November 28, 2012

Record Label Love: 11 Favorites

We live in a golden age of music. Well, sorta. The tools to record music have never been as inexpensive and widely accessible. It's never been easier to start a band, make a record, and cheaply distribute it thanks to MP3s. Which means not only is there a ton of interesting music out there, but there's also a shit ton of crap. The majority of us, unfortunately, will never become the next Prince, David Byrne, or even Panda Bear.

That's why taste filters like blogs are still relevant, and magazines (even the ones that have dropped their print editions) still carry some weight. But there's no more important stamp of approval than the one that comes from a truly great record label.

Labels are popping up more and more as bands like Grass Widow, The Dum Dum Girls, White Fence, Hunx, and even Luna have all started their own imprints to release material by themselves or their friends. And then there's the labels started by blogs, from Weekly Tape Deck and Gorilla Vs Bear's Forest Family which kickstarted the career of Cults; Aquarium Drunkard's Autumn Tone which launched The Orwells into the stratosphere this year; to IGIF and yvynyl's Small Plates; our own Analog Edition; and newer imprints like All Things Go and Chrome Waves. It takes a certain amount of naivety and arrogance to believe you can make a difference in an industry that seems like it's perpetually falling apart, but that's also what's great about record labels: it's an uphill underdog type of fight that takes blood, sweat, money, and (mostly) tears, but you do it anyways because you love the music and you love the bands.

I recently came across a list dubbed "20 Fave Indie Labels," which includes a lot of fantastic imprints like Sub Pop and Merge. But as both Sub Pop and Merge have been around for over 20 years and have had albums break into Billboard's Top Ten, the term "indie" doesn't quite fit as snugly as it once did. Reading that list made me want to shine a spotlight on a few of the excellent smaller imprints that I religiously follow, where it's typically just one or two people doing everything: working their asses off in a basement or spare room, surrounded by boxes of vinyl and endless rolls of tape, imbuing small batches of sublime sounding records with their own distinctive personalities. The following labels' stamp of approval is greater than any review, score, or piece of press: if they release a record, I'm listening to it.

Name: Burger Records
Hometown: Fullerton, CA
Bands: King Tuff, The Tough Shits, Natural Child
Why They Rule: Every record I get in the mail from Burger either features a giant Sharpie-drawn burger or handwritten "thank you" on the cardboard mailer. These guys are incredibly hands-on and clearly love every aspect of the gig. Their brick and mortar store in Fullerton is also one of the best shops around, thanks to healthy selections of psychedelia, punk, and garage-pop and adorable resident kittens.

Name: Woodsist
Hometown: Warwick, NY
Bands: Woods, The Babies, Real Estate, Kurt Vile
Why They Rule: The psychedelically inclined Woodsist imprint, started by members of Woods, has built its reputation as a warm and welcoming pit stop for talented eccentrics on the rise, including Kurt Vile and Ganglians. Though as Woods increases in popularity and the label continues to grow, bands may soon find it more beneficial to take up permanent residence here. The label also hosts an annual perpetually sold out festival at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur.

Name: Castle Face Records
Hometown: Bay Area, CA
Bands: Thee Oh Sees, Bare Wires, Ty Segall
Why They Rule: After releasing the debut albums by Ty Segall and The Fresh & Onlys, Castle Face earned some serious bragging rights, but that didn't slow down the prolific and driven John Dwyer or his compatriots Matt Jones and Brian Lee Hughes. Castle Face has now turned itself into a vinyl nerd's wet dream with its ingenuitive Group Flex compilations: booklets filled with acid-dipped art and transparent playable flexi disc 7"s. Resident artist William Keihn is also unequaled when it comes to disturbingly sublime album covers.

Name: Mississippi Records
Hometown: Portland, OR
Bands: Grouper, Michael Hurley, Abner Jay
Why They Rule: I used to live across the street from Mississippi Records and interviewed owner Eric Isaccson for our Analog Edition zine. The store itself is a relic and the most meticulously and thoughtfully curated shop I've ever been to: you literally can't buy a bad record. That carries over to the label where jacket layouts are put together by hand, unheralded living legends like Michael Hurley are treated with reverence, and, thanks to Dead Moon reissues and coveted Grouper LPs, Portland is represented in its proper weirdness.

Name: Father / Daughter Records
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Bands: Levek, Pure Bathing Culture, Family Trees
Why They Rule: Father / Daughter, who we also featured in our now out of print zine, might be the youngest label on this list, but the consistency and quality of releases speak for themselves: Levek's "Look On The Bright Side," Family Trees' "Dream Talkin," and Pure Bathing Culture's "Lucky One" aren't just great songs—they're tracks I'll still be spinning on my turntable twenty years from now. From what I can tell, they're just getting started.

Name: White Iris
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA & New York, NY
Bands: FIDLAR, Other Lives, Line & Circle
Why They Rule: White Iris dishes out old school 7"s with big center cut holes in colorfully printed sleeves. They have a tendency of launching the careers of fantastic bands before most of us brew our morning cup of coffee (see: FIDLAR, Best Coast).

Name: Dirtnap Records
Hometown: Portland, OR
Bands: Mean Jeans, White Wires, Mind Spiders
Why They Rule: Dirtnap made good on their reputation as one of the best punk imprints going with classic releases this year from Ottawa's White Wires, Fort Worth's Mind Spiders and Portland heathens Mean Jeans. Founder Ken Cheppaikode runs the imprint out of his record store in Southeast Portland, Green Noise, which also includes a massive online mail order site that sells LPs, 45s, cassettes, and zines.

Name: Italians Do It Better
Hometown: Montreal, QC
Bands: Chromatics, Desire, Glass Candy
Why They Rule: Johnny Jewel has been releasing classic albums on his imprint for years, and now, thanks in part to Drive and the dazzling new Chromatics LP, his bands are suddenly on their biggest stage yet. But that hasn't changed the intimate feel of this wonderfully atmospheric, glitter-doused dance imprint.

Name: Suicide Squeeze
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Bands: King Tuff, Cotton Jones, Dirty Beaches
Why They Rule: David Dickenson's label left a stamp on independent music in the late 90s with releases by Elliott Smith and Modest Mouse, and now Suicide Squeeze's engine is again blaring loud as ever thanks to kick ass 7"s by today's young and hungry best, including Gap Dream, Bleached, and King Tuff (not to mention two classic slow-burning LPs by Cotton Jones).

Name: Friends Records
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
Bands: Future Islands, Celebration, Flock of Dimes
Why They Rule: Friends is home to many of Baltimore's best, including Jenn Wasner's solo project Flock of Dimes, experimental up-and-comers Secret Mountains, and synth shaman Gerrit Welmers, who when he's not in Future Islands, unclogs minds as Moss of Aura. The label's newest release is a hysterical romp with Oxes and Will Oldham singing Sheryl Crow's "Strong Enough" on the A-side and on the flip Microkingdom and Future Islands's frontman Sam Herring doing the Boss's "I'm On Fire."

Name: Windian Records
Hometown: Washington, DC
Bands: Terry Malts, Title Tracks, Personal & The Pizzas
Why They Rule: Run by Travis Jackson, formerly of DC's The Points, Windian has grown from scuzzy 7" imprint to a premiere stop for punk reissues and new LPs by top DC-area acts like Title Tracks. The newest wrinkle is also the most impressive to date: a subscription series 45 box set with grimy racing cuts from, amongst others, Terry Malts, Barreracudas, and Heavy Times.

Title Tracks


  1. This is a favulous list. Many thanks.

  2. Yeah man, this list is amazing. So many great labels.

    Now I need a job so I can buy this shit up!

  3. Burger is amazing. Great list.