There are a lot of things Superchunk deserve credit for. They’ve been a great rock band for 30 years now, with several dozen amazing songs and a string of classic albums under their belt during that time. They’ve defined how to have a career in the music business without losing your independence or credibility. They’ve stayed true to their political ideals throughout the years, releasing their most blatantly political album 28 years after their debut. Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, the band’s frontman and bassist, started up Merge Records to release their music, and turned it into a model of how to run an independent record label—releasing pivotal records by Neutral Milk Hotel, the Magnetic Fields, Arcade Fire, Spoon and dozens of other bands over the decades. They are also, by all accounts, not assholes. They’re an easy band to like.
They also have a history of really fun music videos. They’re a legitimately funny band—drummer Jon Wurster has long worked with Tom Scharpling on The Best Show—and that shines through in most of their videos. And since I haven’t really been able to leave the house and go see live music for the past four months or so, I’ve been spending a lot of time pulling up music videos on YouTube. Superchunk’s videos are a favorite go-to, so now is a fitting time to rank their 10 best. So here it is: Paste’s favorite Superchunk music videos.
Made in 1997, “Watery Hands” stars probably the best possible comedians to parody the pretentiousness of Gen X, David Cross and Janeane Garofalo. The two play “the best directing team in the business” who insist on forcing ridiculous, overwrought ideas into what the band just wants to be a performance video. It’s not as sharp or funny as the other 1997 indie rock video to star David Cross—Yo La Tengo’s “Sugarcube”—but it’ll do.
Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on here, but I like watching it. Jim Wilbur is serenading a baby while Laura Ballance gets into a scuffle with a bunch of kids outside, Jon Wurster’s reading a JFK conspiracy book and dancing to the Breeders at a teen slumber party and McCaughan’s the increasingly annoyed dad trying to relax in the living room below. And the whole time Superchunk are rocking out in a dark, shadowy void. There’s kind of a story, or at least the suggestion of one, and since this is a music video, it doesn’t matter if it never actually goes anywhere.
Almost 10 years before Metallica revealed their therapy sessions for the world to see in Some Kind of Monster, Superchunk was already making fun of the whole concept. Does that make this a preemptive parody? In this clip from 1995, the band works through their issues, learns to trust again and also waffles the hell out of each other with some foam noodles. It’s probably a Simpsons reference.
This video from artist Taiyo Kimura is as hyperactive as the song, and far more confusing. Kimura’s imagery somehow remains cheerful even as it verges on the grotesque—from a giant exploding eye, to a man wearing a Mac McCaughan mask eating rice out of a toilet bowl. This video isn’t as overtly comedic as most of the ones on this list, but it still has a playful spirit.
Here’s a great example of an early ’90s indie rock video—arty, blurry, old film stock, a jumble of color and black and white live footage and random shots, a little pretentious but mostly modest and unassuming. Before Superchunk swung hard into comedy, their videos largely looked like this. This is probably the best of the bunch, if only because it’s the punchiest.
2018’s What a Time to Be Alive is one of the best albums of the Trump Era—a scathing, clear-eyed critique of all the misery, hate, ignorance and anger that defined the last few years of American life. “Erasure” is one of the longer and more musically restrained songs on the record, but the politics of McCaughan’s lyrics are clear. Whitey McConnaughy’s video nails the daily stress of life during these times, and infuses it with a sardonic depiction of how desperate people are for relief. (Yes, that’s Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields on the chorus.)
There are some rock shows where old people fit in perfectly. I should know: I am old. That This is Not This Heat tour last year? I was probably smack dab in the middle when it comes to age. A Bob Mould solo show? I’m a veritable youngun. But sometimes I wind up surrounded by people 20 years younger than me, who seem impossibly cooler and impossibly better looking than me or my friends ever felt. That feeling of being thoroughly out of one’s element is what “Void” is about. Famous guests H. Jon Benjamin, Jon Glaser and Ted Travelstead join the band to play out a variety of out-of-place old-timer scenarios—from the guy who yearns for the halcyon days of moshing, to the couple who knows they are definitely way too old for this shit, to the jaded lifers in the sound booth who know how fleeting this scene will be for most of the people there.
2010’s Majesty Shredding was an unlikely return. Superchunk sat out most of the ’00s; after releasing an album in 2001, they only released an EP and a couple of singles over the rest of the decade, and only played occasional short tours or one-off shows. So when they emerged at the start of the next decade, they seized the opportunity to make fun of old bands that “reunite” with only one original member. In “Digging for Something” McCaughan puts the band back together without actually telling any of the other members, replacing them all with pitch perfect stereotypes of late ’00s blog band hipsters. It’s similar in concept to Pavement’s “Painted Soldiers” video from ’96, only in this video McCaughan is too passive-aggressive to actually fire his bandmates, and he doesn’t wind up replacing them with Veruca Salt. (The new backing band is actually played by Merge band Love Language.) More evidence that Superchunk are legitimately good at comedy.
In which bassist Laura Ballance straps a camera to her cat to see what it gets up to when it leaves the house, and winds up with a feline version of the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” video. Superchunk is a very funny band—drummer Jon Wurster is probably as well-known for his comedy as his music—and here’s some more proof. Given how popular cat videos are on the internet, you’d think this one would have more views.
“Driveway to Driveway” is still the best video from the band’s 30-year career because of the way it captures the band’s different tones and moods. It riffs on the George Cukor classic The Philadelphia Story, while also feeling like a loose adaptation of the song’s lyrics—or at least echoing the spirit of those words. It’s funny but sad, sincere but goofy, ambitious but modest—it kind of sums up Superchunk’s career. Co-director Peyton Reed went on to make a couple of movies you might’ve heard of: Ant-Man and, uh, the sequel to Ant-Man.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.