Posts Tagged ‘Merge Records’

John Darnielle has written almost 600 songs now, and some of them are very sad, dealing with hard drugs and tragic ends, hurting yourself and others, sicknesses of both body and brain, off-brand alcohols. They are told in beautiful, unnerving, specific detail because he is a very good writer, and also some of them are just true stories about his own life.

The Mountain Goats released this live collection, The Jordan Lake Sessions: Volumes 1 And 2, on Bandcamp today via Merge Records. The recordings come from a pair of virtual concerts the band conducted at Manifold Recording in Pittsboro, North Carolina in August of last year.

The Jordan Lake Sessions: Volumes 1 And 2 follow The Mountain Goats’ 2020 studio release, “Getting Into Knives”, which arrived in October. The new live collection — featuring John Darnielle (vocals, guitar, piano), Peter Hughes (bass), Matt Douglas (keyboards, guitar, saxophone, piano) and Jon Wurster (drums) — contains 36 carrer-spanning songs the band recorded over the course of two virtual concerts on NoonChorus, which became one of the livestream platform’s highest-attended online concerts to date.

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Mountain Goats mastermind John Darnielle detailed

Like a lot of bands, we thought, we have to figure out some way to play together, it is unnatural for us to not be playing together, it feels weird and wrong, and it also feels weird and wrong to not be playing for the people who dig what we do, that is a huge part of who we are, it’s a circuit, you know, an energy transfer, it’s the coolest thing and we’re lucky to have it and then the pandemic came in to remind us just how lucky. And also there’s the I-try-not-to-be-talking-about-this-stuff issue of how playing live is our paycheck, it is how we make ends meet, it’s the gig. So we booked a studio that had cameras, and I put together a couple of set lists, and we played two shows in two days and then we put the shows up on sale; and the Mountain Goats Massive showed up, in truly humbling numbers, and the whole groove felt really emotional for us—and, it seemed to me, for the audience, too. There is an immense loss for me in this time away from the stages and rooms which are, in many ways for us, home. I miss the people who bring our music to life, so much.

And so a lot of people, like a lot, in the chat during the show, and in various @’s across social media, said, Hey buddy, what if there were a live release of some kind, I’d buy that, and I thought, well, cool, I’ll look into it; and we did indeed do that, and here it is, but I wanted to make it “pay what you like” on release day: because you people who already paid to see these shows, you are the people who literally put food in our children’s mouths this year. If you feel like you’re done paying for these shows, then we are cool with that, zero pressure. But!! if you’re in good shape, and your own job has figured out a way to let you report to the workplace in 2020, and you’re in a position to pay for these shows, then we are deeply grateful, it has been pretty harrowing to be banned from all clubs for a whole year. The news on the wire however is that a vaccine is coming which will unban us from clubs around the world, and, friends, when that viral ban is lifted, please know that there will be few places to hide from the Mountain Goats. We will rock them in the steel towns, and in the coastal towns, too; and on the cities of the plains, and in the oases of the desert, lo, we shall rock them, and then rock them even harder, at serious Deep Purple levels of rocking, the head-nodding, hair-flying style, at which many will say, I have been rocked, and indeed I wondered if my time of rocking were past, but it has returned this day with gale force. May that day speed hither with all due haste! Finally, if you are a reclusive Howard Hughes type reading these words, and thinking, What if “pay what you like” means I just throw an absurd amount of money at the Mountain Goats, well, friend, we’re glad to meet you. Please be assured that your gesture will be met by JD with similarly absurd gestures, as for example fulfilling his dream of commissioning a translation of the book Elfriede Jelinek got the Nobel for, but which still hasn’t been published in English twenty years later, for crying out loud.

Anyway that’s the news! Here’s two shows! We’re proud of them! If you wanna pay us for ’em, we won’t complain! We will see you next year!

Released December 4th, 2020

John Darnielle – vocals, guitar, piano
Peter Hughes – bass
Matt Douglas – keyboards, guitar, saxophone, piano
Jon Wurster – drums

Recorded live in studio at Manifold Recording in Pittsboro, NC, on August 8th & 9th, 2020

See the source image

In 1978, The Clean were the seeds of New Zealand punk scene. In the years since, they have carved out a big sandbox for everyone to play in, and their influence resonates not only in NZ but around the world. A group that thrives when free of expectations, The Clean’s Robert Scott, Hamish Kilgour, and David Kilgour are, as Tape Op described, “a casually wonderful band.”

If the Clean were motivated by anything other than a seemingly pure love of music, “Mister Pop” would have been a very different album. Since the last time the band made a record, scores of new bands have discovered the awesome early work the Clean recorded back in the ’80s and have incorporated the raw, scratchy, and energetic feel of those records into their sound. The group could have easily tried to capitalize on its newfound icon status and made an album that harked back to its early years. No one would have blamed them for cashing in; nobody would have begrudged them a few minutes of near fame. Instead, the band — still the brothers Kilgour (David and Hamish) and Robert Scott have made a laid-back, hazy, and thickly psychedelic album that sounds more like something the band might have made in the ’90s.

This is a double reissue on the Merge Records label from The Clean’s ‘Unknown Country’ and ‘Mister Pop’ on vinyl. Originally released in 1996 and 2009, respectively.

The Clean have always exuded a casual grace that suggests they’d still be making the same records even if no one was listening, employing the same set of devices ramshackle locomotive rhythms, buoyant basslines, swirling organ lines, and wide-smile melodies irrespective of prevailing fashions, technological developments, or geopolitical unrest. And yet, the Clean’s periodic resurgences serve as a reminder that, in a world of uncertainty, there are still some things you can rely on.”

Originally released in 1996, The Clean’s “Unknown Country” makes its debut appearance on vinyl . Recorded and mixed in two sessions during 1996, The Clean yet again prove to be masters of musical innovation, three guys who can only amaze when they come together and throw all their ideas down on tape. And as a mood of supreme grooviness is all-pervading on Unknown Country, this is The Clean at their most timeless.

The odd pop songs focus on the tension and the release that characteristic of psychedlic rock although Champagne and Misery stays close The Clean’s canon, Wipe Me I’m Lucky experiments shyly, and Walk Walk is warped like a cartoon soundtrack.

David Kilgour on “Mister Pop”: “Mister Pop began in Brooklyn, NY, at Gary Olson’s Marlborough Farms studio and was completed in the basement hall of First Church Dunedin. There is more synthesizer on this album than the others, mainly an old Juno synth. I do remember having a bath in Brooklyn while Robert was downstairs singing and writing. I thought he was singing “he’s a factory man,” so I dried off and went down and wrote “Factory Man” while thinking heavily of The Kinks. Rainy and Geva from Haunted Love did some great work on backing vocals for “Loog” and “Dreamlife.” And old friend and long time Clean collaborator Alan Starrett makes an appearance on “Moonjumper.”

Of this album, The Clean’s David Kilgour writes, “The Clean always wanna try something different, but on this LP, we were obsessed with the idea.” Bandmate Robert Scott agrees, saying, “I really enjoyed recording this as it was free of expectation. Certainly our most experimental album.”

‘Unknown Country’, the third LP by New Zealand indie band The Clean, was originally released in 1996. Whilst they are generally known for their jangle-pop nuggets, this sprawling masterpiece is the result of studio experimentation and spontaneous recording sessions. Gorgeous instrumental tracks such as ‘Wipe Me, I’m Lucky’ and ‘Franz Kafka at the Zoo’ are interspersed with wonky pop gems such as the Pavement-esque ‘Twist Top’. For fans of The Bats and The Chills.

On March 26th Merge Records will reissue The Clean’s Unknown Country and Mister Pop on vinyl Originally released in 1996 and 2009, respectively, this marks the first time each of these albums will be available on vinyl in the U.S. (they’ll also be available worldwide).

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Robert Scott on “Mister Pop”: “I remember thinking at the start of the NY sessions with Gary Olson, “Is this the start of a new album?” We were coming up with quite a bit of new stuff, and of course, Gary is great to work with. We carried on at Burlington St in Dunedin with (engineer and Heavy 8) Tex Houston at the controls, good fun from what I remember, lots of mucking around with keyboards and synths. We were going for that Krautrock groove and we sure got it on “Tensile,” one of my faves along with the pure pop of “Dreamlife.” “Loog” was a fun song to put together. “Asleep in the Tunnel” is written about being stuck in traffic in a tunnel under the Hudson River in NY.”

 

In 1978, The Clean were the seeds of New Zealand punk. They carved out a big sandbox for everyone to play in, and their influence resonated not only in NZ but around the world. This fall’s Mister Pop sees The Clean continue the great pop pastiche. Circus ragas (“Moonjumper”), hazy sunset anthems (“In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul”), and the loose Dada approach to word-smithery continue alongside “proper” lyrical forays and a few Autobahn-referential instro moments to boot (“Tensile”).

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The Kiwi Pop giants and lo-fi all-stars return with, incredibly, only the fifth LP in their storied career from 2009. In 1978, The Clean were the seeds of New Zealand punk. They carved out a big sandbox for everyone to play in, and their influence resonated not only in NZ but around the world.

Mister Pop sees The Clean continue the great pop pastiche. both albums are out in March, through Merge Records

The Pet Parade marks a milestone for Eric D. Johnson, who celebrates 20 years of Fruit Bats in 2021. In some ways still a cult band, in other ways a time-tested act, Fruit Bats has consistently earned enough small victories to carve out a career in a notoriously fickle scene.

While many of the songs on The Pet Parade were actually written before the pandemic, it’s impossible to disassociate the record from the times. As an example, producer Josh Kaufman (The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, The National, and Bonny Light Horseman, in which he plays with Johnson and Anaïs Mitchell) was brought in for his deep emotional touch and bandleading abilities. However, Johnson, Kaufman, and the other musicians on The Pet Parade—drummers Joe Russo and Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Muzz), singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels, pianist Thomas Bartlett (Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens), and fiddler Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine)—were forced to self-record their parts in bedrooms and home studios across America.

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Fruit Bats is back with their second studio album on Merge Records, The Pet Parade, out March 5th.

Produced by Josh Kaufman

A rich modern acoustic album from the main driver behind alternative rock legends SebadohLou Barlow is a terrific singer-songwriter who has been crafting innovative tunes under various guises since the mid-1980s. He has released music with Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Sentridoh, The Folk Implosion as well as under his own name. He is in many ways the poster child for all things “Indie Rock,” even before Guided By Voices became a thing. 

Before I discuss the first time domestic vinyl reissue of Lou’s 2005 album called “EMOH”, lets talk about the notion of the independently made record and whether it could possibly sound genuinely really good, possibly even “demo-worthy.”

One of the hallmarks of modern home digital recording is that it breaks down the economic barriers of the recording studio so most anyone can make music on the go where they live and play. Before the digital revolution, the Tascam Portastudio cassette multi-track recorders in particular opened the flood gates in the early 1980s for affordable independent music making. Remember, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska was recorded on one of those things! But that was something of an anomaly. Fast forward, last year newcomer Billie Eilish swept the Grammy Awards with her debut album that was essentially recorded in her bedroom! Home recording has clearly come a long way…

For many years, however, there were loads of great but pretty rough sounding “indie” and “LoFi” (aka intentionally low fidelity) albums being released, as young artists learned how to become recording engineers as well as performers. Much good came of this period as artists made albums in unusual environments where natural acoustic reverb laden environments might exists such as kitchens and living rooms and bathrooms. Heck, one of my favourite Guided By Voices tracks (“I’ll Replace You With Machines“) sounds like it was recorded to match the rhythms of a washing machine. 

In a way, this is getting back to the roots of studio recording as pioneered by no less than a Les Paul who made his own home studios in the 1940s and ’50s. Having a studio at home allowed him to innovate new sounds simply by running microphone cables around the house where he needed them. For example on the 1953 song “Walking and Whistling Blues” you can hear the sound of someone walking around the kitchen in rhythm in time for the music (I think it was his wife and performing partner Mary Ford). 

So, back to EMOH, this album is technically Lou Barlow’s first full solo album, released under his own name just before he re-joined Dinosaur Jr.  (so he never really got to promote this album properly). It was recorded across a bunch of different scenarios, from a 16-track recording studio in Nashville to four-track Mini-Disc (!) and elements recorded in his home. In some instances the recordings were started in one location and added to in another so all that contributes to the distinct sound on this record. 

When EMOH  was released in 2005 it was a CD-only release here in the United States. There was a small run of vinyl in the European market but those were next to impossible to find here.

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In celebration of the 15th anniversary of EMOH — which coincided with the birth of his first child Merge Records has put out a lovely two LP gatefold version of the album for the first time here in the US. It spreads the full album across four sides so there’s plenty of room for the tracks to breathe and it sounds quite wonderful on thick, well pressed, quiet vinyl. 

Largely revolving around Lou’s acoustic guitar sometimes it sounds like a nylon string guitar or even a Ukulele at times  this record has a hushed beauty to it even when it has moments of rocking out. Some of the guitars sound like they are recorded very closely so there is at times a wonderful sense and feel of the wood of the instrument and the strings coming through the speakers. One of the first things you’ll hear on EMOH‘s opening track, “Hold Back The Years” is the sound of the room in which Lou is recording. As you can see from pictures included in the album I suspect that we are hearing the natural sound of the room he was in – a bathroom — a great place for natural reverb which makes for a very interesting production texture. 

 

Lou Barlow’s voice and song writing grabbed me from the get-go when I first saw him on a late night program on MTV — an acoustic set with Husker Du’s Bob Mould. His music won me over that night. I soon thereafter picked up an early album by his group Sebadoh and was absolutely blown away by the song “Soul and Fire” a production which in some ways is a loose template for this album – a raw, emotional tale of a failing love. 

Lou has explained in materials promoting EMOH that it is basically documenting the break up of his first marriage. Accordingly, there is a lot of baring of the soul going on — love and heartbreak, soul and fire. Some of my favourite songs here include the stunning “Mary” which tells the story of Jesus from the perspective of an imagined secret lover.  “Confused” is another great tune which (to my ear) channels at points no less than classic 1972-73 Grateful Dead sounds, mining similar spaces to their classics “Wharf Rat” and “Dark Star”

 

“Round & Round” has such a strong chorus hook, in a different production it might have been a pop hit but here its a sparse, airy acoustic guitar and piano arrangement that is powerful.

EMOH  is a wonderful record and you should check it out.  It’s a rich, round and rewarding as the new vinyl edition. 

Now I hope that Lou can get his fantastic Folk Implosion album “One Part Lullaby” issued on vinyl., 

News breaks today of a new album from Eric D. Johnson’s Fruit Bats. “The Pet Parade”, an album that emerges in troubled times, living within what Johnson refers to as the beauty and absurdity of existence, is due for release by Merge Records on 5th March.

Ahead of the album’s release, comes ‘Holy Rose’ a song that introduces itself as a ballad but soon blossoms with fuzzed-out guitars and organ. Johnson on this new song: “Holy Rose” is possibly the most “direct” song on The Pet Parade. I wrote this about the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County and was finishing it up right when fire season was raging in California. My wife grew up in Sonoma County and just had to sit there and watch her childhood burn down. This is a love song to the native West Coasters.”

While many of the songs on The Pet Parade were actually written before the pandemic, it’s impossible to disassociate the record from the times. As an example, producer Josh Kaufman (The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, The National, and Bonny Light Horseman, in which he plays with Johnson and Anaïs Mitchell) was brought in for his deep emotional touch and band-leading abilities. However, Johnson, Kaufman, and the other musicians on The Pet Parade—drummers Joe Russo and Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Muzz), singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels, pianist Thomas Bartlett (Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens), and fiddler Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine)—were forced to self-record their parts in bedrooms and home studios across America.

At times upbeat and reassuring and at times quietly contemplative, The Pet Parade marks a milestone for Johnson, who celebrates 20 years of Fruit Bats in 2021. In some ways still a cult band, in other ways a time-tested act, Fruit Bats has consistently earned enough small victories to carve out a career in a notoriously fickle scene.

And Johnson himself—who has played in The Shins, composed film scores, gone solo and returned back to the moniker that started it all, and recently earned two Grammy nominations with Bonny Light Horseman—doesn’t take this long route of life’s pet parade for granted. “I’m still really excited to make records,” he says. “Lucky and happy and maybe happier that things went slower for me. I’m savouring it a lot more.”

From the album The Pet Parade, out March 5, 2021 on Merge Records.

Merge Records is an independent record label based in Durham, North Carolina. It was founded in 1989 by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan. It began as a way to release music from their band Superchunk and music created by friends, and has expanded to include artists from around the world and records reaching the top of the Billboard music charts.

We live in North Carolina, where a racist Republican legislature has worked for a generation to undermine democracy through unprecedented voter suppression. Our neighbours in Georgia have successfully fought back, through the efforts of Fair Fight and other organizations. The voters who turned Georgia blue in November can now elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, take back power in the Senate, and make true progress possible in this country.

The Merge Records artists on this comp came together quickly, recording in various quarantine situations, to pay tribute to their favourite artists from Georgia, or maybe just record their favourite songs with “Georgia” in the title, and to support those working hard in Georgia to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

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Released December 4th, 2020

Merge Records is an independent record label based in Durham, North Carolina. It was founded in 1989 by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan. It began as a way to release music from their band Superchunk and music created by friends, and has expanded to include artists from around the world and records reaching the top of the Billboard music charts.

We live in North Carolina, where a racist Republican legislature has worked for a generation to undermine democracy through unprecedented voter suppression. Our neighbours in Georgia have successfully fought back, through the efforts of Fair Fight and other organizations. The voters who turned Georgia blue in November can now elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, take back power in the Senate, and make true progress possible in this country.

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The Merge artists on this comp came together quickly, recording in various quarantine situations, to pay tribute to their favourite artists from Georgia, or maybe just record their favourite songs with “Georgia” in the title, and to support those working hard in Georgia to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

bob mould

After a fleeting dalliance with optimism on last year’s Sunshine Rock, Bob Mould returns to rage on “Blue Hearts” — a punkish album that’s sometimes even more aggressive than the hardcore screeds he recorded 40 years ago with Hüsker Dü. He literally screams at Trump and evangelicals on “American Crisis,” which seems to juxtapose the way the Reagan administration ignored the AIDS epidemic with Trump’s lies about the Covid-19 pandemic. “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again,” he sings. The more tempered yet still caustic “Forecast of Rain” is Mould’s indictment of religious hypocrisy. “These fuckers tried to kill me once,” Mould said of his motivation on Blue Hearts. “I’m not going to sit quietly this time and worry about alienating anyone.”

Look, I get it. It’s not fun to think about how fucked up America is when you just want to listen to some songs in the car. Still, given how terrible pretty much everything has been for the last few years, it’s weird that there hasn’t been a larger resurgence in politically minded music. It’s fallen to older artists to address Trumpism and the toll it’s taken on the country. Bob Mould’s Blue Hearts is a furious broadside about the lies, hypocrisies and inhumane policies of the modern conservative movement, with “American Crisis” in particular reviving the pissed-off political consciousness of the early ‘80s hardcore scene Mould got his start in. Blue Hearts unites that “In a Free Land”-era anger with the pop song writing of peak Husker Du and the crunch of Mould’s recent solo albums, resulting in one of the most powerful records of the year.

Release date: September 25th From the album Blue Hearts, out on Merge Records.

 

Lambchop

Kurt Wagner, and his rotating cast of musicians who’ve make up Lambchop at one point or another have been making music since the mid-1980’s and have tried their hand at pretty much every style going. Back in the autumn of 2019, Kurt had an idea, instead of heading out on a financially unviable tour, he would instead invite his current band into the studio to make a covers record. Each member would bring a track of their choosing and in a single day, take control over recording their chosen song. The result is the upcoming album, “Trip”, out in November, and previewed this week in the shape of the band’s take on the Wilco-classic, “Reservations”. Lambchop announced a new covers record. Titled Trip, the album includes six cover songs, each selected by a different member of the band.

In addition to songs popularized by the Supremes, George Jones, and Stevie Wonder, Trip includes “Weather Blues,” a previously unreleased song written by Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew.

Reservations” was picked by Matthew McCaughan, after much stressing about his choice, “I decided I would pick a song that, while I love it, and know it, it wasn’t one that had been on repeat for months at some point in my life, nor was it one that is permanently tied to some memory of my own“. Part of the thinking behind the choice was not so much about the original, but instead what Lambchop could make of it, here Kurt’s vocal is pushed up in the mix, with the fizz and the hum of the original chorus replaced by cooed vocal harmonies and dancing woodwind melodies. What Lambchop’s version hangs onto is the beautiful simplicity of Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics, the line, “I’ve got reservations about so many things, but not about you”, still every bit as wonderful as the first time you heard it. As Kurt says of the project, and his career as a whole, “it’s been a trip”, if they also sound this enticing it’s a journey we’re going to want to make many more times.

Taken from Trip, out November 13th, 2020 on Merge and City Slang.

That kinetic rush of the record’s creation can be felt in first single ‘As Many Candles as Possible,’ which features Al Green’s organist Charles Hodges. On the first of March, 2020, John Darnielle, Peter Hughes, Matt Douglas, and Jon Wurster, aka the Mountain Goats band, visited legendary studio Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, TN. Darnielle armed his band with new songs and reunited with producer Matt Ross-Spang who engineered last year’s In League with Dragons. In the same room where the Cramps tracked their 1980 debut album, the Mountain Goats spent a week capturing the magic of a band at the top of its game. The result is Getting Into Knives, the perfect album for the millions of us who have spent many idle hours contemplating whether we ought to be honest with ourselves and just get massively into knives.

Getting Into Knives includes guest performance on Hammond B-3 organ by Charles Hodges (of numerous Al Green records) and guest performance on guitar by Chris Boerner (of the Hiss Golden Messenger band). “The track opens with a bristling twist of guitars and rumbling drums before settling into a steady groove. A distorted crunch underpins the primarily acoustic proceedings, helping the song build to a pitch-perfect freakout, featuring Al Green’s organist Charles Hodges.” – Rolling Stone

“The album news arrives with the release of dark, squally lead single “As Many Candles As Possible,” which features Al Green organist Charles Hodges and builds to a churning catharsis.” – Indy Week
“Recorded across a single week in Memphis, the album trades between piano-driven intimacy and stormy bombast, the latter of which is on display in its lead single, ‘As Many Candles As Possible.’ Featuring Al Green’s organist Charles Hodges, the dark and swampy track reflects the Deep South milieu in which it was recorded.” – A.V. Club

“As Many Candles As Possible” by the Mountain Goats from their album ‘Getting Into Knives’ coming October 23, 2020 on Merge Records.