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Portastatic: Some Small History

Portastatic: Some Small History

Label:Merge Records
Release Date:2008

By Al Shipley | Posted 10/15/2008

For most recording artists, rarities compilations are a clearinghouse for lesser works at best, and an unpleasant contractual obligation at worst. But to Mac McCaughan, they're an exciting opportunity to assemble wildly divergent castoffs into something resembling an album. As head of Merge Records, he seems to issue a constant stream of EPs and singles just so he can compile them later on. His best-known band, Superchunk, released three such collections in its life span, and now Portastatic, which began as a lo-fi side project and eventually grew into his primary songwriting outlet, finally has its first, the mammoth, deceptively titled Some Small History.

The two discs of Some Small History span 44 songs, 17 years, and virtually every sound and level of fidelity that Portastatic's ever touched upon, including dubby, synthesizer-driven experiments. Covers abound, including two Magnetic Fields tunes that will please any fans of Superchunk's recording of "100,000 Fireflies" still holding out for an entire Mac Sings Merritt album. And though there's an occasional rocker like "Trajectory" that follows the Superchunk blueprint with charging power chords and McCaughan's eternal adolescent yelp, the best moments are tender acoustic tracks like the demo of the playful but poignant "I Wanna Know Girls." McCaughan has never quite got his due as one of indie rock's finest and most prolific songwriters, perhaps due to the lack of variety or eccentricity that marked some of his peers. But here, with a whole messy discography laid out end to end, he finally sounds as adventurous and versatile as he's always truly been.

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