Various Artists

Matador at 21

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Finally old enough to gamble, in 2010 the venerable indie rock label Matador Records held a celebration of its 21st birthday in Las Vegas. Less risky for fans, however, is the commemorative set Matador at 21, which collects five discs’ worth of highlights from 1989 onward, as well as a disc of performances from Matador’s 10th anniversary blowout in 1999, and, for good measure, a set of poker chips. The collection feels like much more than just a plus-size greatest-hits set -- even though Pavement, arguably the label’s definitive band, contributes three tracks, none of them are among their best-known songs. Instead, Matador at 21 provides a balanced, bird's eye view of the label’s different eras. The first disc is particularly interesting, especially for anyone whose knowledge of Matador came with the successes they had a few years later. It’s easy to forget that groups like Teenage Fanclub and Superchunk once called Matador home, while tracks from H.P. Zinker, Unsane, and Toiling Midgets show how much the label’s sound and roster was about to change. And while the second disc showcases early- to mid-‘90s stars like Pavement, Liz Phair, Guided by Voices, and Yo La Tengo, it spends just as much time with acts who didn’t always get buzz-bin hype but went on to craft their own legacies, such as Come, 18th Dye, Guitar Wolf, and Bardo Pond. Indeed, the entire set shows how willing Matador has been to to take chances, whether on electronica in the late ‘90s or on post-post-punk, stoner rock, and indie folk in the 2000s. With disc five reflecting the label’s mix of veteran acts (Sonic Youth, Ted Leo) at the time of the set’s release and up-and-comers (Perfume Genius, Harlem), and disc six’s mini-sets by Pavement and Cat Power adding die-hard fan appeal, Matador at 21 shows how much Matador’s gambles paid off for the label and fans alike.

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