Despite the Internet and all that, record labels are still important — more so than they probably get credit for — functioning as a much stickier glue between music and an audience than music and an audience left to wade through blogs, Soundcloud streams and YouTube clips. In simplest terms, a well-curated label is the straightest pathway to you and your new favorite band. Here are eight on the Brooklyn home front whose knack for seeking out new talent is more than a few steps ahead of your best friend’s cousin’s blog. There’s a reason why they’re experts at this stuff.
Exploding in Sound Records
The Little Label That Could, started by former fed-up major-label temp Dan Goldin and college pal Dave Spak in 2011, has slowly emerged as a magnet for cult-followed East Coast guitar rock bands with a lineup shuffling into two default categories — bands reminiscent of Sebadoh and those a little less reminiscent of Sebadoh — all while zapping the stale air that too often hovers around 90s revivals.
Notable Releases By: Speedy Ortiz, Porches, Grass Is Green, Baked, Pile, Palehound, Fat History Month, Lost Boy?
Captured Tracks & Omnian Music Group
Since 2008, Captured Tracks founder Mike Sniper & Co. have pulled together one of the defining rosters of any given moment’s indie-rock landscape, largely thanks to an affinity for goofballs (Mac DeMarco, DIIV) and noise offenders (Perfect Pussy, The Soft Moon, Thee Oh Sees). Defying cries that the album is dead, CT’s tastemaker status has given way to a brick-and-mortar record store and the Omnian Music Group, a just-launched label hydra head inspired by the mighty Beggars Group that folds CT’s imprints and Flying Nun reissues with more experimental sister labels.
Notable Releases By: Mac DeMarco, DIIV (even back when they were Dive), Perfect Pussy, The Soft Moon, Blank Dogs, Thee Oh Sees, Wild Nothing
Old Flame Records
Perusing Old Flame’s website, you can almost smell the sweat that’s been poured into its digital release onslaught (and equally fervent, though fewer, physical runs). The label — an obvious labor of love for founder Rob Mason — is built around the workhorses of mostly Midwestern and Northeastern local scenes (seriously, has Shark? ever turned down playing a show?), whose blue-collared, country-tinged rock and pop-surging punk has flared up in such mainstream media outlets as Rolling Stone, USA Today and Last Call With Carson Daly on account of sheer mass appeal and insistent melody.
Notable Releases By: Cloud Nothings, Shark? Potty Mouth, Mean Creek, Yawn, You Won’t, SW/MM/NG
When Robin Carolan, who The New Yorker refers to as “The Dark Lord” in their profile piece of his dark, sly, commercially successful(!) Tri Angle records, permanently moved from London to Brooklyn, he relocated the nerve center of the movement — this strangely vibrant-yet-sonically decaying meltdown of hip-hop, goth, noise and dance music — to Greenpoint, where his scalpellic curation of “what’s next” has put swarthy artists into much brighter spotlights.
Notable Releases By: AlunaGeorge, Balam Acab, oOoOO,The Haxan Cloak, Evian Christ, Forest Swords (not to mention a Lindsay Lohan tribute album where such artists and Laurel Halo and Oneohtrix Point Never offered covers to launch the label in 2010, because that’s they way to do it)
We’ve talked about former music scribe Nick Sylvester and his brainchild GODMODE to anyone who will listen these last few months on account of Shamir — the rising house-music star whose guileless pop songs are so widely appealing Kim Kardashian could very likely be tweeting about him in six months — but the real charm of the homespun label is its staunch refusal to find a niche. There are could-be DFA signees (Fitness, Motion Studies) snuggled up against blasting noise (YVETTE, The Flag) and mottled R&B (Soft Lit). Whether the music is good seems to be the only thing they care about over there.
Notable Releases By: Shamir, YVETTE, Mr. Dream, Motion Studies
Zola Jesus is about to become a huge pop star. Sacred Bones can be credited in part, cultivating her goth-leaning instincts and allowing her the freedom to wind them into progressively shiny electro-pop bangers. She may no longer be the label’s centerpiece (her upcoming album is due out via Mute), but her career arc exemplifies Sacred Bone’s catalog–one of the most intriguing in current circulation. Their acute A&R intuition cements them as a go-to home for the darker shaded figures of the indie world (David Lynch, Iceage-offshoot VÅR, Pharmakon, Crystal Stilts) but also when they turn (relatively) bright and happy. See: the latest releases from Lust for Youth and The Men.
Notable Releases By: Zola Jesus, David Lynch, The Men, Trust, Crystal Stilts, Pharmakon
Mexican Summer & Kemado Records
Birthed on the heels of Sacred Bones and Captured Tracks as a vinyl and digital branch to Kemado Records six years ago, Mexican Summer has perhaps seen more artists it’s worked with grow into full-fledged headliners than any other label in the borough, helping to fulfill Brooklyn’s promise as the proclaimed hotbed for music, while head A&R man Keith Abrahamsson has still found space for, say, Chicago black metal group Nachtmystium or Kiwi psych-pop weirdo Connan Mockasin among the label’s index.
Notable Releases By: Best Coast, The Tallest Man on Earth, Kurt Vile, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti, Washed Out, Linda Perhacs, Autre Ne Veut
Ba Da Bing
Despite a hall of alumni that includes Beirut, Sharon Van Etten and tUnE-yArDs, Ba Da Bing’s Ben Goldberg has opted to keep his ear to the ground, hearing out deserving upstart talent rather than cherry picking from those propelled by hype and chatter. The result is a current roster featuring obscenely underrated Woom and one of the best new bands in town, Slothrust.
Notable Releases By: Beirut, Sharon Van Etten, tUnE-yArDs, Slothrust, Xenia Rubinos, Woom
Follow Lauren Beck on Twitter @heylaurenbeck.