July 19, 2004

Various Artists "Old Enough to Know Better"

Happy Birthday!

To celebrate their fifteen years in the business of music, the well-regarded Merge Records decided to give YOU the gift, and that's Old Enough to Know Better, a sprawling three-disc 'best of.' Though it's not being portrayed as such, this box set (yes, three discs IS a box set) is similar in nature to Dischord's box set--two discs from many of the label's releases, and a third disc of rare and unreleased materials. Unlike the Dischord set, there's no information or history or anything of that nature to be found here--it's up to you to figure out where these great songs can be found.

I'm glad that they didn't make Old Enough To Know Better into a historical document, though, because such a stuffy, serious attitude isn't rock and roll, and it would get in the way of one quite obvious fact: Merge is one of the best indie rock labels out there. I mean, really, people, that's no boast; what else can you call a small label that has delivered one of the truly classic albums of the 1990s from a band whose music is utterly unclassifiable,(In The Aeroplane Over The Sea), who else has turned a pretty straightforward indie-rock band from post-major label into the American success story, yet at the same can release music that's beyond classification (Pram, Polvo) to jazz (Spaceheads, Ganger), country (Paul Burch, Richard Buckner, Lambchop), pop (Magnetic Fields, Ladybug Transistor, The Clientele) and noisy, in-your-face punk rock and noise (Buzzcocks, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead)--and all without losing money because it's too diverse?

Yeah, this record's amazing. There's too many goodies here to go into any specific details, but I will say this--even if you own every song on the first two discs, the third disc is packed with all sorts of rarities. Whether they intended to or not, several of the songs on this disc are rather inspired covers. The Clientele offer up a great cover of a lost Jimmy Webb classic, "Where The Universes Are," new signing Richard Buckner gives us a take on Texas troubador Terry Allen's "Dogwood," The Essex Green cover Doug Sahm's "Mendocino," Spoon give us a cover of Yo La Tengo's "Decora" and, in a most ironic twist, Angels of Epistomology give us a cover of labelmate Buzzcock's classic "Fiction Romance." The other tracks are all great, especially Destroyer's live recording of "Streethawk II," and Superchunk show that they still haven't learned to do wrong with their "Freaks in Charge."

So happy birthday, Merge Records! You've certainly had a great fifteen years--here's to fifteen more! And, as a special bonus, the proceeds of this record go to Future Of Music Coalition, a really great organization. This is a wonderful little set that you should own, like, NOW!!

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.mergerecords.com
Future of Music: http://www.futureofmusic.org

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