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

 

THIS MONTHS TAPE : RURAL PAIN – EYES WINGS AND MANY OTHER THINGS

Each month on Formless Fields I’ll review a favourite cassette and delve a little into it’s creation by explaining where the album is placed within the artists catalogue, examining the design of the package, and providing my impressions of each track. I’ll do the same for a stand out vinyl release.

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In a world of high definition – of constant definition – it’s not only pleasant but an absolutely necessity to become a little hazy now and again. To reduce the focus so that all forms become a singular mass, so that the eye and the ear are not seeking to interpret every incoming signal. I believe much psychedelic music is an expression of this idea. Ritualistic and hallucinatory elements aside, to me psychedelic music seeks to articulate the indescribable, more so than many other forms of music. The best psychedelic sounds combine introspection and outward wonder. This can be achieved through loud corrosive sounds or in a more downbeat, atmospheric manner. Dallas’s Eyes Wings and Many Other Things fall into the latter category, and their latest release “Rural Pain” is quite special.

I became acquainted with EWAMOT a couple of years ago, very much enjoying the druggy miasma of “Ice Age”. I was attracted to the way the songs gradually unfolded – softly developing psychedelic music that never resorted to grand theatrics but instead focused on illustrating an ambiguous, many coloured vision. Listening to older EWAMOT releases demonstrates the changes in their sound (not necessarily a progression or a regression, simply a change). I was tantalised by “Bad Powder” though I recall being somewhat disappointed with last album “Napalm Beach“.

 

These songs sounded a bit too polished, and I also felt they were somewhat curtailed, with many tracks clocking in at under three minutes. The music of EWAMOT – and indeed much psychedelic music of this ilk – is at its best when it’s given space to grow, for tendrils of guitar to intertwine with the snaking spine of the song while ideas emerge and are submerged and reemerge. For smoke to fully fill the room. “Rural Pain” inhales, exhales, inhales, then exhales again, and fills the room in a dense, grainy fog.

As fond as I am of those older releases, this new release sees the Dallas two piece (Sean French and Colin Arnold with many others contributing) takes their sound to different, fascinating places. Where “Napalm Beach” was a slight disappointment, getting to know “Rural Pain” has been a thrill. It’s an enigmatic and beautiful album, constructed not with thick outlines but composed of many blurred musical shapes. EWAMOT are the sort of band that may be unfairly labelled a “jam band” and those unwilling to engage may find this music meandering, too unstructured. The rest of us have an album to become submerged within, to be taken downstream by. Keep breathing.

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Side one opens with “Water Flow”, a track that is indicative of the alterations to the bands sound. There is less definition present in the guitars and the sound is, yes, more liquid. It flows and feels voluminous,  with the disembodied chanting of the vocals reminding me a little the songs found on another of my favourite releases of this year, Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk. It has an almost hymnal quality, not something religious, but to use a word that gets tossed about haphazardly in the music world – it sounds devotional.

“Neighbours” takes a darker turn. It is night, and the neighbours are fast asleep. We lurk. Again, the intentions of the lyrics are ambiguous but the atmosphere is what’s important – ominous, mysterious, an undercurrent of dread. Synths have a stronger presence on this album than other EWAMOT releases, and here the instruments provide both the dark moments and the pretty respite towards the songs conclusion. It’s a clever song that’s markedly different to anything I’ve heard the band produce before.

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The title track is probably my favourite on the album, it too thick with menace.

Careful what you’re saying

Don’t you care for the game I’m playing?

There feels as if there is a bigger song bubbling under the surface here, maybe to do with the fact it is the most “traditionally” structured on the album. It sounds like a big psychedelic rock song that has been manipulated. Processed. Passed through molasses to become something much more interesting. The guitars are powerful though not dominant, licking at the edges of the entrancing psychedelic sounds that build. It’s a great song, demonstrating  one of the strengths of EWAMOT : restraint. Resist the temptation to want this song to break out into something bigger. Be taken by its hand. Ask no questions.

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The cover is a terrific representation of the sound and soul of “Rural Pain”. Two working class men by their vehicles isolated in a heavy grey fog. What is the rural pain? Is it what these men experience while striving to make a life in a time where agriculture is no longer the pursuit of the individual? Though I wouldn’t call these songs pastural by any means, these songs do evoke memories of my own childhood in a rural town. In particular I’m reminded of staying on friends farms in the winter months, of the mist on the dam in the early morning and the smell of wet soil. It was almost enough to get high on. Mostly though I remember the grey, the long expanses of grey.

“Somewhere” maybe the strongest invocation of fog on the album. It’s a song dense with textural noise, a heavy droner filtered through sonic static. The name of the song lends itself to the ambiguous feeling of stoicism that I feel is present in these songs and that cover. There’s hope in the fog, a way out from all of this. Somewhere. Somehow.

“Night” feels as if you have joined the song halfway along, as if you have stumbled upon a ritualistic gathering around a blue fire on a blackened hillside. It has a distinct jam quality though it isn’t messy – this sounds a lot like a band that are very comfortable moving within the structures of sound that they create, improvising beautifully. These circular rhythms and brooding guitar suggest hallucinatory moments, of gazing at the bark of a tree in an altered state and realising the great patterns that exist in nature, and in it all. The synthetic and organic melding in a beautiful dance.

“Still Waiting” has a Morning After atmosphere to it, or perhaps the moments just prior, as the sun makes it first attempts to cut through that fog. It’s ever present in this music, though behaves in different ways. Here it reveals itself gradually through layers of sound and a heavy space is built. A sad resigned space, perhaps one that those men inhabit. A steely, stoic space.

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Onto Side B, and “Lost at Sea” has an almost a tropical feel to it. If being marooned with nothing but ocean all around can be a beautiful experience then this is it. The interplay of guitars and more of those wordless vocals suggest a joy in being lost, in being adrift and wholly disconnected. Turn the focus down, turn the static up, and lets gets lost, this song says to me. Though I find the whole album to be an affirming listening experience, this song in particular shines with many blissful moments.

A song entitled “Bonglife” may suggest stoner vibes and you could probably make the case for this entire album (and indeed the entire EWAMOT catalogue) to be fuelled by THC – though this is hardly a druggy jam. It’s another darker piece on the album, contrasting the previous tracks breeziness. Grinding guitar and pulsing synth conjure an 80s sci-fi atmosphere in my minds eye. A city of steel and steam, teeming with humans and the inhuman. Red irises piercing the fog. It’s a cinematic song, and here’s hoping that EWAMOT do indeed one day score a film.

“Peppermints” is sonically dense, the fog here is heavy, almost opaque. The drone of this song is stifling – slightly suffocating in its repetitive fugue – before ending abruptly and giving way to the dissipation of “Neuce”. This track sounds like the album dissolving away as the sun burns through, the last of the condensation rolling down an empty main street. The song lingers, and in it’s final fading there is hope. There was no feeling of relief when that beautiful bed of static finally gave way, the density of this music is never oppressive. I wanted more. Turn that tape over. Press play. Roll on the fog.

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“Rural Pain” is released on Pour Le Corps Records, a great label that consistently releases brilliant psychedelic music. This album is not available to stream as of yet, though you can order it here and a digital copy will be sent to your inbox once formally released. Get yourself a tape though – I sure did enjoy engaging with this album without the distraction of all things digital and it sounded fantastic. Here’s a track from a recent EWAMOT release to close, I strongly recommend checking out the rest of their catalogue if you enjoy what they’re doing.