Tag Archives: Merge

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga GaSpoonGa Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)

Always one with an eye to history, especially that of British pop music of the 60s and 70s, Britt Daniels has returned to the musical inspiration that made Spoon stand out. Yes, it’s spare in parts, but never boring. Daniels has a knack for melody and sounds like he’s finally comfortable applying that to instrumentation. Not a Wall of Sound, by any means, but perhaps a bit more flesh on the bones now. Like Kate Moss with boobies.

There are horns on this album and I don’t hate them.

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The Broken West – I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On

The Broken West - I Can't Go On, I'll Go OnThe Broken WestI Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (Merge)

Given power-pop’s track record of posting lousy sales, it says something about any band that chooses it as their primary influence. The genre itself prompts such a primeval reaction among its supporters that it’s completely logical when a band gets caught up and starts bashing out their slight interpretation of it.

The Broken West’s interpretation of power pop adds a big tablespoon of their Los Angeles history to it, which makes their debut long-player I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On fairly unique for a genre that typically prides itself on staying close to the bone.

Don’t get me wrong: The Broken West isn’t reinventing the wheel here. Instead, the performances grab the wheel and take you on a journey down Laurel Canyon Boulevard on the way towards the Paisley Underground.

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Richard Buckner – Meadow

Richard Buckner - MeadowRichard BucknerMeadow (Merge)

It goes without saying that the road of record companies is littered with talented artists unceremoniously dropped due to shifting priorities, exiting staff, and the most common career-killer: poor record sales. Richard Buckner knows about this, having been dropped from MCA Records immediately after he delivered, Since, his second album for them in what should have been a three album deal.

Thankfully, Buckner’s persevered and with the support of a few believing independent labels who’ve given him the freedom to grow and develop as a performer. Meadow, Buckner’s eighth album overall, continues to demonstrate his progression from an alt-country folkie towards a more well-rounded artist with a firm eye on the road that brought him here.

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White Whale – WWI

White Whale - WWIWhite WhaleWWI (Merge)

It would be easy to write the first one-line review ever published on Glorious Noise about this record: “What up, guys, you’re a couple years too late to the pirate/war narrative/Bowie wannabe bandwagon.” [That would be the second one-line review, actually – Ed.]

The debut album from new Merge residents White Whale invites so many comparisons to its peers and predecessors that it’s like a history lesson of the last two and a half indie rock years. The singer’s voice bears a resemblance to Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, there are songs titled “O’William, O’Sarah” and “The Admiral” (mp3), and the album itself is a “narrative” of the band’s journey through a war in a long-ago era, and the spacey musical nods to Bowie are present too. With all these possible strikes against it, though, there’s something completely compelling about the music itself that keeps the listener reaching for it over and over, trying to sort through the artifice.

Songs like the purposely tinny, echoey “I Love Lovely Chinese Gal” don’t exactly help their cause, but on “What’s An Ocean For” and “One Prayer,” the tempo, piano, and the melody all collide and bloom in ways that make your heart swell. “Forgive the Forgiven” is a haunting examination of a girl who “bled [her] finger to remind herself even good girls sometimes hurt.” “Yummyman Farewell” starts out scattered and hushed, and then punches its way through to an absolutely glorious rush of a song. One wishes that they would spend less time concerning themselves with ships and voyages and girls they had to leave behind in the war and concentrate on their strengths; just simply be straightforward about it rather than weighting the joy they’re capable of with so many conceits.

This band deserves an audience, and a huge one. Please bear with them. Their next album ought to be great (unless they head south to chase the Desert Fox into WWII).

Stream songs from White Whale’s myspace.

M. Ward – Transistor Radio

M. WardTransistor Radio (Merge)

A familiar melody chimes through the beginning of Transistor Radio, Matt Ward’s third album and follow-up to the extraordinary Transfiguration of Vincent. It’s the Beach Boys’ “You Still Believe In Me,” re-created on two acoustic guitars. Although you can still pick fragments of the original’s sweetly melancholic arrangement out, Ward’s version has gathered some antique charm—it takes on a completely different personality in Ward’s hands. Which, perhaps, is his biggest asset—he knows the virtues of ambiguity. When exactly was this album recorded again?

His voice, which is downtrodden and just a little rusty, cracks over these mini-dirges with a timeless charm. Which makes it so difficult to pinpoint Ward’s sound, to pick words to describe it—on the surface, it’s incredibly simple-sounding. But delve deeper and you find that these songs have as many layers as a towering evergreen trunk carved into cross-section view. Ward turns the dial of his own transistor radio and captures the sound, atmosphere, and production of everything he picks up signal on—even if it means the monophonic haze of “One Life Away” (with Jim James) sounds ancient in comparison to the following track, the sweetly disorienting “Sweethearts on Parade.” Somehow, it all makes sense as a whole.

Transistor Radio bears a less introspective nature to its predecessor—nowhere is Ward hoping for “a voice at the end of the line,” instead taking on a more abstract, metaphorical lyrical tone that suits the evasive setting the songs take place in. But the shots Ward does take here hit hard—”Come back / My little peace of mind,” and “I’ve got lonesome fuel for fire” say so much with so little that I imagine all other so-called lyricists jealous that Ward got to these sentiments before they could.

Ward’s diverse yet strangely united, collective sound is blanketed with the rustic sense of rootsy, outdoors America—where the back-porch is still home, where the rocking chair sways softly in the breeze, where the sun sets over the horizon and you can see for miles over the amber landscape. Where the internet and digital cable aren’t even part of the vocabulary. And most importantly, where a man with an acoustic guitar can put you right in the middle of this serenity, despite honing his craft in the post-millennial age. When everything else today seemingly needs a blip or a beep, Ward is content letting the spirit of centuries past play his backing band, giving Transistor Radio the sweet spirit your history textbook is lacking.

The Arcade Fire – Funeral

The Arcade FireFuneral (Merge)

As Mike Skinner has so brilliantly captured on A Grand Don’t Come for Free, life is composed of a series of singular seemingly inconsequential moments. It’s these sequences of events and minutiae that come to not just encompass but define our lives—it’s a mistake that the “big ones” are the things that differentiate our existences from one another, in general we all suffer and enjoy the same major base of occurrences (death, marriage, parenthood, etc). It’s obvious these events change our lives; but who can underrate the million beautiful sunsets, migraines, and side-splitting laughs we have along the way?

Well, sometimes (as in the case of Skinner, and many others of us), we’re actually so immersed in the individual moments in time that the big ones knock us on our ass—recovery is all that matters afterwards. The Arcade Fire have turned this sort of surprise into the type of album that lives forever in the minds of anyone who hears it. Funeral is a lament of mortality and the hand that takes said precious commodity from us. Its value lies in its ability to sweep across epic and elegant arrangements, to manage so many different faces that the only descriptors applicable regard its effect on whomever it graces, not just the genres and styles the album slides across.

Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, the husband-wife duo that comprise The Arcade Fire, dealt with their tragedies by creating the type of cathartic release that cleans the soul. And, as is usually the case when dealing with death, along the way the group approach the shackles and day-in-day-outisms of life—quickly moving through the arrested hope and free optimism of childhood into the regret and lost yearning that comes with age during the album’s wonderful “Neighborhood” suite. It seems the duo felt they should take the opportunity of the mournful Funeral as an indulgence to cleanse themselves and start anew.

The album sounds conflicted—there is an obvious passion and fire, pure energy bubbling akin to Trail of Dead’s Source Tags and Codes. But whereas the latter would release such energy with violent fury, The Arcade Fire tempers its release with nervous restraint.

Funeral, like the existence it mirrors, is a sequence of moments. The album’s best, a knife that cuts through the center of the agony of “Une Anne Sans Lumiere” and releases a frantic display of physical, epiphanic glory, is the perfect microcosm for Funeral itself—our own personal salvations lie within, sometimes it takes the moving of mountains in one’s life to realize it. Luckily, for those of us fortunate enough to not have to deal with such pain, Funeral contains enough power and affirmation to help us move them ourselves.

MP3 of “Wake Up” via Insound.

Old Enough To Know Better: 15 Years of Merge

Various – Old Enough To Know Better: 15 Years of Merge (Merge)

As if North Carolina based Merge Records hasn’t done enough for its fans over the last 15 years. It has released albums from Superchunk, Spoon, Destroyer and Neutral Milk Hotel. Now it drops a 3-disc compilation on us, Old Enough To Know Better! The first two come loaded with Merge classics. The third is filled with unreleased rarities. Listening to this compilation is like having a best friend hand you a mix tape. They know exactly what gets your foot tapping.

Gorgeous pop songs like East River Pipe’s “Shiny Shiny Pimpmobile” and Portastatic’s “Noisy Night” (mp3) are mixed throughout the first disc. Then, there are complete rockers from Buzzcocks, Breadwinner, and emo band of the moment …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. Disc 2 shows how diverse the label artists have been. Imperial Teen’s terrific “Ivanka” (mp3) and M. Ward’s “Outta My Head” are standout moments of the entire compilation. There is even the wonderful country tune “Isolda” from Paul Burch. The rarities disc features a cover of “Decora” by Spoon. It also shows how underappreciated bands like Ladybug Transistor and Rosebuds are. Of course people will insist that there were better Clientele songs or Destroyer songs than what Merge offered. But it’s hard to find a legitimate misstep.

You will probably find in your circle of friends someone that can relate a high school or college story to when one of these songs were playing in the background. And it’s funny how such a small label can provide such grand feelings of nostalgia. But then, that’s why we love music so much. Merge is donating all proceeds to the Future of Music Coalition, which leads us to ask what more can we request from this label? Maybe 15 more years isn’t too much.

Destroyer – Your Blues

Destroyer – Your Blues (Merge)

When not part-timing with indie super group The New Pornographers, Dan Bejar is busy fronting his band Destroyer. And for the fourth time this decade Destroyer has released an outstanding album with Your Blues. Sounding at times like David Bowie and or Roger Waters, Bejar stacks this album with lush pop sounds and gorgeous orchestrations that challenge and sooth the listener at the same time.

“Notorious Lightning” starts with an extended a cappella that evokes an image of a dramatic Bejar performing on Broadway under a single spotlight. Soon enough tremendous synth sounds spring up in the background and the song becomes a powerful epic. The song ends with Bejar screaming “AND SOMEONE’S GOT TO FALL BEFORE SOMEONE GOES FREE!” This could very well be the musical moment of 2004.

Bejar continues with a flare for the dramatic on “An Actor’s Revenge” where in the hands of anyone else a line like “The kids twist and shout until the womb fucking wrecks it” might fail horribly. On Your Blues though, it fits perfectly with the fine guitar playing, hand claps, and booming drums, and everything falls into place. The album hits a lull for a few songs towards the end, while “The Fox And The Hound” could have been left off altogether.

“What Road” is another beautiful few minutes of pop music. More gentle guitar strumming and orchestrations so delicate you can barely hear them at times, Bejar even manages to drop a Smiths reference before the sound builds into a gigantic close with the lyric “Yes, that’s right, I wanted you too.” There are moments when you’ll be mesmerized at the layers each individual song contains, and you’ll hear something new on each listen. Bejar’s lyrics are clever but can be heartbreaking. While three songs short of a perfect album, Your Blues is a necessary statement from one of today’s most promising voices.