Everything is Nice: The Matador Records 10th Anniversary Anthology (Matador)
Reviewed by Jeff Mccord, Fri., Dec. 10, 1999
Everything is Nice: The Matador Records 10th Anniversary Anthology
(Matador)Why was 1989 such a touchstone year for the alternative independent label? Too much Richard Marx on the radio? For whatever reason, three prime labels have marked a decade in the business this year: Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance's Merge (observed by the excellent Oh Merge! set); the UK's pioneering Warp label (marked with their massive techno collection); and the original home to Merge co-owners Superchunk, along with the U.S. distributor of Warp, Matador Records. Of the three, there's no doubt who's had the wildest ride. Gerard Cosloy, along with partner Chris Lombardi, launched Matador on a shoestring budget, and a decade later, the string is a bit stretched and frayed, but still holding things together nicely. Ensuing years saw largely unproductive alliances with two different major labels, and large infusions of cash from both, yet Matador's biggest successes have always come on their own, and one of their biggest, Liz Phair, ended up in Capitol's custody after their recent divorce. It's natural to expect some sort of comprehensive overview from a 3-CD collection marking your 10th anniversary. Don't. On that score, Everything Is Nice fails miserably. It completely ignores the early years, when the label first released its loosey-goosey, who-gives-a-fuck grungepop upon the world. That genre's archetype was, and still is, Pavement, whose recent silly and compelling "Stereo" kicks off this collection. But where's Railroad Jerk, Teenage Fanclub, Superchunk, Mecca Normal, the Fall, Spoon, and most notably absent, Ms. Phair herself? Contractual rights or sour grapes? If the set is only meant to concentrate on current Matador artists, what are recent refugees Guided by Voices doing here? Ultimately, like the label's increasingly diverse roster, there may be no underlying logic. Matador signs what they like, and Everything Is Nice indeed plays out like some eccentric-but-tasteful rock fan's album collection. There's Jon Spencer's psycho blues, garage fuzz from the Lynnfield Pioneers and Guitar Wolf, popsmarts from Sleater-Kinney and Yo La Tengo, narcotic hypno-techno from Nightmares on Wax and Pole, arresting navel gazing from Cat Power, hip-hop from the Arsonists and Non Phixion, and unclassifiable entrancement from Modest Mouse and Mogwai. And that doesn't begin to cover it. Not everything here is great, but very little is bad (please explain the Pizzicato Five), and none of it is boring (rock's greatest sin). If this random and spartanly packaged collection gives the impression that Matador is observing its 10th with a shrug, it's merely business as usual for a label that's always focused on creative music and ignored all manner of other distractions by pretty much doing whatever they damn well wanted. Long may they run.