Top 10 Labels of 2005
s reflected by this year’s list of labels, 2005 was a year of little consensus. Sure, the usual suspects are in attendance (Warp, Sub Pop, Drag City), but a number of newcomers reflect that it was harder than ever to sum up the year in just a few genres, trends, or ideas. Instead, diversity is the name of the game throughout Stylus Magazine’s Top 10 Labels of 2005.
01. Secretly Canadian
The Bloomington, Indiana sister school to Jagjaguwar has been gaining momentum for years, releasing a steady flow of product from cult-gatherer Jason Molina and role players like Scout Niblett and Damien Jurado. But as NBA logic dictates, you need a superstar to really be a contender, and SC made the jump in the 05 with the emergence of Antony and the Johnsons. The label stuck with him after last year’s self-titled debut landed with a thud, but a Mercury Prize and 7,000 year-end list appearances later, SC had a public face full of mascara, housing the year’s most enriching tenor. Antony put the label in the title game, but a brilliant odds-and-ends collection from Jens Lekman, and three releases from the ever-sturdy Molina put them over the top. SC has always boasted a varied, consistent roster, but their ability to surprise and confound is what truly set them apart.
Fonal, in its tenth year of operation, hit its stride in 2005 on the strength of only three lengths. One might dock them points for a paucity of material to choose from, but fact is it took listeners nearly four months to recover after each release—to recalibrate their expectations only to have them rearranged once again. Kemialliset Ystävät found his song cycle Lumotto Karkkipurkki released yet again, this time to an audience greater than a few dozen, while Islaja’s second album evoked the sound of Norwegian folk almost exactly in its spontaneous exultations of guitar, clinks, and tinkles. But it was Paavoharju that triumphed completely, leading Stylus writer Bryan Berge to write that, “the group makes psychedelic music born of cabin fever rather than hallucinogenics, and in their solitude, they have crafted an album that fits snugly within the temporal schism dividing many of us.”
03. Drag City
Chicago’s Drag City had one hell of a year in 2005. Neil Michael Hagerty was busy releasing writings, albums, and multimedia while some of the best albums of the year were released like School of the Flower by Six Organs of Admittance; Superwolf by Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney; A River Ain’t Too Much To Love by Smog; Tanglewood Numbers by Silver Jews and, as the infomercials say, so much more! If that wasn’t enough, Drag City also chronicled 20 years of Japanese psych-masters Ghost and reissued the Gary Higgins 1973 psych-folk classic Red Hash, furthering one of the best stories in rock history.
04. Traum/Trapez/My Best Friend
It’s not too much of a surprise that a family of labels might collaborate to make up one good label’s output each year. But what’s amazing about Traum Schallplatten and its associates is how strong each individual label’s output was in 2005. Quite simply, any three of the label’s could have been put on this list. Trapez for its continued devotion to nuanced melodic house and for the introduction (to most) to Alex Under, Traum for its romantic newcomers (Nathan Fake and Jesse Somfay) and the ever-consistent Dominik Eulberg, and the ever-quirky My Best Friend and its strong first mix CD and limited, yet essential, 12”s.
05. Southern Lord
Need we say much else besides Sunn 0)))’s massive Black One? OK. How about a new Earth album, a Nattefrost picture disc, the first Thrones record in ages (mostly old stuff, but still!), the distribution of the previously European-only Craft record, and the vinyl reissue of Oren Ambarchi’s Triste? Not enough? There is, but now you’re just being difficult.
Domino UK seems to be the European clearinghouse for some of the best American indie artists around: Smog, Stephen Malkmus, David Pajo, Matthew Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Couple this with some of the most hotly tipped guitar rock of recent memory (Franz Ferdinand, Test Icicles, and the Arctic Monkeys) and the folktronica brigade (Caribou, Four Tet), and you have a stable of artists that guarantee quality nearly every time out. Oh, did we mention that Orange Juice reissue earlier in the year, as well?
07. Sub Pop
It was business as usual for Sub Pop in 2005, as the label soldiered on with a slew of quality of releases and one major hit to hang their collective hats on. The latter, of course, was Wolf Parade, a Modest Mouse sounding “retarded dog with four heads” (in the words of Dan Boeckener). The former is a number of things: Low, returning as a rock band, Sleater-Kinney, returning as an art band, The Constantines, returning as a mature band, and a whole lot more.
08. Get Physical
At the beginning of the year some commentators were saying that the whole nexus between click and minimal and electro, shit, the whole blurring between house and techno might have run its course. And it might have been had a whole lot of people outside the usual 12” fiends not become entranced by the sound, and if labels, Get Physical in particular, hadn’t kept up the pressure. In 2005 they released a mix, Body Languauge, that may as well be the official greatest hits of the year and the two best tracks on it—the joyously popping title track by M.A.N.D.Y vs. Booka Shade, and Booka Shade’s own “Mandarine Girl” the see-saw organ of which sounds like a woozy just-woken-up memory of the perfect club track until you realise how hard the bass is jabbing you in the solar plexus.
Weird and Radical Projects lived up to its title yet again in 2005 via the type of music that they would have been loath, only a few years ago, to release to their rabid IDM fanbase. Think how well received rock, soul, and tender off-kilter synth pop would end up and now realize that Maximo Park, Jamie Lidell, and Broadcast all released albums that wowed both critics and audiences alike. Take that with the usual suspects (Autechre, Boards of Canada) and an intriguing debut (Jackson and his Computer Band) and you have yourself another strong year from Warp’s increasingly diverse stable.
As the label’s current header graphic states: those who gave our hearts and minds over to Jagjaguwar this year were treated extraordinarily well. Both Oneida and Okkervil River turned in career-defining works early on in the year, while Black Mountain set forth a strong debut effort that shows a way out for Bowie and Black Sabbath lovers. And we won’t even both mentioning Wilderness’ self-titled album, a reissue of Simon Joyner’s Room Temperature, or the great Richard Youngs return to form. Or will we?
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-12-28