Mac McCaughan's bandmates in Chapel Hill's influential and self-sufficient Superchunk probably didn't think twice back in 1993 when he inaugurated his side project, Portastatic. What's a few four-track outtakes between friends? But it bodes ill for a band when its spinoffs cease to be mere sketch-pads for the main event, particularly a band on its fourth year of recording hiatus. Bright Ideas is McCaughan's eighth release under the Portastatic handle but the first to be a comprehensive studio production. The resulting ten tracks stretch the definition of the "side project," with the glimmering power-pop of "I Wanna Know Girls" and the elegantly string-laden travelogue "Truckstop Cassettes." McCaughan's vocals are as crackling and guileless as ever, while his guitar work has grown into a well-proportioned crossbreed of traditional rock lilt and posthardcore experimentation. If not for Superchunk's proven long-term fidelity, you'd have to wonder if McCaughan's extracurricular activity hasn't finally become a problem.

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Andrew Marcus