After three decades of making music, Superchunk and Merge Records co-founder Mac McCaughan has at last released his first record under his own name, Non-Believers. McCaughan taps into a deep personal well for these 10 tracks, his writing full of wistful reflections. The “’82 Honda getting all its tapes stolen” during “Your Hologram,” the rows of duplex houses with trimmed hedges during “Lost Again,” the black dog that waits by the mailbox during “Our Way Free”: Non-Believers is too rife with frayed, specific details to be incidental.
McCaughan has long dabbled with synthesizers, whether using them to add textural filigree to Superchunk records or as the minimal backbones of tunes by Portastatic, his retired solo guise. But synths are the tonal foundation of these tunes, amplifying McCaughan’s nostalgia by rooting it in period-authentic tones. Non-Believers finds McCaughan exploring his fascination with the moment in the early ’80s when punk turned inward and mutated into post-punk and new wave. McCaughan was a teenager then, so it’s fitting that this album sometimes feels like an autobiographical mixtape.
As a songwriter, McCaughan canvases the range of emotions of the period he ponders, retroactively channeling youthful feelings into hard-won wisdom. “I’m kinda looking for you/I’m kinda looking for me,” he shrugs during “Lost Again,” a tune that balances adolescent romance with an innocent search for self-identity. The sepia-toned synth and hissing drum machine add haze, making the song seem less like a dream and more a fragment of a memory on an infinite loop. Much like a teenager, though, he rebounds with invincibility. “We’ve got box batteries,” he chirps on the chorus of “Box Batteries,” as if the thing that powers his boombox is the only object that matters. A peppy riff and hi-hat beat reinforce the sentiment.
McCaughan’s songs have always blurred his personal and professional lives, and Non-Believers reaches across several decades to make that clear. The exultant chorus of “Only Do””There is no try/There is only do”serves as both teenage-riot rallying cry and the motto of a DIY ethos. This rich record offers a glimpse into a time when both sides started to crystallize.