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Various artists

Although North Carolina's Merge Records has accomplished a lot during its existence, the packaging of this irresistible three-CD anniversary celebration doesn't betray any delusions of grandeur. Whereas many overviews might feature a pretentious essay about the imprint's importance, Old Enough sports a satirical letter attributed to critic Ronald Thomas Clontle (actually Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster) dismissing some Merge acts and offering others ridiculously backhanded compliments. Snooty it's not.

The song choices are all about egalitarianism, especially on the first two discs, which highlight previously released material. (The set's final third concentrates on rarities.) Artists such as the Magnetic Fields may be well-known among undergrounders, but they're allotted the same number of songs as Versus and other obscure combos: one. Fortunately, Merge's consistency turns this apparent drawback into a strength. Even longtime fans may discover something new here, be it a catchy track by an unsung act (e.g. "Break a Promise," by Guv'ner) or a quirky one-off by a prominent combo (like Destroyer's "Streethawk II").

Betcha even Mr. Clontle would approve.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts