Rock of Pages: Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records

Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records is simultaneously an oral history and love letter. The book is told from the perspective of everyone involved in the growth of the Chapel Hill indie label. From the first Bricks cassette to the amazing worldwide success of the Arcade Fire, it’s all here.

The history of Merge Records is intimately intertwined with the story of label owners Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance’s band Superchunk. As progresses, the book alternates stories of the label’s notable artists with the story of the band.

The reader gets the story of how the label first encountered the likes of Britt Daniel and Spoon, Jeff Magnum and Neutral Milk Hotel…man, it’s just this epic story that’s difficult to encapsulate without completely reiterating every story told within Our Noise‘s pages. As the story unfolds, you’re introduced to people you’ve read about in ‘zines and on blogs forever, and their love for Merge just bursts forth from the page. The lone exception is the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merrit:

I ridicule the ideology of so-called indie-rock ethos. I have nothing to do with that, and I’m sorry that Mac and Laura do. No doubt they are completely insincere about it and are just using it to sell records. And I am not joking.

Still — y’know, it’s Stephin Merrit. Most of the rest of the folks interviewed are more like Ryan Adams in his absolutely gushing intro to the book, wherein he declares Merge to be “something so great, greater than my imagination, like a perfect teenage dream shining so bright and so hard so easily.”

The most interesting part of the book for me was seeing pictures and reading the words of Matt Suggs about his involvement with the label. Suggs was part of Butterglory and White Whale, and lives in Lawrence. Reading “Suggs is working at a record store in Lawrence” put a smile on my face, especially seeing him pushing a dolly down Mass Street just the other day. Reading the Suggs chapter left me with a newfound appreciation for a band I’ve always loved.

Our Noise is a book that anyone with even the slightest interest in the history of music should read. I’m only slightly familiar with the work of most of the bands on the label, but Our Noise is so well organized by John Cook, that it’s easy to get sucked into the story of McCaughan and Ballance and what they built. The photos help make it seem like the book is the best-annotated and most interesting scrapbook you’ve ever come across.

Categories: Music