Mixed Media

Merge Records's 20-Year Anniversary Collections to Remind Us of the Greatness of Merge Records

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 4:23 PM EDT

mojo-photo-merge.jpgIf you look up "Indie Record Label" in the dictionary, does it have a picture of North Carolina's Merge Records' logo there? Yeah, I know, "what's a dictionary." The legendary imprint will celebrate its 20th anniversary this fall with a set of subscription-only specially-curated compilations, which, as Idolator put it, are guaranteed to open the wallets of nerds worldwide. The first CD will be curated by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Junebug director Phil Morrison, while celebs like Jonathan Lethem, David Byrne an Amy Poehler are lined up to take charge of future discs. You can start ordering them on September 8th, and they're limited editions, so set your alarms, my fellow nerds.

The label's 20-year existence is bookended by two bands who are symbolic of the "indie culture" of their time: Superchunk, whose music Merge was formed specifically to release, and Arcade Fire, whose two recent full-lengths were the label's greatest financial successes by far. But they've released a lot of other fine music in the interim. After the jump, some Merge-tastic videos from a few of my faves.

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Mining for Gold

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 2:50 PM EDT

After more than two weeks of shot putting, somersaulting, sprinting, and spiking, the Beijing Olympics have come to a close. And for the first time in 72 years, the United States isn't standing atop the podium.

China has come away with the most gold medals, walloping the US 51-36. And while home countries often claim more victories in the year they host—Greece procured an impressive 16 medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics—few countries have seemed as driven as China and none have toppled the dominant USA in a quarter of a century. And the US is having trouble dealing with it. The UK edition of the Times Online noted that the United States is defying the traditional system by keeping tabs of the most overall medals instead of golds (The US scored 110 overalls to China's 100)—a move summed up in the headline "America Refuses to Accept Defeat in the Olympic Medal Count."

Most Americans will gauge this Olympics, as they always do (ok, maybe a little moreso this year), by its heroes: Michael Phelps with his record-breaking dominance and supportive single mother; Shawn Johnson and the Chinese coach who guided her to gold in his hometown. Don't forget your Michael Phelps gold medal tribute to remember! But fluffing Phelps' feathers aside, the medal tally matters. When billions of people around the world see that you're the top dog, it's an unbeatable global PR push.

Outside Lands: Slogging It, Part Two

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 7:02 PM EDT

An hour and a half after our streetcar adventure began, we made it to Golden Gate Park Friday evening with more than a half an hour to spare before Manu Chao took the stage at 6:15.

Making our way through the gates took another 45 minutes: We entered the park at 19th Avenue, the closest entrance to the box office and our passes, but the festival map did not label the intra-park streets, which snake around and break off into tributaries. I figured this was the organizers' way of testing our spatial-reasoning skills.

This thought was confirmed when, after we realized we had walked too far and turned around to backtrack, we saw signs labeled "media check-in" and "will call" with arrows pointing us in the right direction. The sign was hanging on a fence, facing away from anyone who entered the park at 19th Avenue.

My Outside Lands Experience: Worth the Fog and Trouble

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 6:37 PM EDT

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First of all, not to rub it in to my streetcar-entrapped Mother Jones colleagues, but a motorcycle makes things a lot easier.

To those of you who aren't located within about a 10-mile radius of San Francisco, let me remind you of our unique meteorological situation. The California Current brings cold Pacific Ocean water south from Canada, while upwelling from the frigid, murky deep peaks during the summer months, making our ocean waters colder in June and July than they are in December. The summer sun heats the land in central California, causing high low surface pressure, and sucking the chilly, saturated air in from the sea and over SF. This creates the famous fog, which everyone thinks is so charming in pictures but actually feels like a soggy blizzard. It's my personal theory that the Bay Area's notorious political uniqueness is actually a symptom of meteorological alienation from the rest of America, frolicking in the summer sun while we huddle around our space heaters. Whatever else our shivery summer isolation causes, it makes an outdoor music festival in Golden Gate Park, out by the ocean where thick fog is almost inevitable, seem about as attractive as spending an evening under the vegetable sprayers in the supermarket.

Outside Lands: Slogging It

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 4:11 PM EDT

Our downtown offices at Mother Jones sit just a few miles from Golden Gate Park, the site of the Outside Lands fest, so to make sure we had a good spot for Manu Chao's set at 6, Brittney and I hopped on an outbound streetcar just after 4 yesterday afternoon.

After the train pulled away from Montgomery Street, we began talking about the bands we were excited to see: The Black Keys, Radiohead, Beck, Cold War Kids. It had been a long week at MoJo; our Military Bases project finally went live. We were looking forward to a relaxing night in the park.

And then approximately 12,639 tourists, hipsters, hippies, festival-goers, and unlucky commuters crammed themselves into to the train at the next stop. I guessed 12,634 of them were also on their way to Outside Lands. Suddenly, I became acutely acquainted with the aromatic heft of Old Spice deodorant under the arm of the guy who wedged in next to me to grab the pole over my head. Two women, probably on their way home, sitting in the seats just in front of me looked up at the crowd that had made the train a can of sardines; their faces wore Kurtz's horror.

So many people had squeezed in to the train the door wouldn't close, so the conductor politely informed the crowd not to lean on the bars that, when pressed, open the doors when the cars stop at street level. Ten stops and ten similar announcements later, he'd lost his patience: "DON'T LEAN ON THE BARS! THE BARS KEEP THE DOORS OPEN! GET OFF THE CAR! CAR TWO! I KNOW IT'S YOU, CAR TWO!" A girl at the back of the car put it even more bluntly: "Get off the f*cking bars! Get off the f*cking car!"

We were half way there.

—Steve Aquino

Outside Lands: Radiohead Makes History

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 4:59 AM EDT

Thirteen sets and two Natalie Portman-sightings later, the first night of San Francisco's Outside Lands festival wrapped up by 10 p.m.

While acts ranged from Cold War Kids to Manu Chao to Beck, the night had one consistent theme: confusion. You couldn't find a sign leading you to an entrance, but we found a stash of unused signs, including the much needed "Restrooms this way," stored in the crew area. And in lieu of "branded stages" companies sponsored interactive exhibits such as exclusive lounges that required a specific Visa card for admittance.

Yet efforts toward greening the event, the unique food selection (think shrimp ceviche), and a spectacular location helped us forget the organizational troubles. Not to mention talented visual artists decorated each stage. Plus, as the first group to ever play in Golden Gate Park at night, Radiohead's show was as visually stunning as the music was enthralling.

Despite some organizational glitches, the Outside Lands festival is off to a solid start.

—Brittney Andres

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Murakami's Running Lags Behind

| Wed Aug. 20, 2008 8:51 PM EDT

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I can't tell you how excited I was to read Haruki Murakami's new memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. As a runner and admirer of Murakami's work, I raced to the bookstore in hopes of discovering thrilling personal connections between myself and the great novelist.

Unfortunately, what aspects I could relate to— the pain of training for a marathon; the feeling of running outside in the wet New England fall—were eclipsed by a parade of high-school-gym-class-style clichés ("Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."). Even more disappointing was the pace and style of the book: The rambling trains of thought did not arrive at interesting destinations, and despite Murakami's claim to months of careful editing, the collection is about as organized and well thought out as your average LiveJournal entry.

And that's what this book seems to be—not a memoir or an essay collection so much as Murakami's personal blog, printed out and placed between two hard covers. And no matter who keeps them, personal blogs are ultimately records of the quotidian. Even giving Murakami the benefit of the doubt—perhaps his hackneyed phrases are much more beautiful in the original Japanese—the book cycles again and again through the kinds of small revelations that I have on every run. Running is hard. Running is like writing. These are not insignificant, but neither are they worth $21.

2008 Conventions: Who's Performing?

| Wed Aug. 20, 2008 6:30 PM EDT

almanns-300.jpgI'd love to attend the upcoming RNC and DNC, if nothing else just to watch the live music performances; and yes, this makes me a geek. Despite several lineup reports, when I called event planners today to confirm, my call to the DNC went straight to voice mail and folks at the RNC said to call back next week.

Until then, I'm going by a scattered reports from the interwebs:

New TV on the Radio Picks Up Where Beck Left Off

| Wed Aug. 20, 2008 5:28 PM EDT

mojo-photo-tvontheradio.jpgNew York combo TV on the Radio made my #2 album of 2006, so when I learned that a track from their upcoming album, Dear Science, was available to stream on their web site, I clicked over there as fast as my mouse could take me. First of all, what's the deal with indie rock bands and wedding announcement fonts? Are they trying to steal a little bit of Ellen DeGeneres' blog fire? Okay, just had to get that out of the way. The song, "Golden Age," is a little more accessible and straightforward than the angst-ridden material on Cookie Mountain; it's got a jaunty little beat and buzzy synths reminiscent of Beck's "Hell Yes," although unlike that song's focused, quirky minimalism, "Golden Age" builds and builds until the whole band is singing along with a crazy horn section. I'm having a bit of trouble making out the lyrics, although at one point Kyp appears to rhyme "natural disaster" with "ghetto blaster," which deserves an award in and of itself. Either way, this is at least my song of the month.

Dear Science is out September 23 on Interscope. After the jump, Beck's "Hell Yes" for comparison, and TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" from 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain, just for fun.

Hooray: Rachel Maddow Gets Her Own MSNBC Show

| Tue Aug. 19, 2008 7:37 PM EDT

mojo-photo-maddow.jpgNothing against Dan Abrams. Air America host Rachel Maddow will be taking over Abrams' 9 p.m. slot on MSNBC effective, like, right away: Abrams will sign off Thursday and Maddow will kick off her show September 8. The move has long been rumored since everybody thought she was awesome, and Abrams will stick around in a general manager role. Everybody's happy!

After the jump: More praise for Maddow, and watch her take down Pat Buchanan.