Mac McCaughan co-founded Superchunk way back in the late ‘80s, making him something of an elder statesman in the world of indie rock. Non-Believers is the songwriter’s first album to be released under his own name, and it finds him sounding every bit his 47 years. A far cry from the scuzzy fury of “Slack Motherfucker,” these mature-sounding songs are steeped in wistful nostalgia, with arrangements that often downplay Superchunk’s emphatic power-pop in favour of sighing synth-pop and cinematic new wave.
McCaughan’s maturity is particularly evident when he’s doling out wisdom to the younger generation, as he does on “Our Way Free” and “Real Darkness.” Both songs read like self-help manuals: the former is a burly riff-rocker that takes a beautiful melodic turn when McCaughan’s voice lifts to sing, “Walk backwards out the dark / Eventually you’ll get to me.” The latter — which sports slinky R&B programming and a series of devastating, synth-doused chord changes — is even more affecting, as Mac paints a tender portrait of a troubled teen. He sweetly coos, “Family, friends and strangers would lift your chin and go, ‘Smile kid, smile, until you know real darkness,’” and it’s not entirely clear whose side he’s taking in the dispute.
These songs act as touching reminders that the insecurities of youth often recede with time, but the rest of Non-Believers shows that adulthood comes with plenty of its own disappointments. “Lost Again” is striking in its simplicity, a thrumming post-punk bassline and drum machine setting the foundation for chiming riffs and a vivid portrait of suburban malaise, as McCaughan drives around aimlessly and admits, “I’m kinda looking for you / I’m kinda looking for me.”
Elsewhere, “Your Hologram” is an aching portrait of life as an indie veteran; being separated from loved ones, playing shows in crummy neighbourhoods, and still having to clean up your own gear. “Only Do” is a rare moment of hopefulness, its acoustic strums and buzzing synth riffs swelling to a heart-lifting refrain of “There is no try / There is only do.”
Eventually, the album culminates in “Come Upstairs,” a jubilant anthem in which McCaughan revels in destruction and declares, “Come upstairs, galaxies are exploding / Don’t you want to hear them go boom?” Perhaps this is the nugget of wisdom that McCaughan should have told that teenager from “Real Darkness”: that everything goes belly-up eventually, so we might as well enjoy it. It’s a bittersweet way to look at life, and it’s one that makes Non-Believers a poignant triumph.