words about sound: our noise

After my first book-about-music review went so well, I vowed to write more.  And….almost 2 months later, I’m finally getting around to it.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the prospect of writing about books is much more intimidating than writing about music.  When you’re trying to talk about almost 300 pages of words and pictures, it’s difficult to decide where to start.  Enough with the apologies, here’s today’s book: Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records.

The book, written by John Cook along with label founders Mac McCaughan & Laura Ballance, is an in-depth look at the independent label Merge Records from its founding in the late 1980s through (almost) the present.  The book’s chapters are divided equally between a chronological look of the label’s growth and in-depth looks at some of the label’s acts, including Neutral Milk Hotel, the Magnetic Fields, and Arcade Fire.

First thing: this book is gorgeous.  It’s practically a coffee-table book, filled will full-color pictures of Merge artists on stage, on tour, and just hanging out.  There’s also album covers, tour posters, and other memorabilia to fawn over.  Honestly, the pictures alone are reason to check out this book.

Another unique thing about this book was that it is written as an oral history.  Rather than being a traditional narrative interspersed with quotes, the entire book is quotes, organized in such a way that it tells a story.  This format threw me for a loop the first few chapters, but I grew to really appreciate it as the book wore on.  It allows you to really get a sense of how things developed from the perspective of folks in the middle of it all.

One caution: as much as this book is about Merge, it’s also very much a book about Superchunk.  For those that aren’t familiar, Merge was initially founded by McCaughan and Ballance as a way to distribute music from their band (Superchunk) and from their friend’s bands.  I don’t see this as a negative, since the story of Merge & Superchunk are so intertwined, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re not a big Superchunk fan.


Recommended for: music lovers interested in what it really takes to build an indie record label

Favorite Chapter: “The Book of Love: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields” – Stephin Merritt is such an unique dude, and it’s always entertaining to learn more about him.

Favorite Quote: “We had a band called Dust Buster, in which the main instrument was a dust buster.  It was, like, high concept.” – Jim Wilbur (Superchunk)

Favorite Picture: Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne singing into a microphone.  I need that as a poster.

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3 comments
  1. dlee said:

    I’m really privileged to live a short drive away from Merge headquarters. Some of my favorite Cat’s Cradle experiences have been during the Merge Records 10-, 15-, and 20-year anniversary festivals. As much as I love Superchunk and all of Merge Records, I haven’t read this book.
    Good stuff here.

    • Yeah, I definitely think you’d enjoy this read. Merge has been doing such great work for such a long time.

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