Merge Records & Opinions on The Decemberists and Mastodon

North Carolina indie label Merge Records is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Join Jim and Greg as they speak with Merge founders Mac McCaughan and Laura Balance.

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Fans of the Sound Opinions Ticketmaster drinking game will be happy to hear what’s up first in the news. Jim and Greg talk to Wall Street Journal reporter Ethan Smith about his piece on Ticketmaster’s secondary ticket market and artists’ involvement with scalping their own tickets. Smith’s example cites Neil Diamond concert tickets, which he discovered for sale on the secondary ticket exchange the same day as regular tickets went on sale. But he points out that Diamond, whose manager happens to be Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff, isn’t alone in this practice. He believes nearly every major arena act on the road today may be getting in on these revenues.

A Merge Records Retrospective

This economy has not been easy on independent labels, as Jim and Greg reported a couple of weeks ago regarding Touch and Go here in Chicago. So, it’s that much more significant to hear of an indie label going strong for 20 years. This week Jim and Greg talk to the founders of one such label— Merge Records in North Carolina. In 1989, Superchunk members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance founded Merge as a way to release their music and that of their friends. Twenty years later, it’s still growing and has launched such bands as Spoon, The Magnetic Fields, She & Him, and Arcade Fire, who gave the label its first Billboard hit.

The Hazards of Love The Decemberists

Hazards of Love

With their new album The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists are poised to reach their biggest audience to date. And neither Jim nor Greg think listeners, old or new, will be disappointed. The songs are typically fanciful and epic, but rock harder than ever. In fact, Greg thinks keyboardist Jenny Conlee deserves an award for her Deep Purple stylings. Both he and Greg give the album a Buy It rating.

Crack the Skye Mastodon

Crack the Skye

And just when you thought we couldn’t rock any harder, Jim and Greg get to their review of heavy metal band Mastodon’s latest release Crack the Skye. The quartet also faces bigger exposure with this album, and the question in fans’ minds is if they can do it without selling out. Jim and Greg’s response: definitely. For Jim, Crack the Skye is dark and disorienting, as metal should be. But, producer Brendan O’Brien helped keep the music melodic and on course. Greg believes the songs’ emotions will help draw more people in, but without sacrificing Mastodon’s hardcore metal roots. Crack the Skye gets two Buy Its.

Jim

Jim’s Desert Island Jukebox pick was inspired by a documentary he saw on the summer of ‘68. He saw the footage of the riots in Chicago during the Democratic Convention in a whole new light because of the reporting he’s been doing on the city government’s attitude toward live music. The city council is attempting to pass legislation that would severely hinder local promoters. And Jim couldn’t help but compare the image of our current mayor to that of his father screaming, yelling and proclaiming himself the law. That image was juxtaposed with the Stevie Wonder song Heaven Help Us All, and Jim thinks it’s a perfect choice to bring with him to the desert island.

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