Live Review


Portastatic on December 31, 1969

This trunk-clearing two-disc compilation includes covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Magnetic Fields, Ryan Adams, electro-pop group Hot Chip, '80s-vintage cheese-pop band Prefab Sprout, and old Irish punkers the Undertones. And yet that range of names still doesn't even begin to hint at the range of Portastatic, which has evolved from Superchunk guitarist Mac McCaughan's occasional anything-goes side project to his primary musical outlet over the past two decades.

Some Small History includes 44 originals and covers, collecting outtakes, B-sides and other ephemera. In its odds-and-sods scope and structure, it resembles Pete Townshend's Scoop collections by putting you right in the middle of a body of work; prior familiarity with Portastatic helps, but it's not required to enjoy this. Although the sequence doesn't follow chronology, it's far from jumbled; it hangs together as a unified whole a lot better than you'd expect, despite swinging from acoustic folk to churning rockers to electronic experiments.

Fidelity ranges from bedroom-level to professional-studio quality. But even on the rougher tracks, McCaughan's melodic sense and youthful yearning is evident; even in his 40s, he sounds eternally young. And between "Trajectory" and "Portraits From Before The War", there are songs here as memorable as anything McCaughan has ever done with Superchunk.

Artist Portastatic
Author David Menconi
Other tags issue