We all have our favourite record labels, houses of aural excellence that we feel a connection with, whose catalogue we’ve come to trust. Don’t we? Perhaps, in this fractured world of instant-download gratification, we’re not so bound to labels as we once were – but believe us when we say that there are some mighty fine stables out there, working around the clock to get the most amazing music out.
Here are just seven of the labels that we feel have really excelled in 2014 – which is not to say that others haven’t had brilliant years, too. You’re all superstars in our eyes (and ears).
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Key releases: Wiley, ‘Snakes & Ladders’; Young Fathers, ‘Dead’; DELS, ‘Petals Have Fallen’; Tre Mission, ‘Stigmata’; Kate Tempest, ‘Everybody Down’; Run The Jewels, ‘Run The Jewels’ (European edition).
Outstanding achievement: Two Mercury Prize nominations is right up there amongst the Pretty Flipping Impressive ranks, with ultimate winners Young Fathers and Kate Tempest both celebrated as amongst the year’s finest purveyors of long-play art.
Select Clash verdicts: On Young Fathers’ ‘Dead’ (9/10): “They possess that which makes the best British acts truly special, a singular identity born of multinational mixology.” On Wiley’s ‘Snakes & Ladders’ (8/10): “‘I’m a weirdo, but label me grime, please,’ he spits on ‘Bloodtype’. Of course, Wiley – you are grime.” On DELS’ ‘Petals Have Fallen’ (9/10): “An album of consistent high quality and endearing personality, it’s worth popping a tenner on this making the Mercury shortlist in 2015.”
Young Fathers, ‘Get Up’
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Outstanding achievement: AWVFTS’s ‘Atomos’ proved a more than worthy follow-up to the pair’s eponymous debut album, an energised yet ambient set of heartache and cathartic comforts. And it was turned around in just a matter of months according to its makers, which makes the feat all the more impressive.
Select Clash verdicts: On Kiasmos’ ‘Kiasmos’ (9/10): “Striking, graceful and completely naked, this cold album hovers at the crossroads where dance meets the overgrown trail of modern classical.” On Douglas Dare’s ‘Whelm’ (8/10): “Both richly emotive and beguilingly, bewitchingly uneasy.” On AWVFTS’s ‘Atomos’ (9/10): “A slow-burning, deeply resonant collection with a stirring potency and the capacity to truly wow.”
Douglas Dare, ‘Nile’
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Outstanding achievement: Um, the small matter of a first new Aphex Twin album in 13 years? Yeah, that, we reckon.
Select Clash verdicts: On Aphex Twin’s ‘Syro’ (8/10): “An effortless comeback that almost plays like a greatest hits set.” On Flying Lotus’ ‘You’re Dead!’ (8/10): “LA’s most talented producer is using his vivid heritage to explore the album format… and has brewed up some seriously bitching beats.” On Plaid’s ‘Reachy Prints’ (8/10): “Another artful and aerial treasure.”
Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar, ‘Never Catch Me’
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Key releases: Tenth-anniversary celebrating compilations ’10.1’, ’10.2’, ’10.3’ and ’10.4’, plus EPs from Ikonika, Flowdan, Cooly G’s ‘Wait ‘Til Night’ album and Fatima Al Qadiri’s ‘Asiatisch’ LP. Then there was the small matter of the final recordings from The Spaceape (alongside Kode9), on the ‘Killing Season’ EP.
Outstanding achievement: Marking its 10th (Clash feature) with a remarkable showcase of diversity across four essential compilations.
Select Clash verdicts: On ’10.1’ (9/10): “The cumulative effect of this shatters any doubts over the label’s continuing vitality… Essential.” On ’10.2’ (8/10): “Celebrates the diversity of a neglected side of the label’s output.”
Cooly G, ‘Wait ‘Til Night’
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Outstanding achievement: Continuing to throw its strictly-indie reputation against the nearest brick wall until it – or the wall – crumbles, the venerable stateside institution has made some seriously impressive moves into the avant-garde in 2014. Albums from clipping. and Shabazz Palaces have furthered its interests in leftfield rap circles, while a complete reissue series from Sleater-Kinney serves as the perfect way to introduce a comeback LP, their first in 10 years, from the Olympia trio – ‘No Cities To Love’ is out in January.
Select Clash verdicts: On Shabazz Palaces’ ‘Lese Majesty’ (8/10): “Anyone looking for a mind-expanding trip to the outer edges of the Solar System, these rap futurists are your guides.” On clipping.’s ‘CLPNNG’ (8/10): “While it aims to push boundaries, ‘CLPPNG’ does so in a way that demonstrates a love for the culture that forms its source material.”
clipping., ‘Work Work’
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Outstanding achievement: It’s got to be the unlikeliest partnership of this year – and many before it – hasn’t it? ‘Soused’ is just the most arresting, alien listen of 2014, full stop.
Select Clash verdicts: On ‘Soused’ (8/10): “An uneasy, intuitive, idiosyncratic masterpiece.” On SOHN’s ‘Tremors’ (8/10): “Sure to be a hit with the disenfranchised, give the man a single bulb to perform under on stage and fans will be riveted.” On tUnE-yArDs’ ‘Nikki Nack’ (8/10): “Invigorating, wilful and wildly exuberant.”
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Outstanding achievement: Mute’s consistency has been amazing across 2014, although not one of their album releases has borne all that much of a similarity to the preceding set. From Liars to Ben Frost, the mighty Swans to the bruises of Zola Jesus, the label has always put art before business, allowing some of the brightest creative talents to shine through its doors.
Select Clash verdicts: On Liars’ ‘Mess’ (8/10): “Another ambitious statement from a band that has made a habit of reinventing itself at every stage, while still sounding uniquely Liars.” On Swans’ ‘To Be Kind’ (9/10): “Imagine Karlheinz Stockhausen’s jarring classicism, Captain Beefheart's twisted blues, and the industrialism of Einstürzende Neubauten coalescing into a swirling musical miasma. Near perfection.” On Ben Frost’s ‘A U R O R A’ (8/10): “Nothing he has released before has resonated with such life, such energy and desire for breaching the barrier separating the extraordinary from the wholly otherworldly.”
Liars, ‘Mess On A Mission’
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Many of these labels will be present and correct at the Independent Label Market, London, taking place at Old Spitalfields Market on Saturday, November 29th. More information.