The Best Labels of 2012
» We expanded to a Top 25 and still don't feel as though we've done justice.
Cassette photo by Tyler White
Labels love music maybe more than you. Because beyond the vinyl, the 320kbps digital LP download, the poster on your wall, or the button on your vintage denim jacket, dedicated teams of true believers work 24/7, eight days a week to make sure those album/EP releases are ready to go. Labels see to it that PR reps have that jumble of artist statements, press pics, assorted info that is then stated in press releases to be blasted into inboxes/mail boxes, and tailoring pitches for the benefit of the artist/group. All of this activity runs in cycles, trends are either acknowledged, adhered to or done away with all together while the press, fans and listeners at large respond accordingly. In reflecting on 2012 we look at the labels that put in work, sweat, love, and excessive cups of black coffee to keep the supply chains and trains of musical distribution moving. The cassette reigned as the new LP and the mp3 went the way of 8-track, while music soared higher into the cloud allowing new accessibilities to new audiences' experience of sound. We raise a glass Colt 45 goblet to the following imprints that get it, got it, and did it for us in 2012.
It began with the Young Athletes League, then Dag för Dag's Boo, Bam Spacey's aural-geotopical surveys of Land to Albert Swarms electronic movements from Held to the senses expansion of Wake. Ceremony's devotion to electronic music's future presents new options, feelings and terrain that the main vein abyss of EDM has yet to fully acknowledge let alone understand. The candles from 2012 look to burn with brighter, warmer tones in 2013.
felte only put out two proper albums this year, but discs from Brooklyn's ERAAS and Denmark's Billow Observatory sound like a college course primer in the pop spectrum of electronically enabled and enhanced music. Prepare for felte in 2013 with PVT's full-length Homosapien in February and Standish/Carlyon in April, a record from LA's Flaamingos in late summer, an EP from The Tower of Light and more confidential surprises.
23. Clan Destine
Ela Orleans had a prolific year thanks to Clan Destine's eagerness to release every recording she so much as coughed on, the high water mark being her presence on the four-way split with Slim Twig, U.S. Girls and Dirty Beaches. Holding a Clan Destine record is worth figuring out the currency exchange of Euros to American dollars.
22. Loglady Records
Lauren Loprete & Permanent Collection's Jason Hendardy have been bringing us singles from Terry Malts (pre-Slumberland signing), Part Time, Moonbell, Grandma's Boyfriend, Dead Angle and bringing you the Mundane Monday picture series inbetween. Plus, we've always had a freaky thing for the Twin Peaks lady who knows how to handle wood with care.
21. Pour Le Corps
Observe the dream fidelities from Ethereal and the Queer Show's debut album Cosmotopia, cyber punk novellas from Xander Harris with Chrysalid or the recent Snow Crash homage mixtape and T A S S E L S' abrasive scorched earth terrains, Pressure Mounts.
20. Lillerne Tapes
Ruling the "slo-fi" movement via Chicago, they gave us cassette nugs like Gnar Tapes' Erik Gage under the moniker Free Weed and the introspective thought streams from Solid Melts' Drew Gibson as Katrina Stoneheart. The artists they present work to make limitations of equipment, where the conventional aesthetic stems from an economy of where their sound and visions can go anywhere.
DAIS is the rising juggernaut dropping releases from King Dude, Purient, Cold Showers, aTelecine, and Bestial Mouth. King Dude is king snake among the DAIS roster, but we'll never stop wondering what Gibby Miller and Ryan Martin have in store next from their LA by NYC operation. It's only a matter of time before they find the answer to how a label manages to top Iceage, Genesis P-Orridge, and the Dude.
18. Burger Records
We are still not sure how Burger Records manages to play this fearless game of William Tell in front of a dart board. We don't even know how they keep score. The Fullerton posse are 312 records deep with possibly 100 of those finding the shelves this year - it sure felt that way. Just when you think they've lost touch or are too high on sub-par garage, they unearth The Undertakers, an Oklahoma band from the 1960s no one has ever heard of and never would have were it not for Burger finding this at a garage sale or some odd twist of fate. Shit, dudes. They snagged a piece of the Sam Flax hype, while casually giving Teenage Burritos and Guantanamo Baywatch a home.
17. Crash Symbols
Jheri Evans, Dwight Pavlovic, and Liz Toler's cassette-only label began with Hear Hums, Foot Village and gave us releases from Window Twins, unhappybirthday, Outlands, Cosmic Sound, Ghibli, Featureless Ghost, and more. We are still in disbelief that they squeezed Tim Cohen into a tapedeck.
Woods' Jeremy Earl enjoys an imprint that not only serves as a personal vanity plate and side project springboard but serves up the year's outsiders and sound shapers. From their own album Bend Beyond, to the Babies Our House On The Hill, the indefatigable White Fence project of Tim Presley's labors of love with Family Perfume Volumes 1 & 2, MV & EE's Space Homestead, The Doozer and a collection of James Jackson Toth's Golden Calves project pre-Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice material. They all got their moments in the sun and a time share in Big Sur.
The indie-hip hop label with the coolest dad. Partisan records created the Young One imprint in order to house Children of the Night, Fat Tony, Cities Aviv, Main Attrakionz, and Bryant Dope without it seeming weird. This year saw their debut release with Fat Tony & Tom Cruz's Double Dragon while Mondre and Squadda upped their game game with Bossalinis & Fooliyones.
14. Time No Place
In our time of 2012 a little label from LA gave us releases from Castratii, CHLLNGR, Coyote Clean Up, FAY, Nguzunguzu, San Gabriel that reflect upon the developments from the year that will be remembered as when electronic indie pop reached an awakened point of mastery within the chill dream sequencing. Here's the rub, these are releases 001 through 007. TNP came out swinging in its maiden year.
13. Volar Records
Craig Oliver gave formulaic pop the finger with releases running the gamut from Audacity, Big Eyes, Eat Skull, Far Corners, Stalins of Sound and Window Twins. Volar champions the artists you will be reading about on every indie press outlet before it happens. Volar is blessed with some of the best intuitive fortune telling forecasts in the label game.
Portland parent label Fake Four Inc. presents an imprint for both northwest locals and globe trotted minds alike to live together in bliss and harmony. We listened this year as Eric Lindley's solo project Careful had us all re-thinking the art of autotune, cars & trains brought remixes, sentiments and soul, theclosing re-wrote the books of ambient-electro paradigms, while the Harvey Girls brought "Ft. Worth 1963" fuzzy piano memories.
When Redbull Music Acadamy invites you to compete in their L.A. Soundclash against two other heavy-hitting LA-based labels, you've made it. When you bring out Pusha-T to perform "Mercy" over a remix made by artists on your roster (R.L. Grime & Salva), then shit is next level. It wasn't a good month unless Shlohmo dropped a remix. LOL Boys made, what some believe to be, the song of the year in "Changes", then parted ways. It led to Jerome LOL making a run the Remix Championship belt Shlohmo had slung over his shoulder. All the while, Tomas Barfod, Ernest Gonzales, and Suzanne Kraft fleshed out a phenomenal year for a label that's earned its stripes.
10. RVNG INTL
The sweetest revenge with 12"s from Blondes, the magnificent Ekstasis from Julia Holter, Franco Falsini, or how about that one time Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras Met The Congos? The label has kept us dancing, presented the singer songwriter paradigm entering the twenty second and third centuries with Holly Herndon and adding another chapter to the dub roots champions Congo Ashanti Roy, Cedric Myton and Watty Burnett.
The international-experimental pop label on the rise, Cascine had us re-thinking how we interpret electronic dance with Picture, winter time duraflame warmth from Ditt Inre, nightclubbing with Rush Midnight, Chad Valley's Young Hunger, the debut EP from Erika Spring of Au Revoir Simone, and combining powers with Ghostly International at this year's CMJ. Projections for 2013 are kept tightly under wraps from the label in excited murmurs, rumors and soundcloud sneak listens of works-in-progress. All we can tell you is get ready for the next big thing from Jensen Sportag.
Jon Hency and William Cody Watson operate Bathetic between Arkansas and Chicago with ears deep in the earth's nucleus. Building a prolific empire with this year's releases from Angel Olsen with Halfway Home, Angelo Harmsworth's Silent Orgasm, new releases from Watson, Dinner Music and Rarities Vol. 1 from Cough Cool. Angel Olsen will be their golden goose going into 2013, but rummaging will yield the weird vibrations of Lazy Magnet, Zac Nelson, and Villages.
With founder Shawn Reed's band Raccoo-oo-oon staking a claim to kicking off the Woodsist imprint, his label has continued to spring board and nurture the new underground since 2003. Sporting releases by Featureless Ghost, Goldendust, Femminielli, Gem Jones, Merchandise, Uncanny Valley, Pop Singles, Outside World, Fancy Books, Blonde God, Lazy Magnet, Superstar, Happy Jawbone, and more; the Iowan DIY label Night-People proves again that it is all about helping people help you hear good music.
6. Moon Glyph
Whether it was a vinyl or cassette pressing, spaceward Oakland indie imprint Moon Glyph managed to make our day, sometimes even week, by gracing the inbox. Whether it was the Francophonics of Uncolored Past (Part 1 & II) from Tara King th., Dead Luke encouraging spirituality in acid, FWY! soundtracking Highway 1 excursions, or the outerlimits with Leisure Birds' epic Globe Master, Moon Glyph had it covered in 2012. Too much to take in at once? Start with the label compilation Opal Vol.I & II.
5. Ghostly International
Having reshaped our worlds with HTRK and Jacaszek, this year's Beams from Matthew Dear got all the misshapes on the dance floor, galactic doom funk from Mux Mool, ambient season moods from Heathered Pearls, electroclash throwbacks with ADULT re-releases, and electronic illuminations from Beacon.
Maybe it was in 2011 when self-titled releases from Blouse and Soft Metals tipped us off that 2012 would be a rad, red letter year for Captured Tracks. Then we heard the proliferation from Mac Demarco's double album Rock and Roll Night Club and 2, Chris Cohen's lush Overgrown Path, Craft Spells' Gallery EP, DIIV lost an 'e' in their moniker and gave us Oshin, Naomi Punk rode the punk side of garage pop, whileThe Soft Moon played it anything but soft on Zeros. We await Alex Calder's Time, Beach Fossils' Clash the Truth, Widowspeak's forthcoming Almanac, and further untold captured treasures.
3. Sacred Bones
On the top of the their trade and the height of their powers; the Bones allowed us to open our hearts with The Men, hear the solo works from Fresh & Onlys' Wymond Miles, electro emotions with Lust For Youth, and keep on our meansides with Australia's hell bent harbingers of mayhem, Slug Guts. We await further sounds from Psychic Ills, and a follow up to Zola Jesus's Conatus in 2013.
2. UNO! NYC
EDM is the most popular and bastardized genre in modern music; infiltrating pop, hip hop, and even country. When a genre is at its worst in the mainstream, one must look to the underground and the boutique labels to find its best operating in defiance of the unholy. It took Gobby's New Hat EP to gain our attention, but UNO had the jump on Fatima Al Qadiri and Kuhry-oo before they graced our radar. UNO NYC threw one of our favorite CMJ showcases, in a grimey Greenpoint warehouse. We had reason to believe again, thanks to SFV Acid's Neighborhood Archives EP, Aquarian's Obsidian LP, and Dan Froth sneaking in his REflex EP before the end of the year.
We lost Das Racist this year. It could have led to onstage melt downs, public slander, and a hermetic absence by its members. Instead it led to prolific output by Heems and Kool A.D. who each dropped two records on the Greedhead imprint, and a strengthening of New York hip hop in its more hardcore and its most innovative elements. Greedhead followed Le1F's progressive debut, Dark York, with Meyhem Lauren's Hot97-approved Respect The Fly Shit, and snuck Big Baby Gandhi's No 1 2 Look Up 2 inbetween, challenging us to not be too cool to see it as purely hip hop. Losing Das Racist would have been much harder had Heems and Kool A.D. not proven their strength as solo artists with personal vision on Nehru Jackets and 51. Heems linked with Mike Finito to make a throwback Def Jux record, while Kool flew out to the Bay to regain his roots with Amaze 88 and the Green Ova posse. We lost Das Racist, but we gained the vanguard of New York rap they befriended along the way.
Posted on December 21, 2012. More on: dais, lillerne tapes, burger records, crash symbols, time no place, woodsist, pour le corps, loglady, volar, fake four circle into square, rvng intl, captured tracks, cascine, ghostly intl, nightpeople, sacred bones, bathetic, moon glyph, young one, ceremony recordings, felte, clan destine, unonyc, greedhead