©2009 Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Merge Records might be responsible for more indie-rock classics than any other label in the past two decades." (Magnet)
Merge is a really interesting indie rock success story. Pretty much by holding true to their core values, Mac and Laura have grown the label from stuffing 7" in a bedroom to invites to the Grammys. It's a cool story with a great soundtrack.
This book, written in 2009 for the label's 20th anniversary, is a pretty good look at what makes Merge, and the bands they choose to work with, special. Half biography of the label and it's bands and half oral history, the story moves along at a rapid pace and really leaves you with a good feeling about the whole Merge operation.
To address some of the other reviews, yeah, it is a bit self-congratulatory. What did you expect from a book written to celebrate Merge's 20 years in the business? At the same time, I didn't ever have the feeling that there was some big thing being whitewashed or anything like that. Even the breakup of Mac and Larua's relationship was covered honestly and fairly, I think.
Smugness? Umm...sorry. Didn't hear it. Nor was I bothered by Ray Porter's performance of this book, aside from the fact that the oral history part made it difficult at times to determine who was talking.
And to complain about hammering on the "big bad" major labels is to miss the point of Merge's existence entirely. The whole operation has been run since day one as an alternative to the major label system. It's baffling to me how someone can listen to a history of a fiercely independent label such as Merge and feel the case against major labels is overstated.
My biggest complaint is that the book ends where it does. Not the author's fault, but the last five years have been pretty action packed for Merge. Arcade Fire won an Album of the Year Grammy. Superchunk released two more albums. The label is now home to some pretty important back catalog from some of their heroes. And I'd love to hear how their distribution deal with ADA has worked out for them.
It's also a huge bummer that audiobook purchasers are deprived of the photographs and memorabilia print buyers have access to. Considering I've bought other books that include this as a PDF, it's quite a disappointment this wasn't done here.
Regardless, if you're interested in the label, Superchunk or an interesting chapter in the recording business, I'd highly recommend this book. Just maybe consider getting the print version instead.
Using direct quotes so pervasively really took away from telling the story of this record company.
Turn down the volume on the smugness
The people were fine, just too much back-slapping
I didn't really need so much emphasis on the evils of the big-bad record companies. Just tell the story of your label, it's interesting enough as it is.
I would say that your time would be better spent reading the book yourself, which I plan to do. I love Merge Records and the story is a great one, but the performance is unbearable.
Ray Porter's haphazard application of emphasis is incredibly distracting, and is often so simply wrong that it distorts the sense of a sentence. I think his voice itself is perfect, but he reads as if he isn't taking the trouble to understand the meaning of the words. I was already rather annoyed with the performance when Porter mispronounced Stephin Merritt's name, at which point I gave up on it completely. There must be a narrator out there who knows or cares *a little bit* about this subject. Should have hired them to read it.
I would definitely watch a documentary about Merge.
With the music business in such a poor state, the story of Merge Records is an inspiration. The book is well written, and gives a good understanding of why this label is still great and so many of their early bands are still together.
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