyrics wrong." I have always wondered if that was McCaughan calling in while he was recording this conversation, but i found a blog posting by one of the people who was doing the analysis, and he claims it was long-term Superchunk roadie Spott who called in. Huh.

My favorite part comes as they are discussing the rhythm of Hyper Enough and they decide they need to count the beats. One of them cues it up on the CD player in the studio and, just before pressing play, says "Pogo in your head, everyone." That phrase has entered EvilSponge culture, "pogo in your head" indeed.

  I blame this analysis, such as it is, for why I honestly can't listen to Hyper Enough without hearing the debated "laughter guns" lyrics and without (mis-)counting the beats in the bridge (which is where "pogo in your head" first reared its ugly head).  

It's very silly, and if you are a Superchunk fan, you probably need to hear this at one point. In fact, the four songs here are pretty good as well. I see that you can download the whole thing for about $5, and it is certainly worth that much, even if you only ever listen to Cool-Ass Motherfucking Bonus Track once.

Related Links:

Here is a blog post by one of the DJs on Into the Groove:
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: Indoor Living
   Album: Come Pick Me Up
   Album: Here's To Shutting Up
   Concert: Thu.8.Sep.11


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