FAVOURITE LABELS OF 2013

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.

Patient Sounds

Stand out releases: The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact – Container ShipCuddle Formation / The Spookfish – EarthboundWellington Downs – The WestersFoothills – New World

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.

Read my interview with Matthew Sage

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Moon Glyph

Stand out releases: The New Lines – Fall in Line, FWY! – Any ExitHenry the Rabbit – Earthen Birth ByThe Non Travellin’ Band -Never Prayed Once

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.

Read my interview with Steve Rosborough

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Milk! Records

Standout releases: Jen Cloher – In Blood MemoryCourtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea Of Split PeasFraser A. Gorman – Fraser A. GormanTanah Merah – Royston Vasie

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.


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Major Crimes

Stand out releases: Bruff Superior – s​/​tOld Mate – s​/​t 7”Multiple Man – s​/​tBig Richard Insect – s/t

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.


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Carpi Records

Standout releases: Sunny Dunes – Wash, then Dance/Never SoonMagnétophonique – Lush Islands/Illusion of ParadiseAltar Image / The Inverted Orange – SplitCasino Hearts-Lonesome Island

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.


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Furious Hooves

Standout releases: You Won (or, We Have All Lost) – Blood CousinOmphalos – BlackruneStay Rad Vol​.​01 compilationOnline Birthday – Hallucinex

“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.

Read my interview with Ryan and TJ


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Fire Talk

Standout releases: Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk -Think ToneTjutjuna – WesternerCampfires – Tomorrow, TomorrowOrchard Thief – Professional Textures

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.


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Jehu and Chinaman

Stand out releases: Circuit Rider – Unit HoldsAdderall Canyonly – Between The Rays Lies Fear But Also Joy.​.​. and yet it moves – Roadside PicnicThe Vertical City EP – Rejections

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.


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Crash Symbols

Stand out releases: Emily Reo, Yohuna, Brown Bread, MoonLasso – Clubhouse Split, Julie’s Haircut – Ashram EquinoxZen Mantra – How Many Padmes Hum?Halasan Bazar – Space Junk

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.


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Data Garden

Standout releases: Moan (Shinji Masuko) – Bookshelf SanctuaryThe THANGS – WedodoLive at The Switched​-​On Garden 002

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.

Honourable mentions: Birds Love Fighting, Aguirre Records, Orchid Tapes, Melted Icecream, Unknown Tone Records

 

CONVERSATION : PATIENT SOUNDS

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Interview with Matthew Sage of Patient Sounds


To begin with could you tell me about the various musical projects that you’re associated with?

I primarily just record and perform sound collage and ambient music as my first initial (M. Sage). Currently I am playing live with The Continent Strings — Allison Sheldon plays cello, Chris Jusell plays violin. They are featured on my new record, a 2xLP coming this winter. I also do Wellington Downs, which is my studio rock band hobby. I love multitracking rock tunes in the basement with little intention of playing said tunes live. That is fun for me. I have played in tons of projects and stuff throughout the years, but I am kinda keeping it simple these days with just these two things.

I also love recording, and pitch in on a lot of friends recordings when possible. I tracked parts on and engineered on the latest Nate Henricks tape Horseradish, and the Wylee Zephyr tape with my old roommate Alex Runge (he wrote those tunes). Both of those tapes came out on Patient Sounds.

 

How did Patient Sounds get started?

It started as a few friends working together to self-release the music we were working on in various groups and stuff. Basically it was just like me and roommates making tunes. I have always kind of driven the project and organized things, but it was more like a collective at first. Now, four years later, it is just me in a home office…me and a dachshund and a sheep dog. My fiance helps me on really hairy packing and shipping days (we share an office, she is a designer at Bonnie & Caprice) and she has a great eye for design, so she offers advice on printing and layouts. She’s the best.

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PS043 The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact – Container Ship
Limited edition of 50 double cassettes

You’re based in Fort Collins right? It seems like there’s a very strong experimental scene in Colorado, can you tell me a bit about your experience with this scene and it’s growth?

Fort Collins is secretly like a little punk rock / bar rock coven. A lot of classic 90s pop punk music was recorded here at this revered studio, The Blasting Room. There is a lot of like alt. country punk here. I made Karl Alvarez (of Black Flag, All, Descendants…) americanos when I was a barista. So, I had a lot of that influence growing up. That whole punk thing effected the ethos for sure.

Now a lot of that fuels the experimental scene, at least that’s how it feels here. There was a space in Colorado for music like this, and it naturally kind of unfolded in its own way here. I mean…I live a few-hundred yards from the high school that Aaron Warren from Black Dice went to. Goldrush Festival is kind of the long-awaited realization for the rest of the world that Colorado has good weird stuff happening, and has for a while.

The label has been around since 2009, in which time Bandcamp and Soundcloud have become very popular. Can you tell me about your experiences with these platforms?

We started primarily using Myspace, so the social media aspect has always kind of been present. I am a huge advocate for both platforms because they make sharing sounds, and hearing sounds, incredibly easy. Having said that, we are NOT a digital label. We oblige our customers for buying our limited edition tapes by providing mp3s and streaming sounds, because we know not everyone has access to cassette players or turn tables.

The digital thing is convenient, but making the objects is what matters most to us. We are glad that the artists whose work we publish can share and profit from using platforms like these to share their sounds after our editions run out. Soundcloud and Bandcamp are great, but physical media is priority to me.

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PS010 Kites Sail High – Motivated / Unmovitated

Any thoughts on how streaming sites such as this affect listeners relationship with music?

I know personally it has affected how I listen to music, and not necessarily in a good way. I think it wouldn’t hurt people to reconsider their physical relationships to the media they consume. Listening to a tape, putting on an LP, those sensory experiences are treasurable, fleeting. Alternatively, digging up some obscure mp3 and looping it on your phone for a day and then never listening to it again has a value too. It just seems like two very different ways to encounter music to me. Patient Sounds longs to provide quality physical media, which is available on the internet to facilitate awareness.

On your site you’re very clear about your label not being heavily into PR and not being all about signing and pushing bands. As someone who runs a blog and is constantly being sent lengthy, overly descriptive emails about bands I find this refreshing. Could you expand on this, perhaps by offering some insight into how you run the label and manage releases?

We are a label focused on facilitating a relationship between our artists–most of which are home recording young people with interests in both folk-way and experimentation–and our listeners. The internet’s reception of our work is pretty secondary to how we work at this point. I feel a lot of labels in this current “indie” scene are unknowingly generating content for the blogs/websites that profit from “discovering” something new every ten minutes.

Also, there are countless labels out there that are claiming DIY, or “indie” or whatever, but pay press agents to do their PR. Sorry, but you aren’t DIY or “indie” if you pay a press agent to propagate your work for you, filling email inboxes world wide with junk. We don’t want to ask blogs to write about something they don’t connect with personally… Not to say we haven’t done this; we have never payed for press, but we used to send out your typical email press release bombs, up until a year ago. But we no longer do this, because ultimately, we make things, that is what we do. If you want to write about the things we make, contact us and we will gladly and cordially facilitate a dialog. We are friendly and slightly hermetic. Email us.

 

What would you say the Patient Sounds philosophy is?

Renegade Spirit. Wonder. Anxiety.

You’ve been primarily a tape label with your first vinyl release on it’s way. What appeals to you about tapes? / Do you produce all your tapes yourself? If so can you tell me about this process?

Ultimately, making tapes is cheap, and being a believer in utility, that makes the most sense to me. I am willing to put the time in for tapes, especially when you take the labor intensive approach like I do. I order blanks, and print all our liners and j-cards at a local print shop. I cut and fold all the inserts and dub all the tapes in the office on my tweaked pile of dubbers. Every tape is a hand-crafted object in this way. That is better than a CDr and more cost-effective than a vinyl record. That benefits everyone, including me, because I get the satisfaction of pursuing my craft.

We are excited to move into vinyl…it is ultimately the medium we envisioned working with, and have waited years to manifest. This winter is the winter for records. We will of course continue to do tapes, because they are fun, and cheap, and those things are important in when the world is half-toast how it is.

You touched on the “weird” music to come out of Colorado – what do you think fosters this creativity? Cold climate? Drugs? Community? All of the above?

I definitely think the kind of ruggedness of Colorado–the weather, the landscape, the geographic isolation–has an effect on people’s psyche, and that comes through in our art. The recent legal cannabis situation has played into the image I’m sure, but I think people anywhere do the same drugs Coloradoans do, so I wouldn’t really say that is a factor in what really makes Colorado “weird.” I mean, Boulder is a weird place. The kind of detoxified hippy aura, as funded by largely wealthy upper-class consumer cesspool. BMW yoga moms. That is a huge part of what our markedly “weird” culture is. Existential confusion in the face of privilege and wilderness.

I am a proud citizen of Colorado, but ultimately most of my community for my work exists on the internet. Some of those people on the internet live in Colorado, so there is a bond there, but some live in Japan, or wherever. That idea of a community, an international and largely digital one (focused on the sharing of tangible media), is where I think “weird” music thrives. Just GO and let place be an influence, but not a defining feature.

Are there any obscure local artists (past or present) we may not have heard of that you can recommend?

Erik Wangsvick, whom I played with in Kick Majestic, is an off the map musical wonder that I think the world of weirdos is really missing out on. Erik’s music would be perfectly at home in the online noise scene, but he doesn’t have a Facebook, and only had an email address through the university here because he had to. He makes music as Wrecked, and performs in several other groups, as well as creating visual art. I put out pretty much any Wrecked material he passes to me because it is so fascinating and bizarre to me. He is an analog sound collage master. He uses hand-wired PAs and all sorts of broken electronics and stuff to generate sounds, then he makes these massive performance pieces using recordings of all this source material, as well as field recordings. When he performs them live, he plays percussion (ERIK IS A REMARKABLE DRUMMER). It is really hard to explain, and I think that suits the work. It is complicated.

Another of my favourites is Christina the Hun. She is no longer performing, but she was kind of a local legend here in Fort Collins for a few years. She was a singer-songwriter that played drums and yelped and hollered. I saw my high school physics teacher at a show of hers once and he leaned over to me and said, “She’s like Patti Smith with drum sticks!” He nailed it.

Lastly, there is this shadowy group of avant-garde folk musicians, a collective kind of, called Biota. They are based here in the Fort Collins area. I don’t really know a enough about this band to explain, but just google “biota” and learn about this group and listen. Their latest record, “Cape Flyaway” really floored me. Seriously, heads out there, just google and explore Biota stuff. I can’t vouch for all of it, but they are certainly obscure and fascinating.

 

Can you talk a little about the process of organising a release with an artist – from the initial of contact through to working with them on the release?

It is kind of different with every release. Sometimes I will pester a friend for months, in a few cases years, to release something. Other times I will just surf Bandcamp. This is a hobby of mine, surfing Bandcamp and kind of scouting for tunes, then finding something and asking the artist to make something in the future. We have only released maybe five tapes that were unsolicited demo material. It happens, but it isn’t our primary way to find material. Once we start a project with someone, I kind of outline our platform to the artist if they haven’t heard of the label. I remind them they need to have balanced side lengths on their cassette, I send them a link to a page to pick the color of their cassette shell, I ask them for album art, and then I wait for it all to pour back in. Basically, I pick an artist and kind of assign them the homework of making a release for me. Generally tons of emailing and Google chat ensues, and within anywhere from a few weeks to a few months the tape will be out.

The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact release is amazing, certainly one of my favourite albums of the year. Can you tell me a bit more about that release and your experience with the band?

I know the guys from KCSP pretty well just from being fellow Coloradoans. We spoke at Goldrush, and they informed me they had an album on the shelf at home they wanted me to listen to. We had talked about it working together before, but I could tell right away this was the one I was gonna put out. They told me it was designed as a double LP, but understood if the format was too expensive, so, I listened to it, and loved it. I felt it was really well-constructed as a 4-sided thing, so that is why we went with the double c44. They are really great guys to work with because it is just working with friends. They had it all recorded, so we just worked with the visual artist, George Ferris, to make the artwork and got it ready to release. The album is just so great, such a huge space to explore. I was really glad to add it to the canon.

 

What about the Foothills tape? I really like the music Chase Hudson makes music with 2PPM, I think he’s a really interesting musician. How did the release come about?

I started talking with Chase via a demo submission actually. I really love both the fundamentals of the Foothills project, the concerns of the project, and also the recordings are just so lush and beautiful, so it was a natural fit. Chase leads a very incredibly enriched lifestyle, and works hard for it, and I am so happy to be able to present artists’ like Chase. Melodically I think NEW WORLD is one of the most accomplished PS tapes. It is so tactile, so easy to listen to, but the compositions are challenging! I am pleased to share that there will definitely be a Foothills LP on Patient Sounds in the 2014 future.

 

Can you tell me more about Goldrush Festival? Will it be on in 2014 and if so when? I’ll need to book flights. The lineup this year was incredible.

Goldrush has really evolved. 2014 is probably definitely happening. I wasn’t involved in the first year, but 2012 was great, and this past year was really incredible. The atmosphere was really great, so friendly, really open. Ridiculous merch booth scenarios. Crawford is the man, and does so much work to make it something truly special. Lake Mary was my personal highlight this year. Also, Giant Claw was insane.

 

It seems like there’s a really strong community between many independent labels – what are some of the labels that you admire?

I feel like I find out about a new label every day, but here is a list of what I have been into lately

BATHETIC – EARN – Hell on Earth
ORANGE MILK – JERRY PAPER – International Man of Misery
SCISSOR TAIL – Bruce Langhorne – Music from ‘The Hired Hand’
CONSTELLATION TATSU – FLUORESCENT HEIGHTS – Tidal Motion
UNKNOWN TONE – DYLAN GOLDEN AYCOCK – The Blindfold

 

So more vinyl to come – what else is on the horizon for Patient Sounds?

Well, there is a move in my future (I am applying for grad schools right now, to get an MFA in creative writing & poetry). So there will be a lot of work going into that, but I plan on letting work in the grad school program influence what the label is doing, so we are expecting more poetry books, more printed matter. Of course more tapes, always tapes.

The big thing on the PS horizon; we have 3 LPs locked and on their way this winter, and 3 more to follow in the spring. Without divulging too much, the first release is a double LP of material I have been working on with the string duo. There is a huge list of collaborators on this record too, it was kind of a group project. I built all the arrangements with electronics, and then invited friends to contribute parts to songs. They sent me pieces and I edited it back together and re-arranged it into the album. There will be a deluxe version of the record that comes with a beautiful book of printed collage (by Nathaniel Whitcomb) and poetry (by Grant Souders). These editions will truly be something to behold.

 

Patient Sounds home

Patient Sounds Bandcamp

Patient Sounds Soundcloud