It’s been six years since Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan released a “real” Portastatic LP. In that time, he has used his solo project to experiment, collaborating with Bob Pollard, Chicago avant-jazz musicians Ken Vandermark and Tim Mulvena and releasing an EP of Brazilian covers. While all these endeavors have produced wonderful music, McCaughan is at his best when he is using his uncanny ability to write catchy up-tempo pop-rock songs. Fortunately for die-hard Mac fans, The Summer of the Shark finds him doing just that.

Summer ambles pleasantly on songs like “Noisy Night” and “In The Lines,” (the first Sept. 11 song I’ve heard that actually chills me) and is punctuated with spastic interludes like “Drill Me” and sing-along gems like “Clay Cakes” that sound like outtakes from 1994’s I Hope Your Heart is Not Brittle, only better recorded.

McCaughan’s familiar falsetto is all over Summer, but also present is a new McCaughan voice – a deep baritone that seems especially wrought with emotion because it’s so new and obviously different than anything McCaughan’s released before. But as exciting as his new forays may be, McCaughan’s Summer works because he returned to his original Portastatic formula. Bring the pop.

Rating: Four stars.

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