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Recording:
 

On the Mouth

 
 
Artist:
 

Superchunk

 
 
Label:
 

Matador

 
 
Release Date:
 

1.February.1993

 
 
Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  
         
 
Rating:
   
         
      Review  
 
Tracers:
 

If No Pocky for Kitty is the quintessential album that represents the "early" Superchunk punky sound, 1993's On The Mouth is the first blast across the bow of mid-era Superchunk. Likewise, it is the first time that the Superchunk line-up we know and love (McCaughan, Ballance, Wilbur, and at long last drummer Jon Wurster) make their appearance. As such, this record really represents the bridge between that which came before and the brilliance of Foolish and Here's Where the Strings Come In. The scattershot nature of the songs here reflects this dichotomy.

Of course On the Mouth opens with Precision Auto, which is finally the anthem the band tried to write with Slack Motherfucker and My Noise. From the first thudding drum beat and screeching guitar, this is a driving (pun intended) tune, wherein the guitar interplay mimics the alternating wail of a siren. Likewise, once the band hits the "time to pogo" chorus of "Do not pass meÖjust to slow down, I can move right through you", you clearly get the impression that this is a group that's finally hitting on all cylinders, with all that unfocused early energy channeled into a near perfect pop-punk tune. As a side note, I'll also state that the last few times I've seen Superchunk live, they've always played this one as the primo opener of their encores. If that's not the mark of an anthem, I don't know what is.

 
         
 
PostLibyan:
  This is one of my favorite Superchunk tunes, and i think is their first truly awesome song. Yes, it has a great rhythm that propels the dueling guitars along at a breakneck pace, but i think i like it because i live in a city with a road infrastructure that was built by corrupt and incompetent morons. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and so few people seem to understand it. Do not pass me just to slow down, dammit! This song brings out my worst traffic angst in one gloriously messy burst. I find it very cathartic.  
         
 
Tracers:
 

The album moves on to On the Curve, which is the first tune that looks forward musically to Foolish. The quick beat, the thudding bass, and the pacing all remind me of The First Part, with its shouted harmonies and almost restrained melody. This is another great song that really demonstrates the alternating intensity and precision that Jon Wurster's drumming brought to Superchunk.

The third song, For Tension, is perhaps the first song I ever heard from Superchunk (or at least the first song I ever heard from Superchunk that I knew was by them). Ironically, I thought that this little pop-punk gem (which has a rhythm borrowed from Slack Motherfucker) was called Pretension, as I always thought that's what McCaughan was singing on the choruses.

Next up is Mower, which was the "single" on this record (the title track On the Mouth, which is not on this album, was the B-Side ... remember when there were B-sides?). One of the slower songs on the record, this tune features McCaughan at his most helium-voiced, especially as he leads into the chorus of "It was a robin's egg and it was blue". In this context, his voice really works as a nice counterpoint to the lower guitarwork and the almost droney rhythm section. Likewise, the band seems to play more with instrument volume during this track, again in premonition of some of the songs of Foolish.

 
         
 
PostLibyan:
  Mower chugs along with crunchy guitars. It hearkens back to the proto-metal/hardcore of their debut, while at the same time showing what was to come. Another great tune.  
         
 
Tracers:
  And then we come to Package Thief, an ostensible tale of ... well ... boxes never being delivered.  
         
 
PostLibyan:
  Is this about a real event? Did McCaughan really have stuff stolen from his mailbox? I have always wondered that, and yet the Internet can neither confirm nor deny it.  
         
 
Tracers:
 

More importantly, this is one of the songs (along with Cast Iron) that people always want the band to play live. Unlike that other song, I get it when I listen to Package Thief. It's got Wurster's snare and tom heavy drumming, Wilbur's chording with minimal distortion, some well punctuated melodic riffs, and McCaughan lamenting over it all that "boxes never reach my house". In some ways this tune manages to combine the punk sensibilities of earlier Superchunk with the more melodic and mellow work that was yet come.

But the next tune, the very long and minor keyed Swallow That is one that goes off the rails. Yes, the combination of the instruments works well and the echoed vocals are a nice touch. But the song goes on far too long for this record, and after the energy and drive of the other songs, it feels a bit out of place.

 
         
 
PostLibyan:
  This isn't a bad song per se -- i like the way they are playing with their standard instrumental framework here. However, it is probably the slowest thing Superchunk had done to date. As such, it really kills the momentum of the record. I suppose the problem is they just havenít figured out how to do songs like this yet.  
         
 
Tracers:
  Furthermore, I personally think the band did a better song in this style when they recorded The Mine Has Been Returned to Its Original Owner (off the Laughter Guns EP). Still, around the four minute mark, the tune picks up a bit, even if there's another two minutes to go.  
         
 
PostLibyan:
  Actually, the way it gets faster and faster as it grinds towards the end kind of reminds me of the end to Like a Fool.  
         
 
Tracers:
  Luckily, things pick back up with I Guess I Remembered It Wrong. Beginning with a lightly strummed chord progression in which Wilbur and McCaughan, the lightness of this tune counteracts the vague dissatisfaction of Swallow That. Still, as I listen to this one in the context of Superchunk's full catalogue, I think that this mid-tempoed song could have been on Indoor Living or one of the other albums that focused more on the band's mid-range.  
         
 
PostLibyan:
  I love this tune, with a jaunty acoustic guitar line, and a nicely crunchy chorus that really works. But Tracers is right in that it does kind of sound like it belongs more on Indoor Living. Not that there is anything wrong with that.  
         
 
Tracers:
  At this point as I listen to On the Mouth, the tunes begin to run together for me. New Low harkens back to the harder punk sounds heard on the band's debut record, although the melody itself was semi-recycled and put to better use in later Water Wings on Foolish. Untied has the same pace as Mower, albeit with louder instrumentation and a few more effects and McCaughan at times displaying his lower vocal range, such as it is.  
         
 
PostLibyan:
  Untied i the low point for me on this record. Lyrically it is basically Weezer's The Sweater Song, but sonically it is murky and goes nowhere.  
         
 
Tracers:
 

The Question is How Fast has some particularly nice moments with a display of harder tom-heavy drumming from Wurster and some alternating guitarwork from Wilbur and McCaughan, but the song doesn't completely mesh together as a whole, especially as the straight-forward vocal style seems to clash a bit with the instruments.

And so it goes for the rest of the record. Trash Heap is one of those tunes that many Superchunk fans like and I have to admit the true harmonies on this one are enjoyable. But the deliberate pace reminds me of a combination of Cadmium of any number of the mid-ranged numbers on Indoor Living (or maybe even Eastern Terminal off of Here's Where the Strings Come In).

 
         
 
PostLibyan:
  Heh. I was going to mention Eastern Terminal here. But this is another fan favorite? I don't remember ever hearing it live. Maybe this is one of those "restroom / rehydration break" songs.  
         
 
Tracers:
  Flawless picks the beat back up to the frantic pace of the more punkish tunes off Superchunk's earlier releases. However, the chord progression itself resurfaces in a superior fashion on the B-side On the Mouth. As Flawless crashes to a close, the final track The Only Piece You Get blends in. For this era of Superchunk, this tune is an unusual mash-up. The guitars squeal slowly, almost like they're just lingering feedback from Flawless while McCaughan sings underneath the song and a strummed acoustic guitar comes in. This is a song that strikes a deliberately discordant note, which seems like an odd way to end a record.  
         
 
PostLibyan:
  I agree that this song kind of falls short, but it foreshadows so much of what was to come with the band that i believe this tune (as well as the other weaker ones here) are the band's first attempts at many things. Remember, this is the first outing from the lineup of a band that we are getting ready to see 19 years later. They were working things out here, and maybe some of these songs would sound better if we didnít know that they would do the same sort of thing better in a few years.  
         
 
Tracers:
  Honestly, I think if On the Mouth had concluded after I Guess I Remembered It Wrong and perhaps added the song On the Mouth (which is very very good in its own right), I'd probably rate this album a little closer to Foolish and Here's Where the Strings Come In in my pantheon of Superchunk records. Nevertheless, I have to confess I do like it better than either of the previous studio records, even with its flaws. And fundamentally, any record that brings together a classic band line-up and manages to provide several memorable tunes should be rated highly in its own right, even if there are better things yet to come.  
         
 
PostLibyan:
 

Huh. Well, On the Mouth was the second Superchunk album i ever got, and as such i thought i really liked it. But going back and listening to the records for this review, i have come to the conclusion that No Pocky For Kitty is actually a stronger album. Sure, this one has Precision Auto and i lamented the fact that No Pocky For Kitty does not have an anthem, but there is too much meandering around going on here.

Tracers gave this six sponges. I wouldn't give it more than four, but that's just me.

 
         
 
Tracers:
 

You know, I wrote six sponges when I first began writing this review, when I was just recalling the first 6-7 songs.  Having listened to it all the way through, I'm more in a 5 sponge mood.  And I still like it more than PostLibyan.

 
         
 
Related Links:
 

Label: http://www.matadorrecords.com/
Artist:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superchunk
  http://superchunk.com/
  http://www.twitter.com/superchunk
  http://www.last.fm/music/Superchunk
  http://www.myspace.com/superchunkmusic
  http://www.mergerecords.com/
  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Merge-Records/88476979019
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Mouth
Also on EvilSponge:
   Introduction to Superchunk
   Album: Superchunk
   Album: No Pocky For Kitty
   Compilation: Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91)
   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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