I continued to be amazed by the output of independent labels in 2013, many of which I’ve become acquainted with through my work on Bandcamp Hunter. Below are the ten whose work I most admired this year, in no particular order. The emphasis here is on smaller, less established labels that have inspired me with their productivity and imagination, as well as with the quality and variety of their releases. Important to me also is the creation a distinct identity, through both strong design and the personality of the operators.
You may recognise a few of these labels from my interview series here on Formless Fields and I make no apology for that – I admired these labels greatly before speaking with them about their work. Keep up the fine work you good, good people.
Colorado based Patient Sounds released an impressive nineteen tapes in 2013, a great achievement for such a small label. Run my Matthew Sage (aka M.Sage) and his fiance, the label prides itself on releasing diverse styles of music that push the boundaries of what experimental music can be. I’d been familiar with their work for a while but taking the time to explore their catalogue further revealed many gems, in particular I fell pretty hard for the Wellington Downs album The Westers (another project of Sage’s) and the magnificent Container Ship from The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact is one of the finest things I heard all year. Each release from Patient is surprising and worthy of devoted listening, it’s an exciting label to follow. Add to this beautiful packaging, a strong identity and personal service and you’ve got yourself a label that embodies all that is good about DIY labels. With their first vinyl release on the horizon and more great tapes in the pipeline, 2014 looks very promising for Patient sounds.
I was very excited for Steve Rosborough of Moon Glyph to be my first interview subject here on Formless Fields after admiring the output of the label for some time. I’ve learned this year that running a small label is all about musical taste – the owner/operator of an independent label is also a curator – and Steve has great taste. From groovy krautrock to rampant psychedelic rock to warped pastural folk, Moon Glyph has had an outstanding year of releasing innovative music, complimented always with gorgeous packing. The San Fransciso label has grown from focusing on primarily local music to releasing international sounds, with the lovely album from Copenhagen’s Henry the Rabbit becoming a personal favourite of mine. The New Lines album was also brilliant and the twin releases from FWY! were both indispensable. A red letter year for a class act label.
With the year Courtney Barnett had it’s remarkable her label Milk! Records released any music at all but nay, they managed to release some outstanding records from several Melbourne artists. The centrepieces were certainly the mighty In Blood Money Memory by Jen Cloher and the celebrated double EP from Courtney, A Sea Of Split Peas. These were world beating albums featuring songwriting that’s as good as anything going ’round – Jen’s an emotional and stoic masterpiece of smouldering rock songs and Courtney’s a great round up of the two EPs that have propelled her to international acclaim. On top of this Milk released killer records from Melbourne locals Roysyton Vasie, a live album from The Finks and a sterling CD from the irrepressible Fraser A. Gorman, all packaged with tender loving care and distributed from lounge rooms in Melbourne’s north. Live music is a big a part of the Milk identity too, and their Xmas shindig at The Tote was one of the highlights of my gig going year.
Good music, good friends, good times. It’s what Milk is all about.
After just a couple of initial releases in 2012, Adelaide label Major Crimes upped the ante in 2013 and released a slew of killer music. Much of this music was guitar-centric – from the loose jangle pop of Bruff Superior to the bruising, brilliant album from Big Richard Insect – though the label also released two electro-mindfuckers from Brisbane based Multiple Man. The Wireheads release was most enjoyable too, pulsating noise rock that could emanate from nowhere but the gritty underbelly of the Australian musical underground. And indeed this is what Major Crimes trades in – transmitting the rough edged, vital music from the fringes of our musical scenes to those who are wise and willing. A year of essential releases from a label that’s in it for all the right reasons, I can’t wait to see what they come up with in 2014.
Carpi Records are one of those labels I have to stop myself from featuring constantly on Badncamp Hunter, everything they released this year was gold. Based in France, the label primarily releases music that errs on the side on “hypnagogic” – electronic based music that explores alternate dimensions through sonic innovation and experimentation. They’ve done a great job of carving a strong identity through their classy design and consistently strong releases, largely on cassette. Delving through their Bandcamp page is a languid journey into the sound of a dream world, beautifully crafted music borne of exceptionally talented musicians from around the globe. The Sunny Dunes release stood out to me as one of the French artists finest efforts yet, while the Ki Choquette album was a masterpiece of graceful, understated beauty. Also noteworthy was the sublime album of distorted guitar ruminations from Casino Hearts, the work of a young man from Reno. Follow this label, and infuse the wonderful music they release into both your waking and sleeping hours.
“Stay Rad”. That’s the simple catch cry for Furious Hooves, a label run by two childhood friends living in two separate cities in the American east. Positivity comes through in all that Ryan and TJ do with “Fur Hoof”, it’s a label that’s fuelled by love of good music and strong binds to family and friends. It was great to chat with them back in September and gain inspiration from their creative approach to running the label, they’re a great DIY story who are doing things exactly how they want to. Their a label that make me want to get out there and make stickers and start slicing up old magazines and dubbing tapes to send to kids in Japan. The music they release is great too – that’s important – and I recommend checking out their compilation Stay Rad Vol.01 for a satisfying ear-full of Fur Hoof sounds. Stay Rad in 2014 Fur Hoof, and keep gettin’ them buckets.
Denver based Fire Talk had a stellar 2013, surpassing the lofty standards set by their releases of 2012. Fire Talk were responsible for releasing one of my very favourite albums of the year, the revelatory album from Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk. A remarkable album that saw the Brooklyn band transition from subversive noise to a blissful psychedelic sound, very much taking me by surprise. Also somewhat surprising was the release of the Campfires LP, Tomorrow, Tomorrow. I had been a fan of the Portland band for a while and didn’t expect a new release to come via a label that until then I had pegged as dealing in louder, more psychedelic sounds (the label is run by Woodsman guitarist Trevor Peterson). And that’s a great thing about following a label like Fire Talk – their taste is expansive and not confined to one genre or style, they’ll push your own musical tastes while also releasing gems from more accessible artists. The important thing is that it’s music they like. The Tjutjuna release was a barnstormer too, surely one of the most underrated albums of the year. Acquaint yourself with it ASAP if you haven’t already, and sample the rest of the fantastic Fire Talk catalogue while you’re at it.
Jehu and Chinaman
Jehu and Chinaman caught my attention with the release of the Circuit Rider tape, a beguiling collaboration between Derek Rogers and Lee Noble. The UK label released another ten fantastic tapes in addition to Unit Holds, putting together a roster that now includes some of the worlds finest experimental artists. The Adderall Canyonly tape was utterly masterful and came with a great presser –
“Imagine your favourite soap opera. Imagine your favourite soap opera’s gone wrong. Like, seriously wrong. Like, Ring wrong; tanned hunks and buxom babes crawling out of your TV with their eyes spurting cheap ice cream all over your sta-prest chinos and really fucking up your new cat.
Adderall Canyonly’s Between The Rays Lies Fear But Also Joy improves on all your favourite soap operas by making this highly erotic vision a reality…”
So refreshing in comparison to the usual cliched marketing gump served up by bigger labels. Much of the music JAC release is of a darker nature but there’s a sense of fun and inventiveness in what they do that earns my allegiance. They’ve also got a distinct sci-fi vibe going on that really appeals to me, plus their packaging is gorgeous. Gold stars all round, then.
Crash Symbols seeks to release “left-field production and electronic music, psychedelia, abstract pop, as well as more bluntly experimental releases”. A mission statement that really presses my buttons. It was a mammoth year for the West Virginia based label, releasing no less than eighteen albums from a dazzling array of international artists. The Julie’s Haircut album was perhaps my favourite of all, a splendid expedition into deep psychedelic sounds from the Italian band. I also loved the Zen Mantra album and the split between Emily Reo, Yohuna, Brown Bread and MoonLasso was a genius grouping of three artists whose music meshed together beautifully. It’s a great thing when labels pull of successful collaborations. Crash Symbols did this in 2013 and much, much more. A truly vital label.
A late inclusion in my top ten, Philadelphia’s Data Garden grabbed me with their re-imagining of what the modern record label can be. After discovering their musical component through Bandcamp and the stunning album by Moan, I spent the good part of a day on their site exploring the lush expanse of art that they have on display. Data Garden strike me as a label with a lucid vision of what they are seeking to achieve – not only do they release impeccable electronic music but they also act as an archive, promoting art both old and new questions, provokes and inspires. They too have a sci-fi mystique going on in their beautifully designed site and their approach to packaging is, as far as I know, totally unique. Purchase a digital album and receive a “plantable” postcard – nestle it in some soil and wait for the flowers to bloom. What a wonderful concept. What a wonderful label.