Thursday, February 10, 2011

Books By Covers: #1 Kranky

After a decade of internet literacy and the steady rise of digital music distribution it sometimes confounds and confuses to hear that artists like Fergie or Maroon 5 are at the top of year end sales, given the broader and better possibilities that wait out there.  But there's a variation on one main theme we keep hearing here at Backstreet: Too MUCH!!!  It's either passive frustration ("I try to keep up with new music but there are so many new genres and scenes that pop up, I just don't have the time") or active ignorance ("There hasn't been any good music out since [insert 70s, 80s, 90s here depending on the person's age]").  And it is certainly true that it's an impossibility of time to follow each and every brand new development in music up to the minute, I fail at staying completely current and it's part of my job, over the years there have been little signposts that have been useful to narrow down the scope of investigation.  One of those, unsurprisingly, has been the label as stamp of quality.  Over the next little while I'll profile certain mid-to-large sized indie labels that have proven themselves to be reliable and worthy of taking chances on even when the artist is new or unfamiliar.

First up Kranky.

The label started in Chicago in 1993, and their initial sound was a blend of rock and electronics that drew influences from late 70s / early 80s ambient and post-punk by artists like Brian Eno, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, Durutti Column and so on, as well as contemporaries like Aphex Twin, Stereolab and Pram; with bits and bytes grabbed form modern composition and electro-acoustic practices. 

For the first few years it stuck close to the space rock / ambient electronic end of the spectrum with a string of compelling releases from Labradford, Stars of the Lid and Bowery Electric.  The addition of the Minnesotan outfit Low in 1997 marked a slight move towards a more mainstream rock (though only very slight given that trio's slowcore leanings barely rippled the label's still surface). ''

Arguably the label's breakout moment came in 98/99 when it became the American home for Montreal's Godspeed You Black Emperor!  The group's ascension from outsider favourites to darlings of the burgeoning post-rock movement (Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky) was bonded to the label's profile.  To their credit they didn't go a hiring spree to find another large chamber-rock cabal, assuming there was one to find.  They instead maintained a good relationship with their existing roster, adding new sympathetic members (Loscil, Charalambides) and branching out in slightly more upbeat, even danceable, directions (Out Hud, Fontanelle).

In recent years the label has continued to diversify and become harder to summarize when outlining styles and sounds.  On one spiral arm you'll find proto-intellectual sound experiments (Keith Fullerton Whitman, Christopher Bissonette, Tim Hecker), on another there are amtomospheric acoustic alchemists (Boduf Songs, Autistic Daughters, Bird Show) and not least of all some notable pop and rock releases (Deerhunter, Benoit Pioulard, To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie).  While you may prefer one of these forms more than the others, there's no disputing that Kranky maintains an aesthetic that suffuses all of its releases.

Recommendations to start you off:

Labradford - Labradford (1996)

Stars of the Lid - The Tired Sounds of... (2001)

Autistic Daughters - Jealousy and Diamond (2004)

Boduf Songs - Lion Devours the Sun (2006)

Lichens - Omns (2007)

Benoit Pioulard - Temper (2008)

Deerhunter - Microcastle (2008)

1 comment:

meg. said...

Bien dit, Eric-- comme d'habitude!

A la prochaine...