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2017-08-25
A Giant Dog: Toy

Toy, the fourth LP from A Giant Dog and their second for Merge, shows the Austin quintet at the height of their powers. A solid year of road-dogging and woodshedding has made the band tighter than ever, the charging dynamo of Andrew Cashen and Andy Bauer's guitars in lockstep with the primal chug of the rhythm section Graham Low on bass and the recorded debut of Daniel Blanchard on drums. Singer Sabrina Ellis turns in another masterful performance, in equal parts brash, defiant, vulnerable, and raw. The band recorded Toy with Grammy-winning engineer Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, Cat Power, The White Stripes, Reigning Sound), and singer/songwriter/guitarist/wildman Cashen produced it. "Andrew as producer makes a lot of sense," Sabrina says. "He composes the songs and knows better than anyone what they should sound like in the end. With him at the helm, we've arrived at a raw, truthful, risky, and rangey album." Toy is also sonically huge, pulling from a range of influences as diverse as Tinariwen and Thin Lizzy.

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2016-02-05
Benji Hughes: Songs in the Key of Animals

North Carolina's Benji Hughes fronted a rock band in the nineties. He's written commercial jingle. He's made music for film and television (Walk Hard, Eastbound & Down). He released 2008's A Love Extreme, his excellent double-LP debut record. But these ventures aren't different hats Hughes wears. They're not different paths traveled. This is Hughes playing in different keys.

Now, for his first full-length on Merge, Benji Hughes is playing Songs in the Key of Animals. Recorded over two years mostly at Frisbie studios in New York, the record is 41 minutes of pop-music exploration. The album has a summertime immediacy but an evergreen resonance (see "Longshot"). It's clever but too deep for punchlines (check the excellent back and forth of "Picnic"). It is sincere ("Girls Love Shoes") yet heartbreaking ("Song for Nancy"). It's eccentric but never forced in its strangeness. It's the kind of record that reminds us music can be fun without being empty. It's an album full of peacocks and sharks and zebras and tigers, but ultimately, it's about us. "People are animals," Hughes says, "even if some people don't want to admit it." Songs in the Key of Animals taps into something beyond just intellect or trend or taste. It's all about the feel, the connection between the player, the music, and the listener.

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2017-03-31
Coco Hames: Coco Hames

There's an old saying about how "you have your whole life to write your first record." For Coco Hames, the songs on her stunning self-titled debut poured from her pen over a sustained burst of inspiration... but they took more than a decade to live out. A deeply personal record filled with poignant ruminations on love lost and found, dreams dashed then rediscovered, these ten songs manage to pinpoint exquisite light amid life’s darkness. As the frontwoman and indomitable force behind beloved garage-pop combo The Ettes, Hames blazed a memorable trail across the '00s underground. Last summer, she began work on her solo album at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville. "It was this massive leap of faith for me," she admits. "After being in a band for so long, this time I was on my own - no gang to hide behind or fall back on." Playing guitar, piano, and electric harpsichord, Hames was aided in her effort by bassist Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs), drummer Julian Dorio (The Whigs), and lead guitarist Adam Meisterhans (The Weight). Other contributors include veteran keyboard/organ wizard Dave Amels of Reigning Sound and vocalists Carey Kotsionis (Bobby Bare, Jr.) and Lillie Mae Rische (Jack White).

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2018-06-29
Crooked Fingers: Red Devil Dawn (Reissue)

Red Devil Dawn was the third Crooked Fingers album inside of four years, and in hindsight-at 15 years old, it's a god damn teenager now-it feels like both the pinnacle and the end of Crooked Fingers Phase One. Bachmann had perfected the art of darkness, of finding his characters and stories in solitude and then adding or subtracting sounds and players to make them come alive. But the album-being issued on vinyl for the first time ever, and with some killer bonus demos digitally-also nudges open the door to where Bachmann would take Crooked Fingers next. "Sweet Marie" adds jaunty horns to a withering-but-somehow-sweet story about infidelity, and also manages to include the line "I swear I’m gonna set that pussy bastard straight." And elsewhere, there's more hope in the darkness than ever, though it can be hard to recognize at first. But at the end of "Disappear," he sums up both Crooked Fingers' past and its future: "There’s beauty in an ugly thing, redemption in demise." That’s Red Devil Dawn writ small and simple: It finds the specks of light in the darkest rooms, and spins the whole picture into a gorgeous whole.

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2016-02-05
Crooked Fingers: Crooked Fingers (Reissue)

On February 5, 2016, Merge will reissue the self-titled debut album by Crooked Fingers, the solo project of Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann. Originally released in 2000, Crooked Fingers - a.k.a. "the one with the swan on it" - will be pressed on vinyl for the first time and include a download of the entire record plus nine bonus tracks of demos and rarities.

To mark the occasion of the reissue, we asked Josh Modell of The A.V. Club to write new liner notes for the album. Here is an excerpt:

Not long after he recorded this debut, Eric told me that he wanted Crooked Fingers to constantly evolve - that every record would sound different, and every tour would feature different players and new arrangements. He's kept to that, releasing albums that constantly tug and question, restless but preternaturally consistent. What you're holding represents the first step, a big, quiet leap into the unknown - which ended up being a beautiful place.

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2018-05-25
Destroyer: Thief (Reissue)

This is a reissue of Destroyer's 1999 Thief album, its first time widely available on vinyl.

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2018-05-25
Destroyer: City of Daughters (Reissue)

This is a reissue of Destroyer's 1998 City of Daughters album, its first time widely available on vinyl.

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2017-11-10
Escape-ism: Introduction to Escape-ism

Introduction to Escape-ism by Escape-ism isn't a typical record.

Oh, sure, it looks like one, with a label in the center and mysterious grooves etched on a sleek, black disc that glints in the light with a perverse air of knowing treachery. But this disc is different.

Why? Because it's the first "solo" record by Ian Svenonius - of groups The Make-Up, Chain & the Gang, XYZ, Weird War, etc. - and as such, it's profound, prophetic, perverse, and poetic... It's introverted glitter, violence against the state, obsessive desire; it stomps on convention, shreds constitutions, clobbers pre-conceived notions of what a record can be.

A drum box, a guitar, a cassette player, and a single slobbering, sinful voice singing out... for a way out. Live, it's a new paradigm of performance: raw, gestural, idiotic, sublime, revolutionary, poetic, faux naïf, unknowing, a drainage pipe that leads to who knows where.

Escape-ism's Introduction to Escape-ism isn't just the soundtrack for a late-night drive on a lonely interstate, or a platter played to incite abandon at a pajama party with one's pals. It's also a tunnel to tomorrow. It's a mineshaft to the motherlode.

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2018-01-26
H.C. McEntire: Lionheart

H.C. McEntire, frontwoman of Mount Moriah, strikes out on her own with her debut solo album LIONHEART, a collection of songs inspired by the American South and a desire to reclaim "country" music from the hetero-normative, homogenous schtick of tailgates and six-packs and men chasing women. Stereogum describes her voice as "weary, wise, and bright as morning sunshine all at once," and that sunshine glows throughout the triumphant LIONHEART. "LIONHEART is personal: from recording it mostly at my house, to inviting close friends to play on it and put themselves in it, to the deeply autobiographical narratives of place and people," writes McEntire. "In music, there are no rules. You make your own language. You can be both the Southern rock outlier and the twangy gospel conduit. You can be both the cherubic, honey-tongued innocent and the ardent punk. To get here - to find my lion hear - I had to become them all." For the album, McEntire collaborated with many of her favorite musicians, including Kathleen Hanna, Angel Olsen, Amy Ray, Tift Merritt, William Tyler, and Phil Cook, while remaining bravely devoted to her most authentic self throughout the process. LIONHEART was recorded during the first few months of 2017 with additional recording and mixing taking place on the run as McEntire toured the world as a member of Angel Olsen's band.

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2018-11-02
Hiss Golden Messenger: Poor Moon (reissue)

Reissue of HGM’s 2011 album, Poor Moon.

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2014-09-16
Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers

Lateness of Dancers is the fifth full-length from Hiss Golden Messenger. It's an open, confident, immediate album, and it feels, at times, like a direct response to the darkness of M.C. Taylor's last record, 2013's Haw, or to the searching of 2010's Bad Debt, the stunning acoustic LP he made at his kitchen table shortly after the birth of his son.

Lateness of Dancers was recorded in a tin-roofed barn outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina, last fall and includes many of Taylor's longtime collaborators, like Phil and Brad Cook of Megafaun, the guitarist William Tyler, and his erstwhile recording partner Scott Hirsch.

It is a record about self-discovery and self-knowledge, and how impossible it is to outsmart yourself. Still, over and over, Taylor subverts that creeping darkness, turns it into something useful, defines it and defangs it and transforms it; Lateness of Dancers is, against all odds, an optimistic record.

It seems unlikely to me that there will be another record this year that does this work, or does it this well. Lateness of Dancers is a deliverance from the self, to the self. From Taylor to us.

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2018-11-02
Hiss Golden Messenger: Haw (reissue)

Reissue of HGM's 2013 album, Haw

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2017-09-22
Hiss Golden Messenger: Hallelujah Anyhow

Hallelujah Anyhow is the latest studio album from Hiss Golden Messenger, out September 22 worldwide on Merge Records. Its ten new songs, penned by HGM principal M.C. Taylor, were recorded with Brad Cook, Phil Cook, Chris Boerner, Josh Kaufman, Darren Jessee, Michael Lewis, and Scott Hirsch. Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Tift Merritt, Skylar Gudasz, Tamisha Waden, Mac McCaughan, and John Paul White provided vocal harmonies.

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I see the dark clouds. I was designed to see them. They're the same clouds of fear and destruction that have darkened the world since Revelations, just different actors. But this music is for hope. That's the only thing I want to say about it. Love is the only way out. I’ve never been afraid of the darkness; it’s just a different kind of light. And if some days that belief comes harder than others, hallelujah anyhow.

Whatcha gonna do when the wall comes down? When the wall comes down? What you ought to do is let it lie-let it lie And in the gathering darkness vow to never go back It was built by man and you can tear it down Tear it down, tear it down Step back, Jack, from the darkness

I've seen darker things than night. Hallelujah anyhow. -M.C. Taylor, July 2017

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2018-11-02
Hiss Golden Messenger: Box Set - Title TBC

On November 2, Hiss Golden Messenger will release Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children, a limited-edition deluxe box set which includes remastered reissues of the classic Hiss albums Bad Debt, Poor Moon, and Haw as well as Virgo Fool, a rarities compilation that will only be available physically as part of this collection. Both the 4-CD and 4- LP sets are housed in a cloth-wrapped, foil-stamped slipcase and feature original iconographic artwork by Sam Smith, an exclusive foldout poster, full lyrics, and new liner notes by New Yorker writer Amanda Petrusich and MOJO editor John Mulvey. The vinyl set also includes a digital download of all tracks.

"Come the brightest, brightest day, the north wind's gonna be a friend of mine."

Excerpts from the Devotion liner notes: What struck me about Hiss Golden Messenger-and my absorption in these early records was instantaneous-is that Taylor's songs are completely and unfailingly honest about how stupid and frustrating it is to be a person. But then, of course, he finds magnificence anyway: "Hallelujah anyhow" is how he put it later.

-Amanda Petrusich

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2018-11-02
Hiss Golden Messenger: Bad Debt (reissue)

Reissue of HGM's 2010 album, Bad Debt.

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2018-01-26
Hollie Cook: Vessel of Love

Hollie Cook combines her unique vocal talent with charming charisma to craft her own dynamic strand of lovers rock with enduring tropical vibes, weaving a path from her West London roots to an arena of diverse collaborations, critically acclaimed records and iconic live appearances around the world. Her music career commenced early when family friend and punk trailblazer Ari Up asked Cook, age 19 at the time, to join the raucous '70s feminist UK post-punk outfit The Slits for their reformation in 2006. She thrived on being thrown into the deep end and quickly cut her teeth with four years of back-to-back shows around the globe. Acclaimed, legendary producer Martin 'Youth' Glover is Cook's most recent collaborator, lending his venerable production expertise to Hollie's latest album 'Vessel of Love'. His success with Killing Joke is only surpassed by his enduring reputation as one of the most prolific producers in the UK, which was recently validated with an Outstanding Contribution Award from the Music Producers Guild.

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2018-01-26
Hollie Cook: Vessel of Love

Hollie Cook combines her unique vocal talent with charming charisma to craft her own dynamic strand of lovers rock with enduring tropical vibes, weaving a path from her West London roots to an arena of diverse collaborations, critically acclaimed records and iconic live appearances around the world. Her music career commenced early when family friend and punk trailblazer Ari Up asked Cook, age 19 at the time, to join the raucous '70s feminist UK post-punk outfit The Slits for their reformation in 2006. She thrived on being thrown into the deep end and quickly cut her teeth with four years of back-to-back shows around the globe. Acclaimed, legendary producer Martin 'Youth' Glover is Cook's most recent collaborator, lending his venerable production expertise to Hollie's latest album 'Vessel of Love'. His success with Killing Joke is only surpassed by his enduring reputation as one of the most prolific producers in the UK, which was recently validated with an Outstanding Contribution Award from the Music Producers Guild.

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2017-03-03
Ibibio Sound Machine: Uyai

Ibibio Sound Machine will release Uyai on March 2. Fronted by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine is a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West African funk, disco, modern post-punk, and electro. The intervening time since their self-titled debut album in 2014 has been spent forging a reputation as a high-energy live act appearing on stages such as Later... with Jools Holland, Glastonbury, Roskilde, and the BBC 6 Music Festival, as well as at iconic venues such as Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London as part of Lauren Laverne's "Wonder Women" series.

Weird and wonderful folk stories, recounted to Eno by her family as a child in her mother's Ibibio tongue, form the creative fabric from which the band's unique musical tapestry is woven. Evocative poetic imagery and empowering messages set against an edgy, Afro-Electro soundscape give the band a unique space within the current wave of modern Afrocentric sounds sweeping across the globe.

Ibibio Sound Machine is Eno Williams (vocals), Alfred Kari Bannerman (guitar), Anselmo Netto (percussion), Jose Joyette (drums), John McKenzie (bass), Tony Hayden (trombone, synth), Scott Baylis (trumpet, synth), and Max Grunhard (saxophone, synth).

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2013-09-03
King Khan & The Shrines: Idle No More

It has been a lengthy hiatus, but we have finally finished our latest “masterpiece” and named it after an incredible indigenous-rights movement that is happening right now called Idle No More. I was born and raised in Montreal and spent a lot of time on the Kahnawake Mohawk Indian reservation. Much of my juvenile delinquent training came from years of tripping out there with my best friends. Idle No More is probably the most refined piece of music we have made to date. The songs are about the state of the world we live in today. It took a long time to make, but we are very proud and pleased to bring you this album. I hope that the future will brighten up every time it is played. Ultimately, John and Yoko were absolutely right: LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED!

Peace and Love, King Bama Lama Khan Emperor of RnB

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2016-03-04
M. Ward: More Rain

M. Ward returns with a stunning new album, More Rain, for release on Merge Records on March 4, 2016. Ward has released a string of acclaimed solo albums over the past several years, along with five LPs with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him and a 2009 collaborative album with My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis under the moniker Monsters of Folk. In addition to his celebrated work as a musician, Ward is an accomplished producer, handling those duties for such luminaries as Mavis Staples, Jenny Lewis, and Carlos Forster as well as his own musical projects.

This album, Ward's eighth solo affair, finds the artist picking up the tempo and volume a bit from his previous release, 2012's A Wasteland Companion. Where that record introspectively looked in from the outside, More Rain finds Ward on the inside, gazing out. Begun four years ago and imagined initially as a DIY doo-wop album that would feature Ward experimenting with layering his own voice, it soon branched out in different directions, a move that he credits largely to his collaborators here who include R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Neko Case, k.d. lang, The Secret Sisters, and Joey Spampinato of NRBQ. The result is a collection of upbeat, sonically ambitious yet canonically familiar songs that both propel Ward's reach and satisfy longtime fans.

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2015-05-05
Mac McCaughan: Non-Believers

Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan was ready to take a collection of unused tracks he had written for various movie soundtracks and assemble a new solo album. He needed only to write a few more songs to round out what was supposed to be an invigorating power pop record. Sounds easy enough, right? However, upon employing some dusty synths on the tracks "Your Hologram" and "Only Do," McCaughan realized that he wanted to use the album, eventually titled Non-Believers, to explore his fascination with that early-'80s era of music when punk evolved into something more introspective, focusing on themes of isolation and eventually turning into post-punk and new wave. It also became clear that he had to scrap the original batch of songs in order to do it.

When writing the songs for Non-Believers, McCaughan had a duo of fictional teen goths in mind and followed them on their journey of growing into adulthood and transitioning into a world they weren't sure they'd accept. "The important thing is that they're going through it together," he says. Upon hearing the spacey opening keyboard notes of "Your Hologram," it's hard to resist going on that journey with these kids.

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2017-08-25
Mike Krol: Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records

On Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records, we catch up—with the past, that is. Indeed, Turkey, released in 2015, is Chapter 3 of the Krol saga; here, finally, are its long-lost predecessors. Self-released in 2011, I Hate Jazz was the opening salvo of World War Krol. Only 500 copies were pressed; they were given away to anyone who showed interest (and many who showed none whatsoever). Including Krol classics like "Fifteen Minutes" and "Like a Star," the record has long been unavailable. Trust Fund followed in 2013; its 500 copies sold out on the ensuing tour, fueling a mini-mania that would elevate it to cult status. This set includes both records on freshly pressed Merge vinyl; an illuminating selection of digital outtakes, demos, and B-sides; and a fold-out poster showcasing a selection of Mike Krol ephemera.

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2016-03-04
Mount Moriah: How To Dance

The North Carolina-based band Mount Moriah - composed of Heather McEntire (lead vocals, guitar), Jenks Miller (lead guitar, keys), and Casey Toll (bass, keys) - seem insistent to grow. If Mount Moriah's self-titled debut showed them standing with sea legs, determined to dream their way free from the dark crevices and corners of alt-country's stiff template; and if Miracle Temple, their second album, called that darkness by its Southern name and met it with fire; then their latest collection of songs, How to Dance, is a devotion to the cosmic light itself: moving towards it, moving into it, becoming it. Mount Moriah's third full-length sees them stretching further to explore their collective interest in the intangible fringes of fate and synchronicity. With How to Dance, the band presents new themes of symbolism, mysticism, alchemy, universality, sacred geometry. There is color, confidence, self-direction, joy. There is also darkness, but only to show you how it found its light.

In I'm Not There, a film supposition of Bob Dylan's life, the version of Dylan played by Cate Blanchett - the pre-motorcycle crash, Blonde on Blonde Dylan - says that "a poem is like a naked person," and then, blending into the same line, "but a song is something that walks by itself." Mount Moriah have created a continuous dialogue with humanity, with the metaphysical, with the ecology right in front of us. Here, in How to Dance, everything walks by itself.

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2018-02-16
Ought: Room Inside the World

On Room Inside the World-Ought's third album and their first for Merge-growing up doesn't mean mellowing out so much as it means learning to pay attention, listening carefully and openly, staying somewhere long enough to really understand where you are. Recorded at Rare Book Room in Brooklyn with producer Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Silver Jews), Room Inside the World explores themes that have always concerned the band-identity, connection, survival in a precarious world-but with a bolder, more nuanced sound palette. Vibraphone, justly intonated synthesizers, drum machines, and a 70-piece choir suffuse the precise post-punk breakdowns that spangled Ought's first two albums, giving rise to an emotional complexity that pushes their characteristically taut sound to greater depths. It makes for a different kind of catharsis: the quiet satisfaction of a job well done, the glow of seeing someone as they are, the soft simmer of real love. It's like finding a space inside the world where you can sit down for a bit, a room where there's room enough for everyone. The record ends on a comma, a quick fade, a sharp intake of breath, and you find yourself right back where you began.

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2018-02-16
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2014-07-15
Reigning Sound: Shattered

Shattered will be Reigning Sound's first album for Merge and the first full LP by the group since 2009's Love and Curses.

The band's principal songwriter/member is Greg Cartwright, who's been leading the shifting cast of characters since 2001. You may be familiar with some of the band's work, as this album is preceded by five studio efforts as well as numerous EPs and live records. Or perhaps some of Greg's other projects have been on your musical radar: The Oblivians, Parting Gifts, Compulsive Gamblers, 68 Comeback, Deadly Snakes, Detroit Cobras.

Regardless, as far as Reigning Sound is concerned, this is as good a place to start as any because through many line-up changes and mood swings, the central, constant feature is the way Greg writes songs.

The album was recorded at Daptone's Brooklyn studio (where drummer Mikey works in the office) and masterfully engineered by Wayne Douglas. The recordings are warm and punchy, a mixed bag of rockers, ballads, and something in between. There are only 11 songs on the album, but the band reckons it's just right.