Various Artists

Survive and Advance, Vol. 1: A Merge Records Compilation

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This 14-song compilation is entirely devoted to selections by artists on the roster of Merge Records, one of the more interesting rock independents of the 1990s and early 2000s. Unlike many such anthologies (including a couple of previous ones on Merge), it's not a mere label sampler or anniversary best-of. Ten of the cuts were previously unreleased, and Spoon's "Small Stakes" had yet to come out on their Kill the Moonlight album when it appeared here. It might remain the kind of thing that's only necessary for truly hard-boiled indie rock collectors, but at least it's offering something different and (for the most part) otherwise unobtainable. You couldn't say that many of these artists were real big names, even in alternative rock, though Lambchop (with a live version of "The Puppy and the Leaf"), Portastatic (with a live cover of Nick Drake's "Northern Sky"), and the Stephin Merritt-overseen Gothic Archies have pretty high profiles, and are all represented by previously unissued tracks. There's not a huge uniformity of sound and style, but it spans generally decent shades of offbeat alternative/underground rock, from the Randy Newman-goes-No Depression-like vibes of the Radar Brothers' "Silver Shoes" and the rootsy folk-rock of Annie Hayden to the Kinks-like "Little Bird" of David Kilgour (from an official EP) and the Syd Barrett-meets-flamenco of Destroyer's "Chosen Few." Stephin Merritt sounds even more morose than usual on the Gothic Archies' "Smile: No One Cares How You Feel," like a 45 rpm record running at 33.

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