Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
(Algonquin; US: Sep 2009)
Our Noise is an oral history of Merge Records, featuring interviews from its founders (McCaughan and Ballance), it’s numerous signees (featuring members of Lambchop, Spoon, the Arcade Fire, and more), and various admirers and business partners (like Dischord Records founder/Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye). Author John Cook alternates his chapters between recounting the history of the Merge label and then profiling one particular band. In a short amount of time, the main players are firmly established: Mac is a svengali-like figure, gathering likeminded rock types around him while being in it primarily just for the music; Laura—by contrast—has a knack for the business side of things, capable of keeping people on budget even during the most dire of times.
You don’t have to be familiar with Superchunk, the label, or even any of the bands on the label to enjoy the stories told within. You don’t have to know Britt Daniel’s personal history to relate to how he wound up getting major-label cash to become an alternative rock star, only to suffer from terrible reviews and downright depressing sales figures when all was said and done.
For still being in the game after putting out two decades worth of classic albums (including such standard-bearers as the Magnetic Fields’ 99 Love Songs and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea), it’s obvious that Merge—with its success and its struggles—is still wanting nothing more than to make some peers of its own. In our rushed digital age of today, there’s something profoundly sweet about such a simple sentiment.