Merge's Silver Age

25 Essential Albums Over 25 Years

by PopMatters Staff

22 July 2014


Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Destroyer's Rubies, and more

The Rosebuds
Birds Make Good Neighbors (2005)

Wearing your heart on your sleeve is dangerous business in the age of irony. But the Rosebuds have made a lasting career out of embracing the delicacies of romance and the types of relationships it can outlast or destroy. More often, and especially on Birds Make Good Neighbors, the Rosebuds sing to celebrate the love we’ve found. “Were hearts not drawn on caveman walls?” singer/guitarist Ivan Howard asks. His solution? Rewrite history books to include the stories of lovers. The duo of Howard and Kelly Crisp (once married, now divorced) is the beating heart of the Rosebuds; their songs are simple, guitar-pop with brilliant melodies often rife with animal imagery, too. Wildcats, birds, foxes, permeate their songs, but they don’t cross the line into twee or cute pop. They’re too earnest and too hardened for that type of moniker. The love they sing about is a chiseled one, ground down to its stony essence. The Rosebuds have animal instincts in their blood and Birds Make Good Neighbors is a paean to love for the animals that we are. Scott Elingburg

Robert Pollard
From a Compound Eye (2006)

Guided by Voices bandleader Robert Pollard kicked off an official solo career after the initial dissolution of GbV with this double LP for Merge. While Pollard’s stint on Merge was relatively short —he only released four albums with them before striking out on his own boutique label—From a Compound Eye is important for a number of reasons. First, and this might be a controversial opinion, but this double LP is the last remotely essential release that Pollard ever recorded (his work with the newly formed GbV is dodgy at best). Second, this was the first Pollard solo album to chart on Billboard. Thirdly, the album is noteworthy because it is full of songs drawing on a backlog of unreleased material, allowing previously unheard stuff to become part of the Pollard canon. And there’s plenty of outstanding material to listen to here, which is unsurprising given that the album is 26 songs deep. My favourite is “The Right Thing” with its fake lo-fi intro, before the proper song rears its beautiful head and rocks out in a breathtaking fashion. From a Compound Eye, while having its faults (and what double album doesn’t?), is a necessary release for anyone interested in the magical wonder of Robert Pollard and his various bands, and is a solid reminder that when Pollard was on, he was on. Zachary Houle

Destroyer’s Rubies (2006)

In one word, Rubies is labyrinthian. Reductionist definitions aside, Dan Bejar has been mining decades of pop/rock and modernist prose for almost 20 years and Rubies is his dissertation. (His epilogue is a thesis, 2012’s Kaputt.) How else to account for the shifting, near ten-minute opener “Rubies,” a song that, once it tires of its winding lyrical tails, resorts to a chorus of “da da da dum"s? All of this is to say nothing of Bejar’s recurring themes and characters: phony Beatlemania, the sick priest, the titular gems. Yet, for an LP of such enormous scope and breadth, it is surprisingly simple in its execution. Pop songs swing in and out of frame (“European Oils,” “Painter in Your Pocket”) alongside deeper tomes (“Watercolors into the Ocean”). All of his work culminates succinctly and quickly, too. Bejar has a lot to say, but has no time for extraneous work or ambivalence. As our attention spans grew shorter, Rubies was the last shot into the air for the literary like-minded. Pay attention now, Bejar seemed to be saying, because things are about to change in ways we can’t fathom. He was right, of course. There’s no more room for poetry in pop music and we are all guilty of its death. Scott Elingburg

Camera Obscura
Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006)

It was hard to fault fans and critics for the endless Belle and Sebastian comparisons heaped on Camera Obscura in the band’s early years. They were Scottish, included a male-female (or should I say female-male?) musical dynamic, and crafted beautiful bedroom pop gems, sometimes even with the help of B&S members. But after John Henderson pulled up stakes in 2005, Tracyanne Campbell took the band to Sweden to lay down the record that would leave the B&S comparisons behind. Bathed in luxurious organs and positively dripping with lovely melodies, Let’s Get Out of This Country is a wonderfully classic pop album—catchy, diverse and lovelorn.

The album is anchored by the title track and the lead single. The former, an ode to wanderlust, is suffused with both the weary heartbreak and cautious optimism that define Campbell’s appeal, not to mention a swelling score that demands a place at the front of every roadtrip playlist. The latter, “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” is a cheeky response to Lloyd Cole’s “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” that is both propulsive and charming, enticing the listener to keep going. And it’s in the album tracks that Let’s Get Out of This Country truly shines: Campbell continually finds new forms in which to pour out her sorrow, be it the country lament of “Dory Previn”, the sultry slink of “Tears for Affairs”, or sad waltz of “The Great Contender”. Personal in conception, cinematic in execution, Let’s Get Out of This Country is an enchanting stroll through the many lenses we use to dull life’s inevitable heartbreak. John M. Tryneski

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

Spoon is a band that has delivered consistently excellent albums, so it’s tough to pick just one album to represent the best that Merge has to offer from this group. However, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga should be the go-to album for anyone interested in Spoon, as it is all killer and no filler, and boasts what is probably the outfit’s best-known song in “The Underdog”. The album’s popular appeal is such that while I was browsing for books in a Toronto chain bookstore not long after the album’s release, the record was played in its entirety over the PA system in the store. However, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is not just a great album for book nerds, it’s a great album period. From the Beatles-esque “Don’t Make Me a Target” to the avant-garde stylings of the haunting “The Ghost of You Lingers” to the breathless “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case”, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is wall to wall with terrific songs, including a cover of the Natural History’s “Don’t You Ever” (here titled “Don’t You Evah”). Here’s a bonus tip: buy the album on vinyl. There’s no runout groove on Side Two, and the album ends on a continuous loop of music. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a fantastic statement, but, really, can you go wrong with any album by Spoon? The answer is no. Zachary Houle

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