Independent record labels are everywhere. They’re a comfortable half-way point between the unsigned and the majors, and, in my opinion, they’re the hosts to the world’s best music. Artists have a smaller amount of pressure on indie labels, but enough support to keep themselves in a decently sized spotlight. 2007 proved that the indie label can be just as potent as any other major, with The Shins (Sub Pop) and Arcade Fire (Merge Records) rocking the Billboard charts in record setting style.
As long as I’ve been listening to music, I’ve had a thing for the smaller labels. Tooth and Nail has changed a lot in the last ten years, but I loved that label so much back in high school. Slick Shoes and Value Pac were some of my favorite bands, (I didn’t care if they weren’t as popular as Rancid or NOFX) they were fast, poppy, fun punk bands that I was able to relate to regardless of their popularity. And, somehow, my attitudes haven’t changed much. My musical tastes certainly have, but I listen to what sounds good to my ears, and if someone else doesn’t like it, oh well.
Bodies of Water might the most Biblically artistic band I’ve heard in the past five years. Their music is joyous and shimmering, their lyrics blend right in to their vibrant sound and the result is rock and roll victory. On stage, they appear as talented and likable people, smiling often and chatting casually. They’re a perfect fit for Secretly Canadian, who seems to have a knack for finding positively charged indie rock. Danielson and Jens Lekman have good company on their little label with Bodies of Water. Check out their show if they’re stopping through, you’ll feel encouraged by their art.
The second show of the weekend was my first-ever visit to Chicago’s famed Hideout. How I’ve been avoiding this place for so many years is beyond me, but it’s a wonderful little venue tucked into a side-street corner in an industrial part of Chicago, and local folk artists happen upon the venue quite often. Now I’m not sure if I can label Citay “folk,” because they are much more than that. Their sound is closer to psychedelic 70’s rock (but not too psychedelic). I loved their show. They’re not afraid to rock out, jam as loud as possible, or move around on stage. When you hear a lot of pretentious indie rock all the time, you can really appreciate a band that doesn’t reserve any of its abilities to jam.
Citay is actually on one of Secretly Candian’s “other” labels, Dead Oceans (the other is Jagjaguwar). If you appreciate talented musicians who aren’t afraid of making music their dad liked (I say this in the best way possible. Dad-rock haters go home.), get Citay’s Little Kingdom, and try to make it to one of their shows.
Secretly Canadian has got some great artists in their roster, but the reason that they’re my “favorite” label right now is because they have something much more going on with their label than just some good music. They possess a sincerity that I don’t see in a lot of of other indie labels. Whether it’s the unapologetic emotions of Jens Lekman standing ground in a cooler-than-thou, hyper-arrogant indie scene, or sincerely spiritual words coming out of bands like Danielson or Bodies of Water, Secretly Canadian achieves a level of security in their own art that exudes maturity.
Perhaps you have a “favorite” record label for other reasons, please share your thoughts if you’d be so willing.