by alyssa coluccio
In the history of music, the record label and the music fan have not always walked hand in hand. In fact, the music fan has often condemned the label as being “the stifler of musical freedom” and “the corrupter of musical purity.” Some major labels aside, there actually does exist a world of labels that work for and with the band, that consider their roster a family, and that have not forgotten that the purpose of music is pure and innovative. These are the labels you should know, and these are the labels QC has chosen to feature in a little something I’d like to call: know your labels. To prove that our aim is true, we’re going to start off with a label that was actually created by fans. It’s called Merge Records. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
► ABOUT THE LABEL
Merge began as all good things should: with a road trip and two music lovers. It was the summer of 1989 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Laura Balance and Mac McCaughan had just formed the indie-rock ensemble Superchunk. Looking for a way to distribute their own music, as well as the music of several friends, the two plunged into the label with nothing more than a love of records, a passion for music, and the inspiration to promote bands in a similar vein to the labels they had grown up admiring. (Sub Pop to name-drop one.) What began as a tiny basement-run enterprise distributing the cassette tapes of local bands, eventually grew to encompass an acclaimed roster of indie-rock favorites (Spoon, The Magnetic Fields, M. Ward, She & Him…), and make a name for itself as one of the most sincere labels in the industry. Merge has seen the evolution of cassettes to CDs, braved its way through the digital age of MP3′s and Myspace, and, through it all, has still managed to maintain the same aesthetics it began with that summer day in ’89- music is genuine, music is personal, and nobody knows this better than the fans.
► KNOWN BANDS
Who: Conor Oberst
Signed Since: 2008
Story: Who doesn’t know Conor Oberst by now? We’ve watched him grow from an awkward 13-year-old, recording basement tapes of lost love and drug fixations, to Saddle Creek’s poster boy under the alias of Bright Eyes. Now, with his switch to Merge, Oberst has acquired a country-folk sound and a group of guys to tour with (The Mystic Valley Band.) With two CDs, countless sold out tours, and plenty of Dylan references (however annoying this has become), Oberst has grown into his Merge persona quite nicely.
Who: Arcade Fire
Signed Since: 2004
Story: If the release of 2005′s Funeral made Arcade Fire brilliant in the critic’s eye, the release of 2007′s Neon Bible made them indie-rock gods. Their unique sound and bold decisions to incorporate orchestras, horns, and military choirs into already gold pop-rock led them to a spot on Billboard’s Top 10 Charts, making Arcade Fire the first Merge artist to appear on the charts and cementing them as one of Merge’s biggest bragging rights. (If all this isn’t enough, they also have one of the coolest band website’s I’ve ever seen.)
► LESSER KNOWN BANDS
Who: Shout Out Louds
Signed Since: 2007
Story: You’ve probably heard of the Shout Out Louds and not even realized it. They’ve toured with The Strokes, The Magic Numbers, and Kings Of Leon, worked with Lykke Li and Peter and John of Peter, Bjorn, and John, and had their song “Very Loud” featured in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Jangling percussions, a youthful spirit, and the ever-favorite subject of “love” heavily influence their most recent album, 2007′s Our Ill Wills.
Signed Since: 2009
Story: The newest addition to the Merge family has a rough-around the edges quality reminiscent of homemade recordings and lyrics scribbled in notebooks on busy subways and in quiet bedrooms. Comprised solely of Michael Lerner, the self-titled debut
album jumps back and forth between quirky, static-tinged pop, melancholy acoustic strumming, and upbeat indie-rock. The fact that it was produced, engineered, and mixed by Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie, Tegan and Sara, etc.) doesn’t hurt its acclaim either.
► WHAT NOW?
This year marks Merge’s 20-year anniversary, and they’re celebrating with XX Merge, a five-day music festival in Chapel Hill, NC, featuring live performances by past and present Merge artists. While four and five day passes have already been sold out, you can still grab tickets for the July 26th Memorial Hall show featuring She & Him, American Music Club, and Wye Oak. Too broke for tickets? On July 25th, Orange County Social Club in Carrboro, NC is hosting a free outdoor show featuring Porastatic, The Music Tapes, Tenement Halls, Matt Suggs, and Radar Bros. If a plane ticket to North Carolina doesn’t mesh with your summer plans, you can catch a Merge artist on tour, or maybe just eat some cake and crank up some Superchunk- anything to honor 20 years of musical accomplishments by a label that has proven itself well-worthy of celebration.