Various Artists

Matador at 15 Comp

(Matador; 2004)

By Peter Hepburn | 3 November 2004

Somewhere out there is justice for the major labels. Maybe it only will take one more lawsuit, one more injunction, one more knee-breaking or head-busting before the poor, deprived music industry will finally, after years of struggle, receive the dues they so truly deserve. After all, they aren’t asking much--why should we be shocked to pay $18 for that new Green Day album? Sure, the quality may not be all that great, and we could get it for a hell of a lot less and a lot more quickly over the internet, but then we wouldn’t get those great five pages of liner notes. I guess it’s not so much that I have something against the major labels as that I have an enormous respect for the indie labels that are thriving today by following an original, uncomplicated business model of quality CDs at reasonable prices. Merge, Kill Rock Stars, Drag City, Dischord, and most notably Matador records could teach Sony/BMG and Warner Brothers a few things. Matador’s new compilation, Matador at 15, provides one more reason to send your money to 625 Broadway. Of course it goes beyond just quantity; for indie music fans there are few better stocking stuffers this season than these three discs (Merge’s recent comp is right up there as well). New Pornographers, Interpol, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Stephen Malkmus, Cat Power, Belle & Sebastian, Guided by Voices, and Yo La Tengo all make their appearances. All the same, there’s something unnecessary about this. Matador’s last comp (What's Up Matador) came five years ago, and, as such, this one only covers the last half-decade. While this still takes up plenty of space, there are some weaker bands on the roster that could have been tactfully not invited; Bardo Pond, Seachange, and Dead Meadow, here’s looking at you. Clearly, there’s also not much music here we aren’t at least somewhat familiar with. The first half of the disc is especially formidable indie rock, and, not surprisingly, it flows well. The second disc contains B-sides and a few live tracks--none of it too surprising. Interpol’s “Specialist” has been around for a while, and M. Ward’s “Duet for Guitars #1” doesn’t add much too his sound. All the same, Carl Newman’s two tracks make it hard to complain; “Graceland” is a phenomenal New Pornographers song, and “Homemade Bombs in the Afternoon” matches most things from The Slow Wonder. The videos are a nice touch, as well. As someone without a TV, it was fun to see Stephen Malkmus’s true-to-form video for “Discretion Grove” and the New Pornographers great “The Laws Have Changed” (also of note is their excellent video for their cover of Toronto's "Daddy Don't Know," which, unfortunately is not included). Cornelius’s “I Hate Hate” and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “She Said” round out the best on the disc. If there’s anything that really makes this whole package worthwhile, it has to be Gerard Cosloy’s hilarious liner notes. I couldn’t keep a straight face reading through the inner-office correspondence about water heaters and that “crazy sausage action that [Matador co-president Chris] Lombardi brought back from abroad.” Cosloy’s biting sarcasm is great, and the absurdity of some of the letters he has received leads to a great read. I have a hard time arguing against this album. Buy this. Why not? You get 3 discs of good music, support an independent record label, and you aren’t dropping more than $15. Hell, buy several-- maybe your mom will really dig Cat Power. She probably won't complain too much if she doesn't, anyways.