Since debuting in 2008, Titus Andronicus [hereafter +@] has been conditioning faithful listeners to always expect only the unexpected, consistently zigging where others would zag and maintaining a steadfast dedication to fearless ambition. With the March 2 release of the new studio album A Productive Cough on Merge Records, +@ has executed the most shocking departure yet-but only if, as ever mercurial singer-songwriter Patrick Stickles insists, "you haven’t been paying attention."A Productive Cough was recorded by longtime +@ producer Kevin McMahon at Marcata Recording in New Paltz, NY, with an enviable cast of 21 elite musicians whose diverse backgrounds and skill sets allow +@ to incorporate far-reaching musical styles from country to rap to soul to jazz. Even amongst such luminaries as veteran pianist Rick Steph (Cat Power, Lucero, Hank Williams Jr.) and esteemed cellist Jane Scarpantoni (R.E.M., Bob Mould, Lou Reed), listeners may be most struck by what is sure to be a star-making turn on lead vocals from Brooklyn singer Megg Farrell for the aging-punk's lament "Crass Tattoo," as the perennially raspy Stickles humbly steps away from the microphone to enable what may be +@'s most unapologetically gorgeous track yet.
Seaweed formed out of the fertile northwest punk scene of the mid-to-late '80s in Tacoma and Olympia Washington. Singer Aaron Stauffer, fresh off a stint in the little-known Spook & the Zombies, founded the band with best friend Clint Werner, who assumed guitar duties. After the recruitment of guitarist Wade Neal, bassist John Atkins, and drummer Bob Bulgrien, Seaweed began playing clubs throughout the Pacific Northwest. From 1989 to 1999, Seaweed recorded five punk-pop LPs and played over a thousand shows. According to All Music Guide, "they played D.I.Y. with the Sub Pop label for their first three records, went ambitiously astray by signing with Hollywood Records, then did the cool right thing by returning to indie Merge."
This August, Merge Records offers the vinyl reissue of 1999's Actions and Indications, remastered and pressed to high quality vinyl, with three unreleased bonus tracks (digital only) added. Originally recorded at Tacoma's Uptone Electric studio in the summer of 1998, Actions and Indications is a tour de force of power chord dynamism.
The last of the "all-home-recordings albums" by the Mountain Goats and the only one about which that claim is true, ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS was originally released as a free-standing compact disc on the late, lamented Emperor Jones. That was about a decade ago. The songs were originally transferred from the cassettes onto which they were recorded to 1/2" reels at Tiny Telephone by Alex Newport, who also played in Fudge Tunnel. John got really excited when he realized his tapes were being EQ'd by the guy from Fudge Tunnel.
Remastered from those reels, along with 7 unearthed songs from the two surviving contemporaneous cassettes, All Hail West Texas stands as the peak of the Mountain Goats' home recording era, a time people like to refer to as "when John Darnielle had his four-track," except John did not actually use a four-track. He used the condenser mic of a Panasonic boombox and there was no overdubbing.
The LP is packaged in a deluxe gatefold jacket and includes a digital download of the full record plus the seven additional tracks. The CD, which includes the full album and extra tracks on one disc, comes in a premium digipak with a 12-page booklet.
Anthology serves as a celebration of The Clean, a band whose influence extends so far beyond their New Zealand home that even if you have never heard of The Clean before, you have surely heard of some of the bands (Pavement, Yo La Tengo, and Superchunk, to name a few) who have been influenced by their unique blend of homemade garage rock, hook-filled melodies, and psychedelic experimentalism.
The album is a compilation of songs from across The Clean's legendary musical career, which began in 1981 and continues today. Merge originally released the 2-CD Anthology in 2003, but in celebration of our 25th anniversary, we felt the time was right to release this essential collection on quadruple LP.
Hamish and David Kilgour formed The Clean in 1978. Hamish played drums, and David picked up a guitar and figured out how to play it as he went along. Various other folk passed through the Kilgour brothers’ orbit during the first two years or so before Robert Scott (The Bats) joined on bass. Hamish, David, and Robert all wrote songs and sang in The Clean, who made their first recordings for the renowned New Zealand label Flying Nun in 1981.
Beat the Champ is about professional wrestling, which was an avenue of escape for me when I was a kid. Wrestling was low-budget working class entertainment back then, strictly UHF material. It was cheap theater. You had to bring your imagination to the proceedings and you got paid back double. I wrote these songs to re-immerse myself in the blood and fire of the visions that spoke to me as a child, and to see what more there might be in them now that I'm grown.
The Clientele's 2009 album, Bonfires on the Heath has been re-pressed and is now available on vinyl via Merge worldwide.
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).
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.
Friday Night is a live album of performances from Will Butler's tour supporting Policy, his first album. It was recorded mostly at Lincoln Hall in Chicago on June 4, 2015. Five of the songs are from Policy, two are songs Will wrote for the Guardian newspaper last year, and five are new.
The Clientele’s 2007 album, God Save The Clientele has been re-pressed and is now available on vinyl via Merge worldwide.
With Matt Douglas fully on board as woodwinds-and-kitchen-sink guy, we're now a four-piece, and to record this album, our fourth for Merge and the one to which you're presumably about to listen, we went to Blackbird Studio in Nashville, as top-shelf a facility as any on the planet. They have the board Aja was recorded on. When Jon asked about snares, he was told, "We have 200 of them." We had sixteen people from the Nashville Symphony Chorus skip out on a Mahler rehearsal to come in and sing on a song. Sixteen!
The theme this time around is goth, a subject closer to my heart perhaps than that of any Mountain Goats album previous. And while John writes the songs, as he always has, it feels more than ever like he's speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths (raises hand) or otherwise, for these are songs that approach an identity most often associated with youth from a perspective that is inescapably adult. Anyone old enough to have had the experience of finding oneself at sea in a cultural landscape that’s suddenly indecipherable will empathize with Pat Travers showing up to a Bauhaus show looking to jam, for example.
—Peter HughesFebruary 2017Charlotte, NC
On November 11, we welcome Sneaks to Merge Records with the reissue of her debut album Gymnastics, which Impose called one of its favorite records of 2015. Check out "True Killer" now, and pre-order the album on CD or LP in the Merge store or digitally via iTunes.
Sneaks songs are the mesmerizing post-punk incantations of Washington, DC's Eva Moolchan. Bass and drum machine underpin Moolchan's compelling vocals, and the music straddles several decades of serious minimalist fun to create her own unique niche of rock. "The songs came together pretty fast, very tongue-in-cheek," writes Moolchan of Gymnastics. "I was playing with how we use language and twisting the words of mundane slogans, ads, and repetitive symbols I was seeing while attending school." Sneaks is currently recording her sophomore album to be released on Merge in early 2017. While her music and lyrics are rooted in punk, Sneaks' live shows often provide the joy and release of a dance party. See the band on tour this fall, with more dates to be announced soon.
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.
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 lieAnd in the gathering darkness vow to never go backIt was built by man and you can tear it downTear it down, tear it downStep back, Jack, from the darkness
I've seen darker things than night. Hallelujah anyhow.-M.C. Taylor, July 2017
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.
On April 6, 2018, Merge Records will release I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats: All Hail West Texas, a double-LP compiling the covers of each track from All Hail West Texas that will be unveiled during the first season of I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, a unique new podcast from Night Vale Presents. The podcast is a remarkable conversation series featuring Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead creator Joseph Fink and New York Times best-selling author John Darnielle, who is also the founder, lead singer, and songwriter for the Mountain Goats-and Fink's own personal artistic hero. Together, Fink and Darnielle take the listener on a deep dive into the world of creativity and the duality of being an artist and a fan, both by sharing their own creative processes and music-geek obsessions and through immersive chats with other notable musicians and writers including best-selling YA author and music nerd John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) and Merge Records co-founder Mac McCaughan (Superchunk), as well as many special music guests such as Andrew Bird, Craig Finn, Laura Jane Grace, and Amanda Palmer, who offer up their own opinions as well as new renditions of songs from All Hail West Texas.
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 KhanEmperor of RnB
The words are entrancingly cryptic, as if their simplicity conceals unfathomable depths. The music is sparse, almost whispered at times, like a secret. The title gives everything away, though. During the gestation of his 2002 album Impasse, which will receive a new vinyl pressing from Merge Records on March 31, 2017, Richard Buckner was stuck. But, with perseverance, what began as one of his most troubled recording attempts ended as one of his best and most pivotal - a capstone for his wayfaring early period before he planted roots with Merge.
"You don't really know what you're writing at the time," Buckner says. "Writing seems to be kind of prophetic and it makes much more sense looking back on it. But I think mystery is good. If you ever think you know what you're doing, then you're probably in bad shape."
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 naÃ¯f, 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.
It's a Myth, Sneaks' second album is due March 31, 2017, on Merge Records.
With little more than a bass, drum machine, and deadpan vocals, Sneaks, a.k.a. Eva Moolchan, makes minimalist music that takes up space - something she herself has made a point of doing in the male-heavy Washington, D.C., DIY punk scene that has been her home. Moolchan's compelling songwriting, along with the fervid energy of her shows, prompted breakout D.C. label Sister Polygon to release her 2015 debut Gymnastics, which Merge reissued in September 2016.
It's a Myth builds on Sneaks' playfully stark approach to post-punk, which, as her hometown City Paper described it, causes listeners to go "from curious to provoked to hungry." Hungry, in part, because the new album clocks in at just 18 minutes of 10 taut, captivating tracks (but still a feast compared to Gymnastics' 14 minutes). It also adds Jonah Takagi and Ex Hex/Helium frontwoman Mary Timony, who recorded the album at Timony's D.C. studio. "She's got art in her brain," Timony has said of Moolchan. "Her brain is making beautiful stuff."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Out in the Storm, Katie Crutchfield's fourth album as Waxahatchee and her second release with Merge, is the blazing result of a woman reawakened. Her most autobiographical and honest album to date, Out in the Storm is a self-reflective anchor in the story of both her songwriting and her life. As Crutchfield prepared for the release of her Merge debut Ivy Tripp, she found herself depleted emotionally and professionally amidst the dissolution of a noxious relationship. "Ivy Tripp doesn't really have any resolution. It's a lot of beating around the bush, and superficially trying to see my life clearly, but just barely scratching the surface. Out in the Storm digs into what I was going through without blinking. It's a very honest record about a time in which I was not honest with myself." The album was tracked at Miner Street Recordings in Philadelphia with John Agnello, a producer, recording engineer, and mixer known for working with some of the most iconic musicians of the last 25 years, including Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth.