Tag Archives: Merge

New Mary Timony: Dominoes

Video: Mary Timony – “Dominoes”

Directed by Dr. Cat. From Untame the Tiger, out February 23 on Merge.

It’s a little embarrassing to use the phrase “guitar hero” but if there is such a thing Mary Timony is it. With Helium, Autoclave, Wild Flag, Ex Hex, and as a solo artist, she has created a distinctive and inventive guitar sound. And like, literally, she was Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan’s guitar instructor, so yeah: guitar hero.

Untame the Tiger will be her fifth solo album and her first since 2007’s The Shapes We Make on Kill Rock Stars.

“This song was almost not on the record,” says Timony. “We needed one last song, and I found a demo of it I had forgotten about at the last minute.”

Good thing. It rules.

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New TORRES: Collect

Video: TORRES – “Collect”

Directed by Dani Okon. From What an enormous room, out January 26 on Merge.

Mackenzie Scott says, “This song is about justice being served. The rage song I’ve been trying to write for years!”

This will be her third album on Merge. Recorded in September and October 2022 at Stadium Heights Sound in Durham, North Carolina, What an enormous room produced by Mackenzie Scott and Sarah Jaffe, who played bass guitar, synths, drums, organ, and piano. Scott sang vocals, played guitar, bass, synths, organ, piano, and programmed drums. Additional synth bass, tambourine, and shakers were played by TJ Allen. “Collect” sounds huge.

New Mountain Goats: Murder at the 18th Street Garage

Video: the Mountain Goats – “Murder at the 18th Street Garage”

From Jenny from Thebes, out October 27 on Merge.

Oh yeah this is my jam. I love the frenetic Mountain Goats stuff.

JD says, “Rather than being coy about it let me tell you that somebody gets killed in this song, which is, at best, a short-term solution to Jenny’s problems, not that I’m saying she herself did anything. It’s her word against his now and he can’t talk anymore and she’s long gone by the time the EMTs get to 18th Street. Under oath, I will testify that she was with me because I am with her. I knew when I wrote this tune that Wurster-Hughes Inc. would eat it up like a big tasty snack, and guess what, they did. Lace up your dancing workboots but wear some inserts because this one’s a sprint.”

Darnielle plays the ghost in the video. You can tell he’s a ghost because he’s slightly translucent and he’s casting paranormal auras.

I’m a fan of concept albums and, from the three pre-release singles we’ve heard so far, Jenny from Thebes is going to be a good one. So far we know Jenny rents a house, gets a tattoo, and kills somebody in a garage. What’s going to happen next with our intrepid hero? Stay tuned to find out!

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New Mountain Goats: Clean Slate

Video: the Mountain Goats – “Clean Slate”

From Jenny from Thebes, out October 27 on Merge.

John Darnielle famously once said, “Nostalgia is self-hate and I’m against it,” but it seems he’s been loosening up on that stance for a while now. We had the reissue of 2002’s All Hail West Texas (with bonus tracks!) back in 2013, and in then 2020 he dusted off the Panasonic to record the first “boombox-recordings” album since those recordings. And now we’ve got what Merge is calling “a sequel” to All Hail West Texas.

Will this be the Mountain Goats’ Harvest Moon? Not exactly…

Darnielle says, “We’re proud to reveal ‘Clean Slate,’ the first song from our new album, Jenny from Thebes. People like to hedge bets by using terms like ‘concept album’ but let’s be clear, this is a rock opera about a woman named Jenny, who buys a Kawasaki to ride as far away as she can from a town she’s been carrying on her shoulders too long. ‘Clean Slate’ sets the scene: this is the house Jenny rents; these are the people who crash there when they need a place to stay; this is where she’s at in the process of becoming someone other than the keyholder she’s been. Produced by Trina Shoemaker! Played by the Mountain Goats at the Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma! Respect to the real pirates of west Texas, still out there on the roads: may you remain one step ahead forever!”

It sounds great. Can’t wait to hear more.

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New Teenage Fanclub: Tired Of Being Alone

Video: Teenage Fanclub – “Tired Of Being Alone”

From Nothing Lasts Forever, out September 22 on Merge.

Sometimes Teenage Fanclub’s vocal harmonies remind me of the Moody Blues. And I don’t know how I feel about that. I owned a Moody Blues hits comp via the Columbia House CD club in college, but I must’ve traded it in to a used record store some time shortly thereafter. “Nights in White Satin” clearly huffs dongs but some of their other songs are alright. Weirdly, their best song is from 1986: “Your Wildest Dreams.” That video with its goofy flashbacks was on MTV at the same time as the Grateful Dead’ “Touch of Grey” and those two songs got jumbled into each other in my teenage brain.

But what does that have to do with Teenage Fanclub? Not much. Except they are 30+ years into their career now and they’re way older than Justin Hayward and Jerry Garcia were at that time. Time is a motherfucker.

Raymond McGinley says, “Towards the end of our session in Rockfield Studios making the album I woke up in the middle of the night. There was a guitar next to the bed. I picked it up and this song came out. The words for the chorus were there already. I recorded a rough version on my phone and then went back to sleep. We recorded the song later that day. As a band we like to trust our instincts and let things happen. As with Norman’s song ‘Foreign Land’ this song only exists because we decided to go to the studio and make a record. If we’d waited for the stars to align first before recording we’d still be waiting now.”

Norman Blake says, “These songs are definitely personal. You’re getting older, you’re going into the cupboard getting the black suit out more often. Thoughts of mortality and the idea of the light must have been playing on our minds a lot. The songs on the last record were influenced by the breakup of my marriage. It was cathartic to write those songs. These new songs are reflective of how I’m feeling now, coming out of that period. They’re fairly optimistic, there’s an acceptance of a situation and all of the experience that comes with that acceptance. When we write, it’s a reflection of our lives, which are pretty ordinary. We’re not extraordinary people, and normal people get older.”

Indeed we do.

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New New Pornographers video: Really Really Light

Video: New Pornographers – “Really Really Light”

Directed by Christian Cerezo. From Continue as a Guest, due March 31 on Merge.

New new. No no? Nanu nanu. Mork calling Orson. Come in, Orson.

“Really Really Light” was co-written by A.C. Newman and Dan Behar. Sort of. Newman took a Behar outtake from 2014’s Brill Bruisers and wrote a new song around it.

“Part of my process throughout the years has been messing with things I never finished. I really liked Dan’s chorus, and for a while I was just trying to write something that I felt like belonged with it,” Newman says. “I was thinking of the Aloe Blacc song ‘The Man’ which interpolated the chorus from Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ and thought it would be fun to interpolate a song that no one knows. Not trying to sound like Aloe Blacc, just doing some interpolating of my own. It became a game of writing a verse that felt like a part of the same song. In my mind, I was striving for a little Jeff Lynne–era Tom Petty, a classic go-to.”

Classic indeed. It’s crazy how consistent the New Pornos have remained over the 20-whatever years they’ve been around. The current incarnation includes Newman, plus Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, John Collins, Todd Fancey and Joe Seiders. Are they a supergroup? A side project? Who knows, but as long as they keep putting out classic songs like this, who cares?

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Merge to release The Collected Works of Neutral Milk Hotel

It’s hard to believe that there was a period of time not too long ago when there was a flurry of Neutral Milk Hotel activity after a decade of silence.

After wrapping up touring for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998, Jeff Mangum disappeared. Of course, he didn’t really disappear but he didn’t do what we expect our beloved rock stars to do: write an album, release an album, tour the album, write an album, release an album, tour the album, repeat ad infinitum or at least until people get tired you. That’s not what Mangum did.

But he didn’t disappear.

He played a full solo set in New Zealand in 2001. And after that, he would occasionally show up for a cameo when his friends’ bands would play in New York. It’s pretty presumptuous to assume that if a rock and roll guy isn’t out doing typical rock and roll stuff then he must be a recluse and maybe even unstable. We don’t have a lot of examples of folks who stepped away. Syd Barrett? Sure, probably cuckoo for cocoa puffs, but who really knows? But there’s also Bill Withers and Bobbie Gentry who seem to have led perfectly undramatic lives away from the spotlight.

I missed NMH the first time around. This will sound like bullshit but I was introduced to their music by a guy named Merlin. It’s true. Merlin. It was a family name. His dad was named Merlin too. He had just seen them play Lounge Ax and told me how great they were. He told me they had two albums but I should start with the newest one. By the time I got into Aeroplane, the band was over.

But then in 2008, the Elephant Six Holiday Surprise Tour was announced as a way to promote the release of Major Organ and the Adding Machine on DVD, but really its main purpose seemed to be an excuse for a bunch of friends to get together and travel around the country and make an enormous racket. I saw the Chicago show. At the end, Mangum and Julian Koster played “Engine” from the middle of the floor. It had taken ten years, but I finally got to see as much of Neutral Milk Hotel as I ever expected I would. Besides Mangum and Koster, Scott Spillane, Laura Carter, and Robert Schneider were also part of the ensemble. And Jeremy Barnes was in attendance. So everyone involved in the recording of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was together in the same room. I was disappointed they didn’t take advantage of that circumstance and run through “Ghost” or “Holland, 1945,” but it was still a thrill.

A few more years went by and seemingly out of nowhere in 2011 Mangum launched a website with an announcement of a massive vinyl NMH box set containing both albums, two 10″ EPs, three 7-inch singles, featuring fifteen previously unreleased tracks including a Holy Grail studio recording of “Little Birds,” the only song known to have been written by Mangum post-Aeroplane, played live only once at Mangum’s penultimate performance of 1998. I ordered it immediately. It’s a beautiful thing and the unreleased stuff was breathtaking.

And then, amazingly, Mangum announced a solo tour. I saw him at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago on February 6, 2012 and it was everything I had hoped for. His voice was strong. His beard was fantastic. The songs sounded as good as ever.

And then, even more amazingly, a full-band world tour was announced. I got to see them at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago in 2014 and again in Kalamazoo in 2015! The band lived up to everything I could’ve imagined. Chaotic, joyful, mournful, haunting, silly, and super fun. But then that was it. They said it would be the “last tour for the foreseeable future” and it was.

Neutral Milk Hotel news has been pretty quiet since then.

But now, Merge has announced it’s expanding that box set and re-releasing it on February 24 as The Collected Works of Neutral Milk Hotel, adding the Live at Jittery Joe’s LP and a previously unreleased 2014 live recording of “Little Birds” on the single. They also expanded On Avery Island to two LPs to include the full-length version of “Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye.” Plus, the “Holland, 1945” / “Engine” 7-inch has brand new art.

Continue reading Merge to release The Collected Works of Neutral Milk Hotel

New Titus Andronicus video: An Anomaly

Video: Titus Andronicus – “An Anomaly”

Directed by Patrick Stickles. From The Will to Live, out September 30 on Merge.

Patrick Stickles can seem like a pretty serious fellow. Intellectually ambitious to the point of being heavy. But then when you’re least expecting it, he goes to Paris and throws down the funk bone! His moves — especially during the guitar solo — will assure you that Stickles doesn’t take himself that seriously after all. His groove is like your uncle at the wedding reception who’s been enjoying the open bar and is really getting into that one Lady Gaga song.

The lyrics, on the other hand, aren’t as silly as the video.

It was God that made our bodies but the devil made our brains
And we revel in our autonomy as we drive ourselves insane
They say God can make no error so it must have been his plan
To create a world of terror by the instruments of man.

Whoa. Heavy, right?

Stickles talked to Rolling Stone about the song:

The titular anomaly is that the natural world is quite a violent place. If these dogs didn’t have guardians providing them food, what would they do? They would go kill a rabbit or something. They don’t mean any harm, it’s not evil. That’s just the way it is. In the same way that, dare I say, the Covid-19 virus is not an evil thing. That’s not to say I’m a fan of it, we shouldn’t try to protect it. But it’s a living organism, it has the will to live, and it’s going to do whatever it takes to prosper.

Much of the time the will to live is translated into the physical world in some form of violence or brutality. This is true of humans, but at a certain point, humans stopped being part of the natural world — they weren’t in the food chain anymore. So this violence ceases to have utility. But it seems to me that those impulses haven’t gone away, even though we don’t need them anymore. That’s translated into more advanced, effective, and atrocious forms of violence, up to and including the atom bomb. That’s fairly anomalous, isn’t it? There’s nothing natural about the atom bomb, or a self replicating nanobot that will eat the Earth. That’s evil in a way that a dog eating a rabbit is not. If the Devil is real, that’s it.

While you’re reading that, feel free to open another browser window so you can see him dancing in your peripheral vision. It balances out nicely.

Stickles is clearly a complex guy: thoughtful but still goofy. I like that in a person. And in an artist. It’s also amusing that he’s totally embracing the Big Dumb Rock sound of Def Leppard and Boston. Still sounds like Titus Andronicus, of course, but passing through a Rockman X100.

God damn!

Titus Andronicus: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Titus Andronicus video: We’re Coming Back

Video: Titus Andronicus – “We’re Coming Back”

Directed by Ray Concepcion. Single out now on Merge.

Speaking of training montages, watch Patrick Stickles get himself back into fighting shape by trading his Modelos for smoothies, tuning up the van, and working out.

“I do not claim to be any kind of athlete,” Stickles says, “and after three intense days of shooting this video, I have been, and continue to be, more sore than ever before. It’s rough getting old, but I have never shied from suffering for my art, nor do I intend to pursue a path of such cowardice in the future.”

So what does the future hold for Titus Andronicus? Nobody’s saying anything definitive right now but this cover of the 1983 punk anthem is a not-particularly-subtle clue that we can expect new music and shows. Hopefully soon.

“All I can tell you right now is that Cock Sparrer gave us the most open-hearted and uplifting song in all of British punk’s second wave, perhaps even of any wave, foreign or domestic. I have wept to this song many times over the years, and it is a joy to share our version with the world.”

It’s a joy to hear it.

Don’t get worried, don’t get scared
We’re fighting to get there
Never doubt we’re gonna get through
We’re gonna run, we’re gonna crawl, kick down every wall
It won’t be long we’re coming back to you.

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New Mountain Goats video: Training Montage

Video: the Mountain Goats – “Training Montage”

From Bleed Out, due August 19 on Merge.

Oh this is good. I understand why bands like to change things up over time and grow artistically or whatever, but I also appreciate it when they go back and throw their old fans a bone. In 2020, at the beginning of Covid, when we were all terrified and hopeless and locked down, John Darnielle recorded and released the first Mountain Goats album recorded entirely on his Panasonic boombox since 2002’s All Hail West Texas. It was like a comforting hug from a friend you hadn’t seen in years. The protagonists on Songs for Pierre Chuvin are all defiantly doomed pagans in the process of getting wiped out by the early Christian Roman Empire, and it was exactly what we needed in that moment.

Other than Chuvin the recent Mountain Goats albums have seen the band go in a more lush, almost jazzy direction with Darnielle spending more time on piano than beating the crap out of his acoustic guitar. Then last year, out of nowhere, for reasons that only make sense in these decidedly unroaring twenties, a song from 2002’s Tallahassee went viral on TikTok. “No Children” is a spiteful divorce anthem that drives a nail into the coffin of Darnielle’s characters known as the Alpha couple.

This new song sounds like it would fit better next to anything on Tallahassee than In League with Dragons or Dark in Here. I’m not suggesting that the Mountain Goats are trying to crassly capitalize on their unexpected moment in the sun, since the new album was secretly recorded back in January 2021, months before anybody was choreographing dance routines to a chorus of “I hope you die!” But it’s got more of that old-school (well, mid-school, I guess), 4AD-era Mountain Goats feel. That’s the era I love unreservedly.

Darnielle describes the vibe of the new album: “I got this idea to write a bunch of songs where they were all uptempo mini-action movies. Plots, characters, heists, hostages, questionable capers, getaway cars, all that stuff. Gas pedal glued to the floor. Eventually, as you might guess I wanted at least one song where the tempo relaxed a little and that’s the title track but otherwise buckle up.”

Add to that the fact that it was produced by Bully’s Alicia Bognanno who also plays on it, and you know it’s going to be great. Can’t wait to hear the rest!

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