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MERGE RECORDS

When Escape-ism—nom de guerre of mythic rock ’n’ roll provocateur / theorist / revolutionary Ian Svenonius (performer, author, filmmaker, etc.) announced the imminent release of its second long-player, The Lost Record, it shook the foundations of the hermetic swamp / tundra known as “underground music.” In the music world, a “lost record” is the term for an LP that was passed over, unappreciated maybe not even released but is later discovered, unearthed, and celebrated by in-the-know tastemakers and canny connoisseurs. Many of our culture’s favorite records are “lost” records; once despised or unheard, they’re now in heavy rotation in the clubhouse and in the car. However, the process a record has to go through to be “lost”and then found again is arduous. It’s also quite risky, since most lost records are really just lost: tossed aside and forgotten forever. So, when Escape-ism—the most exciting group in the world announced its new and highly anticipated release The Lost Record, it created a commotion. For some, it seemed unfair for Escape-ism to jump ahead of the usual protocol and not go through the degradation that a historic “lost record” suffers: the endless time spent in a bin in the basement or a remote warehouse. Unshipped, unloved, unappreciated. But for Escape-ism, it seemed easier to circumvent the rigmarole and just get on with it. The Lost Record is a classic, destined to bewitch the minds, hearts, and dancing shoes of any rock ’n’ roll fan who happens to discover it, for as long as such creatures exist. Without the high-octane hype machine of the mind-control minstrels who hypnotize the hapless through the mass media, The Lost Record is bound for inevitable obscurity, but with its timeless tunes, poignant message, and innovative sound rediscovery and immortal status is equally assured! The Lost Record, being what it is, has enormous selling potential. Music enthusiasts will be thrilled to be the ones clever and kind enough to have rescued this platter from oblivion. It’s a no-brainer that The Lost Record will be both unfairly neglected but also enshrined as a pinnacle achievement for subterranean civilization. Listen to Escape-ism. See Escape-ism. Feel Escape-ism. Breathe Escape-ism. Live Escape-ism.

STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: It's true, everyone does a 'Lost Record' don't they, which more often than not begs the question, why did you lose it if it was good? I mean, if it's rubbish I wouldn't mind popping it on the seat of the bus whilst i get my book out, or using it to hold down my price labels whilst I write them etc. When things get confusing is when they're new records, but called 'The Lost Record' like this one from Escape-ism. Do they think it's going to get lost? Let's hope not because it's good.

FORMAT INFORMATION

Coloured LP Info: Clear swirl vinyl and ltd to 1,500 worldwide, this is for Indie stores only.

Coloured LP includes MP3 Download Code.

Love Language

Baby Grand

    You may not be able to see the gorgeous landscapes behind Baby Grand, Stuart McLamb’s fourth record as The Love Language, but they’re so essential to the picture you’ll feel them in every note. Started in, of all places, a cavernous Virginia hammock factory, fragmentary demos came alive when splashed by sunshine during a move across the country to California, where the album was completed. “It was something just about being in a new city, and a new light,” McLamb says, “and reopening the sessions, and this demo that I thought was a throwaway, suddenly I’m really feeling it….” You can hear the freedom kick in when the backwoods country shuffle of “Castle in the Sky” explodes into a full-on aughts anthem.

    Yet so much lies in the shadows behind these tracks: other states, other lives, other dreams, other relationships—fogged over, perhaps, but there nonetheless. Yes, Baby Grand has its share of breakup songs but this time, even as something is being mourned, something else is being worked through. Listen as the heartbreak and yearning of “New Amsterdam” come crashing down into the beautiful stasis of “Southern Doldrums” (the former was inspired by Cyndi Lauper and Joy Division, McLamb claims, while the latter draws upon John Cale’s meditative solo records). “I’ve embraced the idea that getting murky is what the band is,” says McLamb of the various assemblies of players and the various genre influences that have fuelled The Love Language at different points in time. “I love bands like the Ramones that have one thing that really works, and I love a good restaurant that serves one really good dish. But I get bored… I want this album to showcase different types of pop songwriting and structures.” The song “Juiceboxx” is what you’d get if Mick Jagger crooned his “Emotional Rescue” falsetto over a backing track by the Style Council.

    But it’s the finale that sends Baby Grand into the stratosphere. With Raleigh in his rearview, McLamb dusts off the ’60s throwback sounds of The Love Language’s 2009 self-titled debut, which are all over the flat-out-perfect “Independence Day.” And somewhere around New Orleans, he resuscitates those irresistible singalong melodies from 2010’s Libraries on “Paraty,” the lovely paean to a South American town he never managed to visit. It’s gotta be close to the best thing McLamb has ever written

    FORMAT INFORMATION

    Coloured LP Info: Pink & Yellow marbled, indies-only LP.

    Destroyer

    City Of Daughters

      2018 marks the 20th anniversary of City of Daughters City of Daughters is Destroyer’s second full length, originally released in 1998. 

      FORMAT INFORMATION

      Coloured LP Info: LP in jacket on uncoated stock + opaque red vinyl.

      Coloured LP includes MP3 Download Code.

      Destroyer

      Thief

        Thief is Destroyer’s third full length & first with a full band, originally released in 2000. Destroyer confirmed to play the 2018 End of the Road Festival in England. 

        FORMAT INFORMATION

        LP Info: Single LP in jacket on uncoated stock + orange vinyl + MP3 coupon. Qty ltd to 3,000 worldwide.

        Tracyanne & Danny

        Tracyanne & Danny

          Tracyanne & Danny is a new collaborative project between singer-songwriters Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura) and Danny Coughlan (Crybaby). Tracyanne hails from Glasgow, Scotland. London-born Danny is based in Bristol, England. Their paths first crossed in 2013 when introduced by mutual music industry pals.

          Tracyanne dug Danny’s Crybaby album (released on Helium Records) and invited him to open some Camera Obscura shows in the UK. Mutual artistic respect led to the swapping of song ideas, but tentative plans to work together were set aside while Camera Obscura wrote, recorded, released, and promoted their fifth album Desire Lines. Following the death of Camera Obscura’s Carey Lander, all band activity stopped. Time passed. Tracyanne and Danny revisited the idea of collaborating. A pool of songs were honed and crafted. On the suggestion of their manager (and Teenage Fanclub drummer) Francis Macdonald, they recorded at Clashnarrow, a studio in Helmsdale in the highlands of Scotland owned by the esteemed Edwyn Collins.

          Sessions took place throughout 2016 and 2017. Edwyn co-produced along with engineer and multi-instrumentalist Sean Read (Dexys). They had the use of Edwyn’s vintage gear (including the guitar pedal which features on his global hit “A Girl Like You”) as they invoked a range of shared influences: The Roches, Dion, Lou Reed, The Flamingos, Serge Gainsbourg, Santo & Johnny, and The Style Council. Edywn pops up with a guest vocal on first single “Alabama,” an intentionally “joyous” tribute to Tracyanne’s late friend and band mate Carey Lander. Tracyanne & Danny is not a diverting curio or a wee stop on the road to someplace else. It is a shared artistic aesthetic, forged over time. They have figured out how to fit round each other and work together, creating a rewarding musical synergy. 

          FORMAT INFORMATION

          Coloured LP Info: (Indie stores only) Limited opaque red LP + 7"

          Coloured LP includes MP3 Download Code.

          Various Artists

          I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats: All Hail West Texas

            Here is a 2LP cover album & companion piece to the podcast debut of I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, from Night Vale Presents in collaboration with Merge Records and the Mountain Goats. Premiering September 2017 and running through early April 2018, this unique bi-weekly podcast is a conversation music series focusing on the seminal Mountain Goats album All Hail West Texas, between Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead creator Joseph Fink with 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. This limited edition 2LP contains the full All Hail West Texas covers collection, introduced over the course of podcast season One. 

            FORMAT INFORMATION

            2xLP Info: 2LP is double gatefold with full album download.
            LP1 is opaque pink vinyl.
            LP2 is opaque blue vinyl.

            Titus Andronicus

            A Productive Cough

              Since debuting in 2008, Titus Andronicus [hereafter +@] has been conditioning faithful listeners to expect only the unexpected. With A Productive Cough, +@ has executed the most shocking departure yet—but only if, as ever mercurial singer-songwriter Patrick Stickles insists, “you haven’t been paying attention.” In a move that may infuriate the black-denim-and-PBR set, A Productive Cough sets aside leadfooted punk anthems in favor of a subtler, more spacious approach that pushes Stickles’ soul-baring songwriting to the fore, creating an intimacy between artist and audience with which previous +@ efforts had only flirted. “[+@] records have always had their fair share of ballads,” Stickles explains, “but they were always buried amidst a lot of screaming. Now, they are the cornerstones. Punk rock is nice, but it is but one tool in the toolbox from which I pull to achieve my artistic purpose, and that purpose has always been communication and validation. This time, perhaps I can more effectively talk to the people if I am not so busy yelling at them.” The mission of A Productive Cough is apparent from the first bars of opening track “Number One (In New York).” As a tableau of piano and dulcet horns unfolds, Stickles unleashes a breathless and unceasing 64-bar verse with subject matter as sprawling as the kitchen-sink arrangement, which grows to include sparkling guitars, twinkling bells, and uplifting choral vocals as Stickles searches desperately for the strength to carry on through an increasingly violent and frightening world. 

              Superchunk

              What A Time To Be Alive

                After the shocking, and for many, demoralizing result of the 2016 election, “I didn’t buy the silver lining some were promoting that ‘well, at least art and music will be great now!’,” says Superchunk co-founder and frontman Mac McCaughan. “Obviously, any sane person would gladly trade four to eight years of terrible music for not having our country dismantled to satisfy the whims of a vengeful child and his enablers.” That said, good music and art still have a lot to say, and the urgency of current events gave Mac, Laura, Jim, and Jon the momentum to make something new sooner than later. “It would be strange to be in a band, at least our band, and make a record that completely ignored the surrounding circumstances that we live in and that our kids are going to grow up in.” Enter What a Time to Be Alive, recorded and mixed by Beau Sorenson. It’s a record, says Mac, “about a pretty dire and depressing situation but hopefully not a record that is dire and depressing to listen to.”

                Indeed, like so much of Superchunk’s music in the band’s nearly three decades together, the songs on What a Time to Be Alive meet rage and anxiety head-on with the catharsis and exhilaration of loud punk fire and vulnerable pop energy. Like 2013’s I Hate Music, which focused on death, loss, and the role of music in an aging life, the new record brings spirit to the frontlines of pain—it’s as defiant as it is despairing, as much a call to arms as a throwing up of hands. The record features more guest backing vocalists than any previous Superchunk album, including Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit), Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields), Skylar Gudasz, and David Bazan. “Part of that was wanting a feeling of community,” says Mac. “I think that’s important to not be completely bummed out about everything all the time.” Despite the album’s driving force, it would be a mistake to call the album political, which suggests it has anything to do with parties, policy, or anything that can be broken down into a rational difference of opinion. “We’re not trying to offer policy solutions in the confines of a three-minute song,” says Mac. “It’s about ‘how do you live / not go crazy’ in the current climate when it seems like every day there’s a new outrage being perpetrated.”

                FORMAT INFORMATION

                Coloured LP Info: clear & pink swirl vinyl in Euro sleeve + exclusive 12 x 24 poster + MP3 coupon

                Superchunk

                Superchunk

                  When I listen to our first album now, other than cringing at some clams and the vocals and the juvenile attitude of the whole thing... what was I angry about? You'll have to ask 21-year-old me because in my memory, we were having fun. I hear the accumulation of our influences, which I suppose is normal for a first album—weaving all the things you loved up to that point into your own first thing.

                  The Buzzcocks, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr, and Sonic Youth are all right there and what we were listening to. I was living in NYC finishing school when we made this record, so rehearsals and recording were all rushed. I'm surprised we knew this many songs well enough to record them. Twenty-seven years later, we still play at least three or four of these songs live occasionally (one of them all the time...), which says something good about a few of the songs, anyway! We got so much better as a band, and as songwriters, that it's hard to even see this as any kind of template for what Superchunk would eventually be, but it's definitely where we were at in 1989/90, Mac McCaughan. 

                  FORMAT INFORMATION

                  CD Info: CD & LP include an LP3 coupon to download the bonus Clambakes Vol 9: Other Music From Unshowered Grumblers – Live in NYC 1990 (11-track live recording from release week in 1990).

                  A Giant Dog

                  Toy

                    Toy, the fourth LP from A Giant Dog and their second for Merge, shows the Austin quintet at the height of their powers. A solid year of road-dogging and woodshedding has made the band tighter than ever, the charging dynamo of Andrew Cashen and Andy Bauer's guitars in lockstep with the primal chug of the rhythm section Graham Low on bass and the recorded debut of Daniel Blanchard on drums. Singer Sabrina Ellis turns in another masterful performance, in equal parts brash, defiant, vulnerable, and raw.

                    Lyrically, Sabrina and Andrew have a gift for making their personal frustrations and fuck-ups, fears, lusts, and addictions feel universal. While they have always given voice to the weirdos and creeps—showing that their peccadilloes and peculiarities are much more deep-seated and widespread they dig even deeper on Toy. “I feel I’ve revealed more in this album than ever before,” Sabrina confesses. Still, the band doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of catchiness or charm when tackling issues like aging, agency, and mortality. For proof, just look at “Photograph,” the sweetest love song about physical longing and enduring devotion to one’s lover, even as their body succumbs to the ravages of time.

                    The band recorded Toy with Grammy-winning engineer Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, Cat Power, The White Stripes, Reigning Sound), and singer/songwriter/guitarist/wildman Cashen produced it. "Andrew as producer makes a lot of sense," Sabrina says. "He composes the songs and knows better than anyone what they should sound like in the end. With him at the helm, we've arrived at a raw, truthful, risky, and rangey album." Toy is also sonically huge, pulling from a range of influence s as diverse as Tinariwen and Thin Lizzy. 

                    FORMAT INFORMATION

                    CD Info: CD & LP packages include lead singer Sabrina Ellis’ handwritten lyrics + a photo of the band.

                    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. But underneath the outward humor, there is evident throughout a real tenderness toward, and solidarity with, our former fellow travellers—the friends whose bands never made it out of Fender’s Ballroom, the Gene Loves Jezebels of the world—the ones whose gothic paths were overtaken by the realities of life, or of its opposite. It’s something we talk about a lot, how fortunate and grateful we are to share this work, a career that’s become something more rewarding and fulfilling than I think any of us could have imagined. We all know how easily it could’ve gone the other way, and indeed for a long time did. Peter Hughes.

                    FORMAT INFORMATION

                    3xDeluxe LP Info: Cargo collective exclusive: Deluxe 3LP is limited edition and pressed on opaque red (LP1 & LP2) and tracklight green (bonus 12”), all vinyl cut at 45 RPM.

                    It's a Myth is Sneaks' 2nd album. 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." Though it flows from influences like Pylon and Bush Tetras, much of that beautiful stuff is hard to categorize or compare to anything else. It’s herkyjerky and fluid all at once, childlike and yet deeply perceptive.

                    FORMAT INFORMATION

                    LP includes MP3 Download Code.

                    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). “I grew up listening to ’60s pop like Dusty Springfield, but also classic country music, like Patsy Cline, and things that bridged both worlds, like Bobbie Gentry,” notes Hames. “With this record, the end result doesn’t fit into any one category. Which is an exciting thing to me.” 

                    The writing of the songs that became Heart Like a Levee started in a hotel room in Washington DC in January of 2015 during a powerful storm that darkened the East Coast. At that time I was feeling - more acutely than I had ever felt before - wrenched apart by my responsibilities to my family and to my music. Forgetting, momentarily, that for me, each exists only with the other. How could I forget? Though maybe my lapse was reasonable: I had just quit my job, the most recent and last, in a series of dead-end gigs stretching back 20 years, with the vow that my children would understand their father as a man in love with his world and the inventor of his own days. They would be rare in that regard. And then - driven by monthly bills and pure fear - I left for another tour, carrying a load of guilt that I could just barely lift. But in that snowy hotel room I found the refrain that became my compass: I was a dreamer, babe, when I set out on the road; but did I say I could find my way home? M.C. Taylor.

                    STAFF COMMENTS

                    Barry says: Optimism clearly doesn't come too easily to M.C Taylor, but you might just be mistaken for thinking that he's made his peace with the world from this shining and cautiously cheery suite of lovelorn sonnets. Perfectly produced and heartfelt country-tinged acoustic odes, and minor-key stripped back melodies. Stunning.

                    FORMAT INFORMATION

                    2xDeluxe LP Info: Deluxe 2LP is gatefold jacket + poster + single jacket (Vestapol) + obi wrap + download code.

                    Modern Country is the fourth full-length album by guitarist and composer William Tyler and his first recorded outside of his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. It features an ensemble backing group consisting of multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook (Hiss Golden Messenger, Blind Boys of Alabama), bassist Darin Gray (Tweedy, Jim O’Rourke), and percussionist Glenn Kotche (Wilco). The album was tracked at April Base Studios in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and finished in Nashville, recorded and mixed by Jon Ashley, and produced by Tyler and Brad Cook. While there is never a comfort zone in instrumental music, Tyler attempts to leave any perceived one behind with Modern Country.

                    His first album for Merge, 2013’s Impossible Truth, found Tyler exploring the boundaries of composition for solo guitar in a manner that paid homage to everyone from Leo Kottke to Brian Wilson. It was an epic song cycle that veered from cathedral-like psychedelic hymns to pastoral folk melodies. In contrast, Modern Country finds Tyler exploring more focused melodic themes rather than ethereal wanderings. These aren’t pop songs, per se, but they are closer in spirit to Neu!, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and Bill Frisell. Primarily written while Tyler was on sabbatical in Oxford, Mississippi, where he stayed at the cabin of a family friend within a stone’s throw of William Faulkner’s house, Modern Country is a collection of songs about the vanishing America that still exists on back roads, in small towns, on AM radio stations. In an election year when so many certainties and assurances have vanished, Tyler doesn’t offer optimism or pessimism but rather a calm and measured commentary in our age of anxiety.

                    STAFF COMMENTS

                    David says: Bit of a slow burner this one, it's worked it's magic on staff and customers alike and now barely a day goes by without it being on the shop cd player. Tyler, who also plays with Siver Jews and Lambchop is a guitarist who loops his tracks to create a multi textured sound that takes you on a gentle stroll through the Tennessee hills.

                    Little Scream aka Laurel Sprengelmeyer says she began conceiving of Cult Following while visiting a friend in a small intentional community in northern Brazil. “People were running around reading auras, interpreting each other’s dreams, and ‘living on light’ instead of eating—which was as compelling as it was absurd. I became very aware of the entropy of belief. You could feel the magnetism of ideas take shape and pull people into their center like a black hole… a thing so filled with light that its own gravity means that none of it can escape.” That experience laid the groundwork for Cult Following, a lush, expansive. retro-leaning gem that straddles intimate fragility with bombastic dancefloor-ready songs. Right from the start, you know you’ve entered a universe with its own rules—dazzling, dark, and whimsical, not unlike Willy Wonka’s gated factory. From the candy-filled ballroom of “Love as a Weapon,” you are invited onto the comforting ship of the warm ballad “Evan,” only to find that “the waves are falling/ they’re falling in faster, and the ship has no master… here comes disaster!” When the shipwreck subsides, you find yourself in the dark depths of the song Wishing Well, where Mary Margaret O’Hara makes a stunning, subtle vocal appearance.

                    Mary Margaret is one of several guests to appear on this record, along with Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, and Kyp Malone. Encountering them is not unlike having cameo stars within a film, but the world they inhabit is entirely Little Scream’s, and her voice acts as a tour guide through lush and sometimes terrifying sonic landscapes carefully constructed with her creative partner, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. Cult Following is a record that deserves to be listened to from start to finish, with each song having been constructed to meld seamlessly into the next. There may be those who listen only to the record’s obvious catchy hit, but they would be missing out on the depth of stunners like “Wishing Well” and “Someone Will Notice.” Like a classic novella, you must pass through all of the record’s stages to fully experience a triumphant hero’s journey. 

                    The Clientele

                    Strange Geometry (Reissue)

                      Originally released in 2005, The Clientele recorded their 2nd full-length album Strange Geometry with producer Brian O'Shaughnessy at Bark Studios, Walthamstow (UK). The album features twelve dreamy folk-pop songs with shimmering psych guitars and string arrangements by Louis Phillippe. Strange Geometry was the first Clientele album to be recorded in a fully equipped, professional studio with an established engineer/producer. The results are stunning. Strange Geometry is a robust yet subtle recording. Songs are allowed room to breathe, yet never stray into indulgence. When not concerned with the chore of production - the twisting of knobs and the repair of faulty equipment - the band was free to focus completely on the music, achieving and expanding upon the sonic blueprint they had envisioned from the start. Mr. O'Shaughnessy's experience and expertise helped the band deliver their most accomplished record to date, full of rich textures and enchanting melodies. As well, the contributions of the enigmatic and incredibly talented Mr. Philippe cannot be understated. His string arrangements are delicate but nonetheless powerful additions. 

                      When it came time to make Ad Infinitum, the fourth Telekinesis album, drummer/songwriter/principal architect Michael Lerner found himself in a predicament. In just under five years, he had released three fantastic records - Telekinesis! (2009), 12 Desperate Straight Lines (2011), and Dormarion (2013) - each more ambitious than the last. He had toured all over the world, shared stages with great bands, and enthralled fans of his infectious, ebullient power pop. Newly married and happily ensconced in the home studio he’d assembled in his West Seattle basement, Lerner found himself asking the question that has haunted modestly successful bands down the ages: What do you do after the rock and roll dreams you had when you were 19 have come true? “I went down to the basement,” Lerner recalls, “and started playing the same chords I always play… I just felt like I’d exhausted everything I knew. I was not excited at all. I just could not make another power-pop album.” While many artists have made fruitful use of vintage sounds and production techniques in recent years, Ad Infinitum is a different animal. It feels less like a time capsule and more like a time machine. In the movie version of the story, Lerner would stumble on his way down the stairs, hit his head, and wake up in 1983, and the only way he could get back to the present day would be to make a record using available instruments. Then he’d wake in 2015 to discover he’d been in his basement studio all along. And the record he’d made in that strange dream state would turn out to be Ad Infinitum, the most ambitious and assured Telekinesis release to date. 

                      On May 4, Mikal Cronin will return with MCIII. Marked by the lush arrangements, stunning melodies, and deeply personal lyrical work for which Cronin is now known, the album is also a deliberate attempt to simply “go big.”

                      As he did on his self-titled 2011 debut and 2013’s MCII, Cronin arranged and played nearly all of the record himself, including the tzouras, a traditional Greek string instrument he heard and subsequently bought while on tour in Athens. There’s French horn, saxophone, and trumpet. There are mood-altering crescendos and heartbreaking turns-of-phrase, guitars both gorgeous and pugnacious. No longer satisfied with the sound of “just one string player,” Cronin arranged parts for a full string quartet instead.

                      FORMAT INFORMATION

                      Ltd LP Info: Ultra limited CLEAR vinyl edition.

                      Ltd LP includes MP3 Download Code.

                      LP Info: Standard black vinyl edition.

                      LP includes MP3 Download Code.

                      Portastatic

                      The Summer Of The Shark (Reissue)

                        First time pressed to vinyl, LP includes coupon for full album download, LP pressed to white vinyl.

                        Portastatic's The Summer of the Shark will be available for the first time on vinyl as part of a monthly series of reissues to mark the 25th anniversary of Merge Records.

                        Mac McCaughan, co-founder of Merge Records and frontman of the band Superchunk, began recording solo albums under the name Portastatic in the early 90's.

                        Beginning with this album, Portastatic evolved from a lo-fi side project to become McCaughan's main focus throughout Superchunk's long hiatus in the early '00s. McCaughan wrote the songs on The Summer of the Shark in 2001 while Superchunk was on tour in support of Here's to Shutting Up, which was released mere days after the September 11 attacks and would be the band's last studio album for nine years.

                        The resulting batch of songs was the last Portastatic album recorded almost entirely at home; it was also the most emotionally resonant, and musically compact collection to date. Recorded at McCaughan's home studio in Chapel Hill, The Summer of the Shark included contributions from Janet Weiss (Wild Flag, Quasi, Sleater-Kinney), Tony Crow (Lambchop), Margaret White (Versus, Matt Pond PA), Matthew McCaughan (Bon Iver, Hiss Golden Messenger), Aaron Oliva, and John Plymale.

                        Ex Hex is a power trio hailing from Washington, DC. With Wild Flag on hiatus, Mary Timony (Autoclave, Helium) needed a new outlet, so she retreated to her basement and started writing. To her surprise, the songs came easily and the hooks practically wrote themselves. Mary found Laura Harris and they hit it off immediately. The pair played together for a couple of months in a tiny carpet-lined practice space shared with half a dozen hardcore bands and what appeared to be the better part of a BC Rich Mockingbird. In walked Betsy Wright from the wilds of Virginia. She and Mary have similar tendencies, both defaulting to denim and The Voidoids. Betsy is a performer and an ace piano player, and before long, she was slinging a cherry SG as the third member of Ex Hex.

                        The group played a handful of shows and a couple of months later, in the spring of 2014, headed into the studio. Working furiously, they recorded over the span of two weeks in North Carolina with Mitch Easter (Let's Active) and in the basement of Mary's home with frequent collaborator Jonah Takagi. What results is Ex Hex 'Rips', twelve songs about underdogs, guys stealing your wallet, schoolyard brawls, and getting bent. The record happens pretty quickly, so don't blink.

                        “a fun-as-hell supercharged take on Ramones punk and Cheap Trick power-pop, direct and catchy beyond belief” - STEREOGUM.
                        “While the song’s reminiscent of Wild Flag’s rollicking material, it simultaneously holds its own as a sizzling and energetic little rocker.“ - CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND, on “Don’t Wanna Lose”.

                        STAFF COMMENTS

                        Philippa says: Yay! Female power-punk-pop trio dropping Ramones / Blondie / Cheap Trick style 3 minute bombs. Twelve songs about underdogs, guys stealing your wallet, schoolyard brawls, and getting bent (US slang for getting drunk, Google tells me).

                        Andy says: Great, riffy, dead catchy power pop! A shop favourite!

                        Formed in 2005, Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Spider Bags were largely a revolving cast, with only Dan McGee (guitars, vocals) persevering through the various incarnations of the band. But during the 2011 recording of Shake My Head, the current lineup consisting of Steve Oliva (bass) and Rock Forbes (drums) was finally solidified. Building upon the foundation laid down by its predecessor, Frozen Letter rocks with the clairvoyance of three musicians who have spent a lot of time recording and touring together over the last few years.

                        “When we started this record, we weren’t even thinking about it being released. We just did it to have fun and keep moving forward,” says Forbes. This approach allowed the band to push itself further out into the psychedelic frontier than ever before, aided by engineer/producer Wesley Wolfe. Recorded mostly live over the course of a few days, there’s an exhilarating urgency to the record, as heard in riff-driven rockers like “Back With You Again in the World” and “Chem Trails.” The band brings the tempo down a notch for “Coffin Car,” which finds them mining an ominous morbidity over one of their prettier chord patterns. “We Got Problems” comes on like a true acid trip, alternating between utter terror and unfettered joy. Featuring a heavy and repetitive pattern, a slew of effected guitars, and searing guest leads from Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan, the song encapsulates an entire Spider Bags epoch in under six minutes.

                        Frozen Letter is the band’s fourth full-length record overall and first for Merge Records.

                        FORMAT INFORMATION

                        LP includes MP3 Download Code.

                        Spin magazine described Buckner as “equal parts Bay Area bohemian and dust bowl traditionalist” and named Bloomed one of its best albums of 1994, while Pitchfork wrote, “It’s a traditional outsider-country record in the lineage of Townes Van Zandt. Buckner’s voice is all honey and oak, his guitar style elaborately twanging, his constant subject matter heartache.” Richard Buckner provides some background on the album: Bloomed was originally (erroneously?) released on an unnamable German label in 1994. I was living in San Francisco at the time, having just moved out of a residential hotel and into the 1906 hilltop prefab that adorns the cover. At the time, I was heading a band called The Doubters. We were playing high profile events such as The Covered Wagon Saloon’s Musical Barstools, but weren’t making much headway. We had been turned down consistently every year by SXSW, but I was somehow finagled in as an unannounced guest onto an already unofficial SXSW showcase created by Butch Hancock at his gallery in downtown Austin. There, I met up again with Lloyd Maines, who agreed to produce my first record. Maines and I met in Lubbock, TX, a few months later, where we worked with Lubbock musicians in a small recording studio walled in wooden shingles Sharpied with bible passages from various church groups that also enjoyed working there. It was 112°F the morning I arrived under the suspicious (Californians are merely B-grade yankees) gaze of downtown’s Buddy Holly statue. That first night there, it hailed so hard that heaven’s angry pellets were storming in under my motel door. It only let up for a few moments that first night, allowing me to run across the street to get a butter burger and fries to go. We finished four days later and I flew back to San Francisco, dismembered the band, and embarked on a tour that would last about 20 years (or a few days, if you count what I actually remember). Nothing’s changed. I’m still dodging the sky and busking to strangers.

                        FORMAT INFORMATION

                        2xCD Info: Includes a bonus CD containing 11 bonus tracks of radio sessions, live performances, and original recordings of songs that appeared on future releases.

                        Vertical Scratchers is John Schmersal (ex-Brainiac/Enon, live Caribou, and Crooks on Tape) and Christian Beaulieu (ex-Triclops!/Anywhere). Their debut album is 'Daughter of Everything'. Simplicity was the inspiration: get in the van, rehearse in the van, tour in the van, stay mobile. “I have played in a lot of bands with complicated set-ups and implemented technologies,” says John. “I also do a lot of recording and editing on computers, so part of the desire for simplicity was about wanting things to be as organic and in real time as possible.” This impulse to keep things moving is reflected in the songs themselves. Most Vertical Scratchers songs clock in under the two-minute mark but often go in twice as many directions as your average-length song. Pop deception. Think the Kinks with a Buzzcocks brevity. Daughter of Everything was recorded live in Los Angeles at The Smell in September of 2012. The special guest appearance lead vocal from Robert Pollard was recorded at Waterloo Sound in Ohio by Todd Tobias.

                        In the time since Our Blood was released and after a few long tours, Richard Buckner attempted to work on writing short stories but found himself drawn back into the music room. The evidence of his time in the writer’s chair is clear in the dense, lovely prose of Surrounded. The album’s liner notes include text-embedded lyrics, a technique Buckner employed on his earlier albums Since and Impasse, but this marks the first time he used the songs’ extended story to construct the album’s overall view and track sequence. Throwing out the “tricks and trades” of his previous efforts, Buckner hunkered down at home and chose a few unfamiliar pieces of gear—a Suzuki QChord electronic autoharp and an Electro-Harmonix POG2 pedal—to create basic tracks and open up more sonic possibilities.

                        “The best outcomes happen sometimes when I’m unfamiliar with the tool that I’m using (imagine MacGyver wearing a dog cone).” The now-infamous process of recording and re-recording Our Blood left him a bit gun-shy, so this time, Buckner decided to get each song out of his house as soon as it was finished to avoid the contamination of over-thinking. After hearing an interview with famed producer Tucker Martine, Buckner found a destination for his songs: “Tucker understood the urgency in me to tie the whole thing up before I fell into the same trap that I’d had finishing Our Blood and was generous enough to move other commitments around to fit Surrounded in. When I had finally finished Our Blood, I felt like I’d just survived a stroll through a mine field. With Surrounded, it was more of a sensation that I’d successfully organized a messy desk.”

                        Friends and fans of The Love Language songwriter and frontman Stuart McLamb have learned to expect a lot, but rarely in a timely manner. Completing a triumvirate of spiritual transmissions spent lost (2009’s The Love Language) and found (2010’s Libraries), 2013’s Ruby Red exorcises the transient brilliance fostered by McLamb within the sheetrock walls of the album’s namesake artist space. Featuring over twenty musicians and straddling several time zones, The Love Language’s lone puppeteer borrowed heavier equipment, and held on to it longer. Initiated in a windowless unit at the fabled Ruby Red, several failed attempts and false starts at a songwriting spree landed McLamb and his engineer/case worker/boxing coach BJ Burton in Black Mountain, North Carolina, consuming every square inch of a carpeted bungalow located a few acres too close to their skittish neighbors. Soon after, Burton’s relocation to Minneapolis effectively thrust McLamb from their shared nest, helping Ruby Red discover its inherent propensity for flight. Ruby Red produces new standards for the Carolina pop songbook, finding The Love Language as an extroverted community art project made by responsible citizens of a loosely packed scene who know that McLamb will match whatever they contribute. The heartbreak is over. Now we’re getting somewhere.

                        Stephin Merritt and Gonson deliver their lines with vim and vigor, particularly on “How Very Strange,” a mean-spirited look back at the implausibility of a relationship, batting lines back and forth—it could be a sequel to the Magnetic Fields’ “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!” (sample lyric: “I put a little heroin / In everything you took in”). Another top track is “Drink Nothing But Champagne,” in which Merritt gives his best impressions of David Bowie and Aleister Crowley, as he sings, “Children, drink nothing but champagne / It makes life shorter / Than drinking water” (and water’s mostly piss!). Merritt’s ode to double suicide, “Let’s Go to Sleep (And Never Come Back),” makes it sound like an adventure, while “Keep Your Children in a Coma” offers these words of wisdom: “You can’t let them go to school / For fear of bullying little beasts / And you can’t take them to church / For fear of priests.” His lyrics veer into territories few have the audacity to touch. There are fewer zombies and aliens on Partygoing than on the prior two albums, though there are plenty of songs about aging, death, heartbreak, rejection and austerity.

                        Future Bible Heroes

                        Memories Of Love, Eternal Youth, Partygoing (Reissue)

                        Future Bible Heroes are comprised of celebrated songwriter Stephin Merritt (the Magnetic Fields, the 6ths, the Gothic Archies), longtime friend and collaborator Christopher Ewen (Figures on a Beach, the Hidden Variable and a popular Boston-area DJ) and Magnetic Fields pianist-singer-manager Claudia Gonson. The band released two albums, Memories of Love (1997) and Eternal Youth (2002), and three EPs, all of which they are repackaging as one large collection for simultaneous release via Merge on June 10 2013, along with their new album, Partygoing.

                        Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut from 2011 was all about endings: the end of college, the end of a serious relationship, and the end of his time in Los Angeles, where he grew up. So it’s no surprise that his sophomore release 'MCII' - and first disc for Merge Records - is all about new beginnings.

                        “Since the first record came out, my life has changed quite a bit,” Cronin says, referencing his move to San Francisco and tours with Ty Segall as well as with his own band. “I was presented with a whole new slew of problems and situations that I was trying to work through.” “Am I Wrong” and “Shout It Out” dissect his fears over a new relationship, while “I’m Done Running from You” and “Weight” find him freaking out about what it means to grow up in the 21st century. Other than these few exceptions, Cronin played all of the instruments. “It all makes total sense to me, but when I step back, it sounds kind of schizophrenic,” Cronin says. “Hopefully it all sounds enough like me to make sense.”

                        “A debut that will fry your ears and break your heart.” MOJO, on Mikal Cronin.
                        “Small, but near-perfectly formed.” UNCUT, on Mikal Cronin.

                        FORMAT INFORMATION

                        LP includes MP3 Download Code.

                        CD Info: CD in a digipak with booklet.

                        Following their 2010 album Work, Adam, Bebban, Ted, Carl, and Eric headed out on their most successful tour ever and then returned home to their own pursuits. Families were expanded, side projects were launched, and homes outside of Stockholm were explored. When the time came to work on another Shout Out Louds record they wanted to return to the playful spirit that first brought them together ten years ago. Instead of “work,” they wanted to dance! Rather than rehearsing and then recording in the studio as they’d always done, everyone felt free to write and work on their own parts individually as Optica was taking shape. Also, the band worked with a string composer to achieve lush arrangements described by Carl as “Disney on drugs” and by Adam as “like warm mayonnaise.” Shout Out Louds took their time with these songs, recording for about 1.5 years in a small Stockholm studio and producing themselves for the first time with help from Johannes Berglund. A theme emerged and Optica was born, an album celebrating color and light from a band confident in its sound.

                        “The forthcoming album is stacked full of the usual anthemic qualities we’ve come to expect from the group, whilst the quality of songwriting and production takes another bold step towards eternal greatness.” The Line of Best Fit

                        “Maybe it's his former band's recent return that's got Eric Bachmann ruminating so hard, but the past, and what to do with it, seems of of particular concern to ex-Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann on Breaks in the Armor, his sixth LP at the helm of Crooked Fingers. "The Hatchet". Breaks' lyrical thumbnails of lost opportunities and forgotten friends can seem a touch too pathos-addled on paper, but drawn through Bachmann's lungs, they leave their mark. But even when Bachmann lays things out too bare, he'll slip scores of feeling into a line or two, leaving the listener with no doubt as to precisely which nerve he's intending to strike. "Much too much for us to turn back now," the guy who once screamed, "you've got it all wrong," sighs on "War Horses", the regret in his voice never far from the surface”.

                        Pitchfork Review ……………. Eric Bachmann recorded Breaks in the Armor in Athens, Georgia at The Bakery with Matt Yelton (live sound engineer for the Pixies) throughout the winter of 2010/2011, enlisting the help of Liz Durrett on backing vocals. It’s a cohesive and diverse set of songs with less adorned and more direct and affecting arrangements. Beautifully understated, artfully phrased, and ultimately a paean to perseverance, the album seems to suggest that the breaks in the armor are more important than the armor itself.


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