Gestures in Directions: Labels on the Move in 2015

Posted by on January 29, 2015

label feature

If 2014 was a good year for labels, it was because the wherewithal still exists to start one, and continues growing far afield; there are the same old hotbeds but growth is clearly across the board. For this feature we ended up mostly looking at American labels for the sake of a focused but still far ranging list (we hope it’s more fun for its lack of comprehensiveness). Some of these imprints are old but many are new, some are based in and around cities, others less so. One entry in particular gravitated towards a crop of new labels and associated acts from Alabama, where the contributor in question (Liz) was born and cultivated her first non-toddler accent. Throughout 2014, that tendency emphasized just how well some imprints in the “new South” have begun laying groundwork for their own independent infrastructure — we’re also looking at you wonderful folks in Florida and Georgia, you know who you are. Each of these labels is a labor of love that we hope never abates, and hopefully you’ll find something to look forward to here as well.

David Perron

1. Soft Abuse/Fruits & Flowers
Well passed a decade of operation, Soft Abuse heads into the new year with a solid line-up of releases that brings together some of their flagship acts with a new crop of basement pop deconstructionists and sound manipulators that fit in nicely with their impressive back catalog. On deck first is a 7” from the long-running NY outfit, Pigeons, now operating in a new trio line-up, and not too far out after that you can expect the return of NZ-great, Pumice, with his first proper full-length LP in three years in Puddles, an album that, according to label head Chris Berry, has “an expanded Pumice sound and approach.” You can also expect a pair of debut LP offerings from the likes of The Bibs, the Detroit-cum-Philly no-fi pop outfit with ties to the All Gone Records imprint (another profile-worthy label), and Tim Coster, the Aussie sound sculptor whose work has previously appeared on Room40, No Kings, and Albert’s Basement. There will also be a few cassettes from The Scrapes and LXV in the very near future. Berry also co-runs the offshoot label Fruits & Flowers with Glenn Donaldson (of Skygreen Leopards et al. fame). F&F has a more outwardly pop-leaning focus where, as Berry has mentioned, unprocessed, front-and-center vocals take precedence with each release on the label. While a schedule of long-term projects is still in flux, a few confirmed releases include a three-way split cassette with new works from label mates Michael O. (of The Mantles), Piano Movers (Anthony Atlas of NODZZZ), and Donaldson’s own solo project The Reds, Pinks & Purples, a full-length LP from Michael O., and a 7” (possibly a full-length) from The Backstabbers, the duo of Ru Edwards (Dick Diver, etc) and Amy Hill (Constant Mongrel, etc).

2. Vitrine
In the description to their final release of 2014, a tape compilation called Map of the Interior, Vitrine wrote that it was “a love letter to the heyday of mail-art culture and a promise that such international friendship is still thriving across postal channels and on the internet.” While Vitrine is undoubtedly engaged in contemporary cassette culture on multiple levels, there is indeed something out-of-step with their overall approach that is positively refreshing. Taking sonic and visual cues from early industrial labels like Broken Flag and Snatch Tapes, with a focus on primitive electronics and tape-based works, Vitrine operates in the grey-zone margins of the internet without a website or social media bullhorn barrage. There work is out there, though, you just have to poke around a bit at such places like Fusetron, Little Big Chief, Crisis of Taste, Swill Radio, Hanson Records, and Infinite Limits to track it down. Poke around in the coming weeks and months and you’ll find new tapes from Three Legged Race, Copley Medal, A. Bolus, Stewart Skinner, Byron Recital Hall (a Michael Collino/Dog Lady Island-related project), and Heinz Hopf. Vitrine will also be issuing their first vinyl release in Macbeth, the second LP, following their stellar debut on KYE, from Good Area. Label head, Allen Mozek (of Good Area), will also be putting out new solo material as No Intention on Vitrine and on the Robert & Leopold label in the months ahead.

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Nicholas Zettel

1. Rotted Tooth Recordings
Chicago’s Rotted Tooth Recordings jumped out of hibernation in 2014 with a proper release of Black Pus’s Pus Mortem recordings. Label boss Kyle Reynolds wrote, “Expect a whole lot more to come in 2015. I can’t let any secrets out yet but it will be a good year. Killer jams coming your way soon!” For fans of challenging listening, outsider scuzz, and generally heavy music, this is especially intriguing news given that the original scene that Rotted Tooth represented has morphed into new territories.

2. Captcha Records
Captcha Records already released a slew of psychedelic offerings in 2014, ranging from heady, longform instrumental psych to gaudy black leather fantasies. In 2015, they will carry that vision further, since they entered into licensing agreements with U.K.’s Cardinal Fuzz and Australia’s Homeless Records. Even though the heads will be pleased, the inimitable Bob Bucko, Jr., will tear the world to pieces with his wide-open atmospheric country record.

3. 12XU
When you’re being bombarded about Austin during the lead-up to SXSW or Austin Psych Fest, take a left turn to 12XU, a steadfast American punk label. Not surprisingly, 12XU brandishes another set of soulful bliss from Obnox, which alone places them in prized possession of a rock’n’roll gem. It doesn’t stop there, as the home to OBN IIIs or The Dead Space also has new work from Chris Brokaw and BLAXXX, among others, in 2015.

4. Notice Recordings
Six tapes jumped from Notice headquarters in 2014, and the label already has quite a set of recordings in store for the future. Recently, a newsletter announcement hinted that “future releases include, but are not limited to: Joda Clément, Prants (Bhob Rainey & Chris Cooper), Bespoken (Nick Storring), Chris Strickland, John Cage, Loren Chasse, U SCO, Brumes, The Land Between The Rivers/Silo Homes.” That list of projects is obviously staggering and well anticipated.

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Jake Tobin

1. Kendra Steiner Editions
Prolific San Antonio poet Bill Shute and his Kendra Steiner Editions label remain aggressively dedicated to cut up / fluxus / DIY / and actual alternative culture, sidestepping the confines of professionality and acquiescent irony altogether. Deliberately primitive packaging puts the focus on the contents of the chapbooks and CD’s, which contain collaborations and solo efforts in the realm of free jazz, field recorded collage, glitched folk, and much, much more. No streaming, no “indie” distribution, paypal to order. Likewise, works under this umbrella generally make no concessions and are unafraid of speaking honest personal truths. DFW said “The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists…” He might find an example in KSE.

2. Palace of Lights
A good ol’ fashioned early DIY ambient outfit, Palace of Lights was started in the calm cool shadows of 1980 drone by K. Leimer, who found himself “neither encouraged nor impressed by the motives or requirements” of labels seeking to release his music. Leimer, exploring the non-geographic geography of the ambient underbelly from his home in Washington state, released his own work alongside that of Marc Barrecca, Steve Peters, Gregory Taylor, and pieces from the collaborative group Savant (whose catalogue will be rereleased by RVNG Intl in the coming year). He took an extended break to pursue some design aspirations in ’83, but has been back in the saddle pumping out soundscapes since the early 2000’s. 2014’s highlights include collaborations by Barreca / Leimer and Gregory Taylor / Darwin Grosse who in their album Tourbillon Solo reach Laraaji / Eno levels of wandering beauty.

3. Turmeric Magnitudes
Most aesthetically consistent label of 2013/14? Probably. Harsh noise walls, quiet brooding synth drones, that stumbling stuttering arhythmic kind of noise, and so much more. Endless hours of brutal static enjoyment (I think I enjoy it?), and beautiful scanner art for every release by label founder Greg Gorlen. Unfortunately all the tapes are sold out, though all still stream on bandcamp. Some wacko out there has all of them I’m sure of it, shrink wrapped and buried in the back yard. It’s probably Jason Lescalleet. And the label closed shop, but keep an eye out for more activity from Greg.

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Liz Pavlovic

1. Paisley Shirt Records
This small California label caught my eye last year with their Gay Fox cassette, and kept our attention well with Wight Lhite’s Beyond the Satellites and their label compilation, The Paisley Overground,  a cornucopia of psych-tinted tracks from various intriguing artists. Earlier this month they released Volunteer Dad’s debut album, Fake British Accent,  a fantastically catchy listen from beginning to end that sports delicious artwork (as do all of their releases). Next on the docket is Capitol Subdivision’s lo-fi excursion TAPES, which we can expect in the next month or so, followed by perhaps Sad-Eyed Beatniks’ & Other Memorable Selections.

2. Noumenal Loom
Alabama-based experimental label Noumenal Loom has already managed to build a truly impressive and far-reaching catalog, considering they only manifested in 2013; their releases include Holly Waxwing’s Goldleaf Acrobatics, Digital Natives’ Artificial Ass Flavor, Tuluum Shimmering’s Festival at the Shallow River, Giant Claw’s Dark Web, Seth Graham’s Goop, Foodman’s Drum Desu, and Plains’ Stone Cloud, to name only a few. They also released an amazing compilation late last year that features tracks from Bonglestar, Euglossine, Aloonaluna, and more. Their beautifully simple website has three categories: past, present, and future; under the latter we can see a glimpse of what magic is to come in 2015.

3. Happenin’ Records
Founded in 2006, Alabama’s Happenin Records started out as a CD label, with releases “manufactured at Dustin and Chris’ home using a CD burner, brown paper bags, a computer printer, and a big black rubber stamp.” After a brief hiatus in 2008, the label was resurrected in 2011 with an emphasis on vinyl, cassette, and digital; they’ve since released some of my favorite albums in recent memory, including Drew Price’s Hustle Strange, Horrible Houses’ Family Tapes Vol. 3, Radar Eyes’ self-titled cassette, Plains’ Stone Cloud (co-released with Noumenal Loom), and most recently, White Laces’ Trance on vinyl (co-released with Egghunt Records.) With each album, Happenin provides a unique and entrancing window into the growing psychedelia/bedroom pop scene in the south.

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Dwight Pavlovic

1. Gilgongo Records
Though Tempe, AZ based Gilgongo Records only honed into our view late last year, the imprint of experimental recorder James Fella, the label has an extensive back catalog of lathes, tapes, and CD-Rs including slews of Stephen Steinbrink’s older material, the Zs, Foot Village, Quicksails, and noise trio Sissy Spacek. Founded in 2014, the label celebrated its 10th anniversary this past December, wrapping up a busy and impressive year with a pair of stunning reissues: Fella’s own gripping Weak Left Input, released first as a tape in 2009 and earlier last year on CD, as well as Share, the originally self-released debut from Pheonix staples Cherie Cherie and a true garage/psychedelic gem that’s become one of my and Liz’s favorites from winter 2014. Like all of my picks for this list, I’m excited to see and hear absolutely any projects this label cares to undertake.

2. Recital Program
Sean McCann’s fabulous experimental imprint Recital may not be one of the most bodacious labels on this list, but each release satisfies. In 2013, Recital released what remains one of my all time favorite cassettes, Idea Fire Company and BRRR’s The Terrible Comet Salt, a beautiful mixed sound collage with Darren Harris reading the text of early German science fiction from Paul Sheerbart. 2014’s standouts came from Annea Lockwood and Ian William Craig, with the spectacular warped acoustics of her Ground of Being album and his ambient masterpiece A Turn of Breath, composed (dare I say it?) brilliantly from shifting and distorted swells of operatic murmur and hum; though Karla Borecky of Idea Fire Company offered a tremendous solo debut on piano, titled Still In Your Pocket. The label’s 2015 begins with a clearly well deserved reissue of Loren Connor’s Airs, a collection of delicate, airy guitar vignettes first pressed to tape in 1999, and shipping out on vinyl from Recital this February.

3. Editions Mego
Perhaps an obvious pick for me if you’ve had any inkling of how much I enjoyed Oren Ambarchi’s 2014 releases, particularly his enigmatic Quixotism LP, but the scope and consistency of Mego generally is almost peerless — like the poised collars on that album’s cover artwork. But Mego is far more to me than just a recognizable home for Ambarchi’s past work and several works to come, like his upcoming second collaboration with Jim O’Rourke… last year saw releases from the likes of Brett Naucke, Prostitutes, Locust, Steve Moore, as well as COH’s less visible but as fun as it sounds To Beat or Not to Beat. Some seemed timely, but all of them were wonderful and as fair a claim to the true expansion of horizons as any missive crafted from sound.