Before getting to the detail it is worth asking what do we look for in a label? It isn't necessarily format although that is sometimes significant. Our view is that if the tracks are worth it they would sound good on whatever format you choose to put the material on, within reason. The underwater gymnasium mix put out on a flexidisc with artwork that looks as if Fido has eaten the designer's homework and chewed the sleeve notes written by the bassist's mum all lovingly rendered with sloppy kisses in the signature flourish may need a rethink.
Zoning in a little more what we look for is a certain personality. It needn't be a narrow taste and most labels do flit around restlessly within certain parameters. Often it's the outliers that work, the albums that resonate with the core label values but actually sound like nothing else on the label. We look for meaning in other words, not necessarily a fancy livery and lots of mission statements although when the label's graphic look is stunning it's always a plus. Above all what we look for in a label are the extra ingredients that lift the imagination and enhance the dreaming in the music, a subtlety and a care and attention that has its own artistic life chiefly through the quality of the sound (especially when the album is mastered properly) and the titling and sequencing of tracks, how the tunes are picked and perhaps indications of why. Good labels have ideas and put them into action. These are the indies putting out the work we enjoyed most over the past few weeks, some familiar from earlier in the year, Sunnyside again cooking with gas, some not so much:
1. Birmingham label Stoney Lane for the marvellous new Xhosa Cole and Young Pilgrims releases;
3. London's Ubuntu for lots of quantity, high standards, and above all where there's a Wes there's a way and Road Song by Nigel Price certainly the play it is;
5. Barcelona's Fresh Sound New Talent for Countdown by Simon Moullier. The vibes certainly describe.
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