“Ranking and Diagramming the 10 Best Record Labels”

*R.I.P. Touch and Go


10 Domino Recording Company


Four Tet – There is Love in You and Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca are so original, seminal, well-crafted and irreplaceable that it’s impossible to question the relevance of the label that released them. Also, give these bands credit for belying what is seemingly Domino’s true DNA — a knack for the prevailing pop bisector. Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and Psapp typify the company’s success in streamlining the honed, ubiquitous voice of the rock artist, a salty sneer on the microphone speaking to the heart of the listener.


9 True Panther Sounds


True Panther is a New York label, and I don’t like every act on it, but my two favorites are Glasser and Girls, both of which are from California. The whole thing’s pretty perplexing, but though Girls got a lot of press, Glasser remains extremely low-profile, for reasons certainly elusive. She’s a hell of a pop spinster, draping her melodies in omnipresently relevant talc smear, giving sound the number one priority, and belting in a rich but mellow, throaty tone, grabby, unpredictable strains. Then Girls, of course, you know about Girls, one of the most listenable bands out there, you can throw on either of the their first two albums and really lose yourself in the miasma of beauty and Lou Reed-type pop sensibility.


8 Polyvinyl


One of the many college town labels on this list, from the chilly tornado-alley Champaign, Illinois. I’ve never been there, but the brochure looks cloudy and ominous, calling for the warming, crystalline tones of Aloha, whose trifecta of classic pop LP’s Here Comes Everyone, Some Echoes and Home Acres esteems entirely from this outfit. Dodos – Carrier powers in as a characteristically balanced, integral effort, a nice West Coast snag for this low-budget muse hive in the age of technology.


7 Sub Pop


Writing up a blurb about Sub Pop, I guess, is sort of like reviewing Sonic Youth’s album Rather Ripped. It’s like, where to begin, and how to judge something that’s going to go down in history? The “Sub Plop” t shirts, obviously pre-1991, come to mind for me: “What part of ‘We have no money’ don’t you understand?” Jack Endino was a bulwark figure for the label in the early going, recording Nirvana’s great-sounding debut album Bleach on $606 dollars, an album which would go to turn around the best percentage profit since the Elvis Sun sessions. I remember when they remastered and rereleased Bleach, I listened to it, and disgustedly tossed it aside as dogsh**. That Endino project didn’t need any work. And now, Sub Pop, even though they do house the brilliant No Age, puts out Fleet Foxes: The Complete Recordings when that band doesn’t even have three albums out, just two and an EP. And that’s why they’re ranked seventh on this list.


6 Carpark


Obviously give Beach House more than a little credit for putting Carpark on the map, but it was dope back in the day too, producing a classic mix of electronica and pop, and everything in between, all seeming to crawl with the indefatigable dusty integrity of the genuine Baltimore streets. And opposite Merge, which towers over it in volume, Carpark seems like more than the sum of its parts, like there’s pride, or something even better, at work, getting these artists to emote a palpable appreciation for their recording brethren, one which obviously gets them taking storm-in-a-teacup stature on wax.


5 Merge


Merge is kind of one of those labels where it’s like, yeah, we know they’re great, but they should be better than they are. I wouldn’t call them infallible, like, say, Matador, who even released an album called “Fu** (actual expletive) – Pardon My French”, that I listened to on grounds alone of Matador association, but refused to buy, because of its name. As with the Love This Giant debacle on 4AD, it seems that the recipe here calls for a bit more supervision, like the whole operation, started purely by members of Superchunk in the Chapel Hill area, lacks identity. From an Aeroplane over the Sea, for instance, for all the highs to which it takes you, certainly wants of coherence, and could have used more sonic steadfast direction — some noise tracks instead of pointless Jesus tirades, for instance, if that guy didn’t have enough songs written. B sides were invented for a reason.


4 Thrill Jockey


Scrappiness is a term with which I’d tag Thrill Jockey. It seems defiantly underground and sneaky, and up through 2014, these acts tend to really blow your mind, and never insult your intelligence or come across as rote. Plankton Wat is the perfect Chicago music for today, I wish I would have discovered them when I still lived up there. It’s pure dusty skyscrapers on a worn day, giving off contradictory, carnal, lethal signals, ushering in the end times with foreplay and nonchalance.


3 Warp


Boy was I thrown for a loop when I saw on wikipedia that an early act on Warp was “LFO.” Luckily, it was antecedent to 1995, so it couldn’t have been that boy band. Give Warp credit for seeming to just be weird and intensely against the grain from the start, releasing proteges like “Sweet Exorcist” and “Nightmare on Wax.” Not that this wasn’t a hay day of punk for itself, with Fat busting at the seams out in Cali, but Warp (originally dubbed “Warped,” in no way to my knowledge associated with the “Warped Tour”) seemed to have a knack for the punk ethos, not caring if others like you, deliberately grossing people out so as not to fit it, from the get-go, but applied to a more relevant, current, pliable genre of music, as evidenced by Aphex Twin being their breakout act. Today they’re sort of a giant among men, housing Flying Lotus and Grizzly Bear, the respective bests at what they do from opposing U.S. shores.


2 4AD


Give this label props for dropping St. Vincent after Love This Giant. Actually, I don’t know if that’s what happened, I’m just clinging to my faith in humanity’s better reason, so I’m going to ascribe as much to the parties at hand. Deerhunter was the best set at 2009’s Lollapalooza, and there’s an extremely high percentage of acts on 4AD that are unquestionable household names in the ubiquitous underground, down to low-profile but cutting-edge DJ’s like Zomby. Each of these artists is vastly different from each other, and seems on a mission to make you aware of just that. Pitchfork should prominently feature any record released by 4AD, whether it’s good or bad, by association alone.



1 Matador


The fact that two major labels hail from Bloomington, Indiana and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, respectively, should show that affordability of property is a crucial component of running a label. Yawn, yeah we’re Matador, and we’re right smack in the middle of New York City, always have been. Bettina Richards moved Thrill Jockey to Chicago for cheaper space, really near the label’s inception, all the while Matador just growing and flourishing artistically, branching out into different realms of bands and personalities that would continue to reshape and richen our minds. Iceage – You’re Nothing proves they’ve still got the nose for talent, leading us up from the days of Liz Phair, Cat Power, The New Pornographers, Pavement and all things related. Unforgettable tunes for mice and men.


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