If one quote from the new oral history Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small sums up why Merge Records and indies like it are thriving while the major labels are collapsing, its from Jeff Mangum, the itinerant and press-dodging frontman of the legendary band Neutral Milk Hotel. While Mangum declined to participate in interviews for the book, he writes this via email: Merge is by far the perfect home for our music, a label that couldnt be more honest and true to its vision. It gladdens me to see that its human labels like Merge who are fully alive in this moment, while the giants of the music industry are all eating shit. May it forever be so.
The bulk of Our Noise traces how Merge came to both its commercial and artistic prominence over the last 20 years, told through extensive interviews with Superchunk members and Merge co-founders Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance (who are both billed as co-authors along with Gawker reporter John Cook) and profiles of many of the bands whose work has borne the Merge logo: Spoon, The Arcade Fire and The Magnetic Fields, among them.