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Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
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Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,281 ratings  ·  112 reviews
Merge Records defies everything you’ve heard about the music business. Started by two twenty-year-old musicians, Merge is a lesson in how to make and market great music on a human scale. The fact that the company is prospering in a failing industry is something of a miracle. Yet two of their bands made the Billboard Top 10 list; more than 1 million copies of Arcade Fire's ...more
Paperback, 289 pages
Published September 15th 2009 by Algonquin Books
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 ·  1,281 ratings  ·  112 reviews

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Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This story was certainly outstanding.
Andrew Horton
Sep 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'm so glad that this leaked out onto shelves about a week early (in true indie fashion - snort!)! The book is a love letter to the label that once brought us Butterglory, the 3D's, Angels of Epsistemology, Versus, SUPERCHUNK, the Magnetic Fields and now brings us....uhh....the Arcade Fire and celebrity vehicle "She and Him?" Yes, organized indie rock is truly deader than dead, but those of us that lived through its early-to-mid nineties heyday can get all weepy with this handsomely designed mem ...more
Ben Sweezy
Dec 30, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is full of stories about Superchunk becoming Merge Records, and then great chapters on Neutral Milk Hotel, Magnetic Fields, Spoon, and Arcade Fire.

I love it because the whole premise of the book is relating all of those artists and the musical movements that they grew out of back to Chapel Hill. The story of Arcade Fire driving down to meet Merge Records and the founder taking them out to dinner somewhere in Chapel Hill. Neutral Milk Hotel's album duplication order form put
If you're a fan of the bands Superchunk, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields, and The Arcade Fire (or any band that has ever been on Merge Records) this is the book for you. This book goes over the history of Merge Records and some of the bands that have been involved with them and is a really great read! There were quite a few bands mentioned that I hadn't heard before so I'd listen to their music while reading to get a sense of what their sound is. As this book comes up on its 10 year anni ...more
Bryan Bedell
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
The photo of Laura when she was a goth is worth twice the cover price. Each Stephin Merritt quote is worth more than that. Be sure to set aside some cash to order Butterglory's back catalog after you read this. Minus a star because I feel like they didn't really let Wurster get going. : )
Edwin Arnaudin
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'd been eyeing this one from afar for a few years and was motivated to check it out after the latest in a series of rewarding interviews with Merge artists – this one with co-founder Mac McCaughan in advance of his recent show at Asheville's The Mothlight.

There are no doubt other ways to tell the story of the NC label's rise and longevity, but Cook convinced me that an oral history is the most entertaining approach. From Laura Ballance's run-in with Courtney Love in 1992 to Stephin
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If you're a fan of Merge Records like I am, you probably like almost everything they do. They're so consistently great and this oral history of their first twenty years is outstanding. Funny and revealing recollections from Mac and Laura share the pages with recollections from other musicians and record industry folks. My favorite parts were the chapters on little-known genius's Butterglory, the rise of Neutral Milk Hotel, the accidental "country" of Lambchop, the ups and down of Spoon, and the ...more
Duke Haney
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Does this book really rate five stars? Probably not, but I did wolf it down, being the indie-music freak, stuck in the nineties, that I am. I've been revisiting Superchunk, Butterglory, Polvo, Seaweed, etc., since I finished Our Noise, and I'm once again crushing on Laura, while feeling all "Gosh, what a swell guy" about Mac. One thing that especially caught my interest in the book was Merge's take on the defection of ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead to Interscope in 2000 or so. I knew ToD ...more
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was fascinating, and I'm not even coming from a background of having listened to much Superchunk. I can only name a handful of their songs, but this definitely made me more curious about them (ditto on some of the other Merge bands).
I usually struggle to make progress on nonfiction works, but I didn't want to put this one down. My only complaint (aside from wishing it was longer) is with the horrific foreword from Ryan Adams - it is a example of why I am leery of reading nonfiction about m
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
Skipped around a bit in this one. Probably would not have stumbled upon it except for my Rockstar bookclub, but glad to know more about one of my downtown neighbors. Pretty cool that some friends helped put this book together. Because I missed out on a lot of these bands' glory days by being out of the Triangle or just on the periphery of any kind of music scene (I DJ'd @WXDU for a year & saw some of the MERGE albums come through the playlist), I wasn't invested in most of the band stories. ...more
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved every minute of this book! Great story about how a band operates, and how they created a label out of necessity. I love that they states true to themselves and never changed their business model to match traditions record labels. I live in Durham and know some of the people mentioned in the book, which made it even more fun to read.

If I had to nitpick, I would say that the story could've been fleshed out better and told from a third-party, non-biased, more biographical point
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Having worked at a record label, I could relate to a lot of parts of this book. I know a lot more about the behind the scenes of a small label than your average person so it was almost nerdy how into the business-like stuff the story got. Overall, the book does a good job of telling the story of Superchunk alongside the story of some of the label's bigger bands. Well written and a good read for any respectable music nerd.
Robert Vaughan
Sep 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
A very interesting read about Merge Records, one of the only successful indie record labels to survive the past two decades. Told in a roundtable narrative fashion. Highly entertaining.
Niklas Pivic
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, artist, music, art
A really, really good book on a do-it-yourself record company that didn't know how to do stuff, found it out themselves and are still alive and kicking, despite all kinds of problems, including being in a quite major band - Superchunk - themselves and at the same time giving artists on their label a perspectively big piece of the cake.

People ask the question a lot: Why did you decide to put out your own records? But it’s not like there was anyone else asking to put them out. —Mac McCaughan

Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Why did it take me eight years to read this book?

"Our Noise" is the intertwined story of (my favorite f'ing band of all time) Superchunk and the independent record label two of the band members co-founded, Merge Records. In hindsight, how could their stories not be so intertwined, it makes perfect sense. And in telling this oral history in an endearing, lovingly pastiche sort of way, selecting certain Merge bands to chronicle as reflections of Merge's ascent, Cook along with Ballance
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was co-written by the founders of Merge Records, so who knows how true any of it is, but it seems very true. It's surprisingly candid about the business of running an independent record label, and it's one of the most interesting things I've ever read in that particular regard. It loses points because the story of Superchunk, the main band on Merge and the topic of at least like half of this book, is the least interesting story of a rock band possible (they're literally accountants who rock ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I love listening to the music a book like this describes as I read. With "Our Noise" I found myself discovering a great band I'd never heard of (Lambchop), rediscovering great bands I hadn't listened to for awhile (Polvo, Archers of Loaf) and getting into bands I'd heard of but never got around to listening to (Spoon). I really enjoyed the way the book was laid out as well. The author set the scene with a short background paragraph and then he let the people involved tell the story, interview st ...more
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fun book on Superchunk and the little label that band members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance created, Merge Records. Mainly focused on their band and the creation and functioning operation and growth of their label, Our Noise also features stories about other artists (Butterglory, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lambchop, Spoon, Arcade Fire) and their contributions to Merge's, at the time of the book's print, 20 year run as a highly successful label originally known for 7" releases and now houses gold, pl ...more
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: g-music-zines
Highly Recommended. Absolutely terrific and engaging oral history of Merge Records — and i'm not even a Merge (or much of a Superchunk) fan. I maybe have 15 of their 400+ records and have always just sort of admired from afar. It was just a delight to read about bands and a label doing things right, doing them well and surviving and thriving as they head into their 3rd decade. Merge is now entering their 4th decade and I'd love to read an addendum to this.
Stevie Ceruolo
Apr 19, 2019 rated it liked it
A fairly complete look into one of the most significant and influential independent labels since Sub-Pop, however it reads more like a long Pitchfork article than a deep dive. I can respect the effort, but a real complete work is still desired.
Dan Slimmon
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
a well-written, well-researched, and seemingly honest story of merge. very cool photos, too.

i found it fascinating to learn about how the music industry works. the analysis of why some successful artists prefer indie labels was cogent and insightful.
Benjamin Van Buren
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was great. Even made the Arcade Fire seem interesting. Could’ve done without the binding falling apart in my hand though.
Mansfield Public
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The inspiring and fun true story of an indie record label that has put out some of my all time favorite records. -Matt
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is fantastic and very awesome.
Oct 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I'm a huge Merge Records fan, and it was exciting to read about the beginnings of this label, how it's grown, and the people behind it (the super talented Laura Ballance and Mac Macaughan from Superchunk) I expected all the stories about touring & meeting bands & everything -- the kind of oral biography most bands partake in these days (ie Fool the World - the pixies; The Dirt - Motley Crue). What I didn't expect was the totally affirming running pep talk about DIY throughout "Our Noise" ...more
Barry Southerland
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fun book on Superchunk and the little label that band members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance created, Merge Records. Mainly focused on their band and the creation and functioning operation and growth of their label, Our Noise also features stories about other artists (Butterglory, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lambchop, Spoon, Arcade Fire) and their contributions to Merge's, at the time of the book's print, 20 year run as a highly successful label originally known for 7" releases and now houses gold, pl ...more
Josh Woods
Oct 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Setting aside for the moment the fact that Merge is the record label responsible for no less than two of my top three favorite albums (Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and The Arcade Fire's Funeral), it should be known that Our Noise is an introspective look at one of the most (possibly THE most) influential label on the indie scene. The story of Merge is pretty amazing, even from a completely removed point of view, and the author's choice to let those most connected to Merge truly tell the sto ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I figured this would be an enjoyable read given I'm a fan of the label and a lot of its music. But I also feared it was going to be a bit of shameless Merge marketing. I should have known better, because that's just not what this label is like. It's a great little story for anyone who likes indie rock, the kind of story you would deride as "too unbelievable" if it were fiction. Two people in a great band decide to start up their own label to put out the music they love. They are too trusting, to ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Oral histories are such a pleasure to read, and I'm glad that Merge got represented this way. If you're not already vested in certain Superchunk songs then this might just be a small-business-somehow-survives story.

Inveitably, when I listen to a song or album I form an idea of them as people. Same with how record labels conduct themselves. Pretty basic stuff, I know. But it was refreshing to see Neutral Milk Hotel come across so well while Spoon was confirmed as careerist ding-dongs.
Jul 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
I absolutely loved this book. Before reading it, I would have named Merge Records as my favorite record label just based on their track record of incredible releases. After reading, I had a much greater appreciation for how they were able to do this. I initially would read the book before bed, but I found that I would end up less tired than when I started, so I had to find time during the day to read.

As for the book itself, it has a bit of an unusual format. The book is roughly chron
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