Our Noise, the history of Merge Records as told by those who were there

Throughout, the emphasis is on the nuts and bolts of how records are made and distributed, and the human touch that separates labels like Merge from the corporate behemoths. To anyone who’s never understood why someone would care which label an artist is signed to, Our Noise is a terrific indie rock starter kit. For those already well-aware of the Merge pedigree, the book offers a ground-level look at the work it takes to actually produce music, and throws in plenty of inside-baseball gossip, candid off-stage photos and vintage concert flyers to allow you to geek out. Our Noise fleshes out what happened after the original 1980s post-punk uprising — the time period covered in Michael Azerad’s magisterial Our Band Could Be Your Life — and in so doing becomes, after Azerrad’s book, the second truly essential book about American indie rock.


Click here for info on Merge Records’ Our Noise sampler.

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, it’s 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 couldn’t be more honest and true to its vision. It gladdens me to see that it’s 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.”

Indeed.

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.

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