My Favorite Record Labels

Inevitably, and to the detriment of the musical medium or form, we are while shopping or browsing streaming content constantly confronted with songs and albums we've never heard of, and our prejudice against the unknown leads us to skip over countless things we'd love but lack the courage or time to sample. The digital age solves the problem of not wanting to buy a whole album we only like one song on but replaces it with an overwhelmingly impossible mass of more music than we could ever listen to in a lifetime. What's an audiophile to do? Reviews and word of mouth certainly help this but are prone to self-important bombast, hype, and the possibility of diminishing respect for someone who recommended something you end up not liking (for judgmental folks like myself, I'd rather not know what some of my friends listen to and love).

Rather like seeking out everything one's favorite directors have filmed, record labels are a good hint that if you like something on the label, you're likely to find other things on the label at least interesting. Yet, for the most part, record labels' names themselves are a whole lot less famous than directors, methinks. Not everyone gets to work for a college radio station, I guess, which is the only reason I've got an opinion on these things. But be thee not discouraged! My main sources of music in the last decade, Amoeba & eMusic, offer endlessly delightful discoveries to those who can master this esoteric body of knowledge. Of course, there's little point in trying to use this rule for bigger labels that put out all kinds of (pop) music like Universal, EMI, Capitol, Atlantic, etc. It's only to say that indie labels whose catalogs are themselves pretty diverse are likely to be run by a pretty discerning group of people who are likely to maintain a similar aesthetic of risk-taking and experimentation no matter what the official style or genre of an album is. That lengthy preamble out of the way, let's dive into another list!

Jump to: Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4 Tier 5 Dishonorable Labels Still on eMusic Worth a Look

Note that a BC link at the end should go to the label's catalog on Bandcamp.

Top Tier (Nearly everything they touch turns to gold, in my eyes. Automatically snap these up if they tumble into the dollar bin.)

Anticon A small label, as far as I know, but their smart, edgy synth-rock output has amazed and transfixed me on more than one occasion. When they connect, the listener is in for quite an experience.

Arts & Crafts Almost certainly my go-to label for Canadian independent music. Lots of favorites come from here, with indie-rock variety aplenty! BC

Asthmatic Kitty As the Sufjan Stevens catalog expands there have been a few releases that have less than enthused me, but for the most part, an AK record has a very good chance of making it onto the favorite music page. Since they take risks, downloading an unknown album from eMusic is still too risky for me.

Axiom Bill Laswell is one heck of a collaborator, and judging from this label's fairly wide but exclusive output, a mighty good curator, too!

Bar/None Lots of risk-taking here means home run albums that make the occasional meh release insignificant. BC

Blue Note They're my favorite jazz label mostly because I assume they're heavier on the instrumentals than the vocalists. I could well be wrong, though.

Domino These are just too smooth to ignore, music for hipsters and the beautiful people? Actively trying to grow my collection from them lest I miss out. BC

Drag City A stalwart of the old WOBC days, I really didn't have a lot of music from the label until recently. I still wouldn't expect most people to like the majority of their output, but I can say most of what I've heard has grown on me. Definitely different aesthetics at play. Their releases are pretty hard to track down, unfortunately. BC

ESL Electronic lounge music never sounded smoother or less elevator-y. Relax, everyone!

Matador Other than some rock releases from the 90s, Matador gets a consistent olé from me for its diversity and quality. Just wish they were on eMusic! A seemingly increasing catalog does prevent everything from being top notch, but even misses are likely to be interesting and unpredictable to listen through at least once. BC

Memphis Industries The folks responsible for Self have a real knack for production without letting anything sound overproduced. I believe some past releases were also called "Spongebath" Records and were less reliably nifty. BC

Mute Since they've been around for a while longer, the earlier releases from the 80s & early 90s (often connected to Sire) deserve some caution. Otherwise, I've really enjoyed nearly everything, and they've put out some albums that vie for spots on my all time favorite list. BC

NinjaTune Long my gold standard for electronic, especially urban electronic, along with a stable of instrumental and semi-experimental releases that are highly expressive. Almost never disappointing thanks to innovation & variety. For much of the 1990s, NinjaTune albums were a rare sighting in the Midwest, and I've spent the 21st century catching up on what I missed. Keep the Zen a-comin'! BC

SubPop Other than some rock acts that are too straightforward for my taste, they've consistently put out some of the most iconic acts and albums of my generation. Glad to see them branching out into world and hip-hop, too! Sadly gone from eMusic. BC

Touch & Go They've had a long, good run of rock variations, but I haven't heard or rather found much from them lately. Seems they've soldiered on but I've failed to pay close attention. Their late 80s-early 90s output would generally rank several tiers lower.

Thrill Jockey As the most experimental label in my top tier, Thrill Jockey must always be tenuously in danger of losing its status. Blurring the line between music an noise in the most delightful ways! BC

Warp This is where one goes to find statement electronic music of high caliber, though there have also been some non-electronic releases of note. Losing this from the eMusic catalog led me to consider canceling my subscription.

Zod Small electronic label I've not completely delved into has impressed with everything I've heard from them, including compilations. Plenty of caustic, frenetic, semi-experimental but still catchy stuff!


Reliable Suppliers of Favorites (It's more unusual NOT to like something than to find it enthralling.)

Absolutely Kosher I assume they're relatively new, part of a wave of music coming out of Brooklyn, but I'd better double check. WEB

Anti- Until recently I hadn't heard anything here I wasn't enthralled by. A good streak, but it couldn't last! Lots of edgy stuff. BC

Asphodel Possibly defunct label from my golden years of high school and early college, when Madison's WORT was my sole source of electronic faves.

Astralwerks After they branched out from being a mostly electronic label (and maybe after being bought by EMI) there are understandably more questionable releases both in synth-pop and garage rock.

Big Dada Probably my favorite source for British urban-inflected electronic and hip-hop tunes, but alas, they too are mortal. They have a much more expansive selection than I realized, and while I'll happily snatch anything on here for a dollar, I've yet to pony up for anyone other than Roots Manuva. BC

Compost Along with G-Stoned, their downtempo electronic music is about all I can handle in my old age. Home of Beanfield, one of my favorites. Their eMusic catalog is more than one subscription can handle. BC

Constellation The Canadian post-rock emporium par excellance also shied away from plastic cases in favor of artful paper ones as an additional bonus to very different music which may not be as mind-blowing as it was in the early 2000s but still daring and interesting. BC

Crammed Discs Very recent favorites from all over the world here, a real breath of fresh air! BC

Darla Lots of wispy electronic soundscapes and mildly experimental things which are unique enough to pique interest but not offend. BC

Dead Oceans Apparently a "sister label" of Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian with similar holdings and consistency. Never knew IN was such a hotbed of indie rock. BC

Definitive Jux An urban electronic source run and apparently put "on hiatus" by El-P with several artists I enjoy. Is it alternative hip-hop?

Emperor Norton A lot of my favorites from the late 1990s and early 2000s, formative musical years for me indeed, came from them.

Erased Tapes Experimental but also easy listening somehow is possible, and this label does it well. Tuneful soundscapes abound. BC

Fatcat A risk-taking label whose strikeouts are often interesting but not something I'd listen to again. Also the home of many all-time favorite bands and songs. BC

G-Stoned Steady European downtempo curated by Kruder & Dorfmeister?

Ghostly International Their releases have grown stronger over time, methinks. After several I thought would confine it to middling fare, acts like Choir of Young Believers really made me believe. Branching out from electronic music was a good move for them. BC

Hefty They had a lot of interesting experimental and electronic albums which never veered into unlistenable noise, though I haven't found much from them lately.

Illegal Art They seem to be home to more than their fair share of sound collage artists, which is a definite plus in my book! Pretty small output, apparently.

Ipecac Mike Patton may know a thing or two about interesting, unusual music. Quieter selections are the exceptions I prefer, though. BC

Jagjaguwar This label is all over the indie map but churns out interesting rock music above all, I think. It's always interesting to compare what's hyped on here to what I enjoy more, though there have been some puzzlingly generic albums too. BC

!K7 Scrolling through page after page in eMusic, one finally appreciates the percentage of interesting albums put out by such a large conglomerate. European electronic stuff remains my favorite from them, but getting to know their world music has been a pleasure as well. BC

Kindercore A wide variety of styles are to be had, and the albums are rarely disappointing. Colorful logo!

Leaf (The Leaf Label) Numerous favorites such as Caribou, Volcano!, and reliably interesting electronic music falls as leaves of Leaf. Almost never unmoved. BC

Merge They'd be top tier if not for several albums I don't like much after high expectations (for being on Merge). Been burned but also wildly impressed! BC

Nacional Easily my favorite source for Latin alternative music, often infused with electronics. Monareta, Pacha Massive, and Quintana Roo stand out among generally interesting artists. BC

Planet e Detroit techno's home is always worth a listen. Dunno how much Carl Craig is still at the helm. The electronic music might not be as varied as on other labels, but its jazz rounds them out well. BC

Planet Mu (µ) Mike Paradinas has quite a posse, and surprisingly it's not all electronic. Nothing as transcendental as his titular act's glory days so far, IMHO, and I wonder if the latest few albums from µ-ziq haven't wowed me because there's just so many more electronic labels now than there used to be. Ital Tek manages to distinguish itself. BC

Plug Research There's always a few surprises up their sleeves, but one almost never has to worry, "Will this be too poppy for me?" A nice happy medium between experimentation and accessibility is often reached on their releases. BC

Polyvinyl This was one of the first indie rock labels I knew (vaguely) before starting out as a college radio DJ. Luckily they've got a strong selection of albums, and they rarely disappoint. BC

Rephlex Richard D. James is a very sociable guy with lots of friends who make very sociable music. Who knew?!

Secretly Canadian Indie rock darlings are drawn like magnets to one of the most cleverly named labels, and with good reason. BC

Southern Reliable but also rarely found in the dollar bin. A lot of low key but well-crafted works on there, but I sure haven't heard anything lately.  Update, their releases do pop up in the Chicago dollar bins, and I'm still sanguine about them.  They apparently distribute in the U.S. for many European artists.  Finding a lot of rock music that's not straightforward, and I like it! BC

Strut (!K7) Very recently have been grooving to world music on this label. BC

Temporary Residence The home of Rob Crow's solo work and plenty of other worthwhile stuff, I sometimes mix them up with Absolutely Kosher. Daily NYP promotion for COVID-19 is mighty generous. BC

Tummy Touch They've got a number of above average electronic albums, though I haven't dived deeply into the tummy's navel. BC

Tzadik Beyond Zorn and the collection of semi-traditional Jewish staples, there are some very interesting groups, artists, and tunes on the label! I'm always given to fond memories of "Zornfest" at Oberlin. Also impressed by the audacity of my first roommate in NYC in 2009 biting the hand that fed: despite playing concerts in "The Stone" in the LES, he disparagingly exclaimed that JZ had just "shat out another album" and that the truly prolific "jazz" musician "doesn't have control of his instrument."

Verve Reliable jazz found here for decades upon decades, no?

Western Vinyl Definitely an otherworldliness on some of this label's releases. Often want to call it a hipster aesthetic, but one can never be sure. BC

World Circuit Far-out releases for those who really need a breath of fresh air. Their selections tend to be edgier fusion, and especially critical for a world music label, the production doesn't feel too raw (or poorly recorded) or overdone to the point of smoothing anything over for fragile Western ears. Rest assured that if keyboards are added, they won't be atmospheric fluff. The usual handicap of being a world label applies, though, in that the "world" of non-Western music is kinda big and will contain some things which are not pleasant or otherwise appealing. Sometimes paired with Nonesuch.


Honorable Mention with More than Occasional Duds (I'll probably not pay more than $1 for something I've never heard of on these. Been burned.)

The Architecture Kind of a second-tier source for electronic stuff with an experimental bent. Always worth a dollar, but not often impressive, IMHO.

Arena Rock (arrco) Their deceptive name may have fooled some folks into getting introduced to some fine examples of contemporary prog and post-rock.

Barsuk I'm always mixing this label up with the slightly inferior Dim Mak. I think this one is both more consistent and with higher highs. Menomena 4evr! BC

Caipirinha Maddeningly difficult to remember how to spell this one, but it has some nice electronic stuff with a Latin tinge.

Carpark They're pretty consistent about putting out heavily hyped stuff I like well enough, but I don't recall anything mindblowingly awesome other than Dan Deacon. BC

Columbia The "duds" on here might be just as iconic and "essential" as any other on this venerable institution, but vocal jazz often rubs me the wrong way.

Cuneiform Many experiments would be hard-pressed to be called successful here, while others rise above the meandering unpredictably. Usually interesting, with a high percentage of instrumentals and lengthier tracks. BC

DFA NYC's premier dance music label is what eMusic calls it. I've yet to be blown away.

Fat Possum I used to think of them as an outlet for Southern folk music and delta blues, but it seems they've branched out quite a bit and taken on some big names like Modest Mouse. Rarely dull, usually with a lot of unique character. Comparable to Shanachie but less worldly. BC

4AD A British imprint full of risk takers and borderline goth stuff which is not my cup of tea. When something's good on here, it tends to be critically acclaimed and maybe even commercially successful/famous. I'd say beware releases from the 1980s and early-to-mid-1990s. Newer stuff rarely disappoints. BC

Jingwen Wearing Beijing pride on its sleeve, there are several worthwhile albums on this label, but I don't know how to track them down. Helpfully, when paired with the Scream! label, one can expect higher volume.

Kill Rock Stars Some of their stuff is a little to hard-edged or abrasive for me in my old age, but they're never dull. BC

Kranky As one who enjoys post-rock and ambient, the label sure knows how to push the envelope into territories--soundscapes, if you will--where I have little interest in dwelling. Many exceptionally beautiful cuts, too! Sadly no longer on eMusic. BC

Le Grand Magistery The man behind Momus had a good run of interesting signees, but I wonder if the label is still afloat after the Stars Forever fundraiser album over a decade ago.

Luaka Bop David Byrne can really find some interesting world acts, but sometimes they're just a little too cheesy. BC

Metropolis Today's leader in EBM, darker electronic music, and whatever's left of industrial music, I've often, perhaps wrongly, thought of them as a successor to WaxTrax!, but they've got so much to hear that it gets tough to decide what's worth an eMusic download. BC

Minty Fresh Like a more reliable twin to Teen Beat, there's some nice-sounding electro-alternative albums out there from this one.

Mo' Wax Turntabilism is not my favorite, but it's well worth having some around when one gets an itch for some scratching.

Modern Sky One of the biggest Chinese labels for alternative music also ventures to bring Western bands to China and organizes many major outdoor music festivals. Its own acts run the gamut and are generally a cut above Chinese bands not signed to it. Gets confusing when Chinese artists put out albums with entirely English song titles and they also release some fairly obscure Western artists in China.

Moshi Moshi Haven't thoroughly explored this one, but their lineup looks like a lot of big name electropop and synthy stuff I generally enjoy. BC

Mush Possibly an Australian imprint. Mostly electronic with a good lot of experimental pop and hip-hop, especially my favorite... Curse Ov Dialect.

Nothing Mr. Reznor assembled some interesting bands and artists for his label but may have overreached for some, as the 90s didn't have such a deep pool of electronica.

Play It Again Sam (PIAS) They were responsible, I believe for the first Starlight Mints album, or maybe I'm mixing that up with another favorite by Millionaire. In any case, catchy tunes can be had there by the albumload! The diversity here is too great to say what the label's sound encompasses. BC

Prawn Song Les Claypool has the magic to be quirky and commercially successful, though I don't know anything from his own label that has tasted fame. Fine by me.

Putamayo Like most world labels, there's always an overabundance of cheese among the more interesting stuff.

Quango/Pork Britain's answer to G-Stoned in some cases, while also seeping into jazz and more worldly stuff. All pretty inoffensive.

RealWorld Hard to say when one has a really great world album or an average one. At least they don't put out guitar, bass, and drums threesomes. Gotta watch out for NewAge infiltration on some of their stuff. Does Peter Gabriel own it? BC

RecordMakers French imprint with the expected smoothness and a heavy dose of synths.

Schematic Not going to find a lot of world fusion in their selection of electronic artists. Their deep but narrow selections are for purists IMHO. My evaluation of this label leans toward how many still view electronic music as a whole, namely as soulless, repetitive, with little variation or technical musical training required to compose it.

Shelter Press Experimental & electronic, quiet soundscapes which are unfortunately pretty pricey on eMusic. Worth exploration. BC

Skam Electronic and somewhat frustratingly alternating between melodic and noisier stuff. When their stuff was streaming in the early 2000s I couldn't get enough of it. Considerably less groundbreaking nowadays, but still a cut above generic IDM. It does beg the question of how much the appreciation of electronic music depends on its futuristic aura.

Six Degrees Often middling to good electronic, world, and folk fusion groups end up here, but only rarely does anything stupendous result. Vaguely pleasant wallpaper with a touch of the exotic (despite deliberately trying to de-exoticise certain instruments or styles) is the norm. BC

Smalltown Supersound Just being on a label with Jaga Jazzist will probably make most others pale in comparison, but there's plenty of interest going on there. Questionable when veering away from electronic music. Nordic rock can be bland, too. BC

Sounds Familyre Danielson Famile could hardly be anything but a collective of similar-minded indie-Christian oddballs.

Startime International Other than The Walkmen, I'd be hard-pressed to think of another band I really like on this label, but there must be some. A distinctive logo should help remember more. Might move this one to the "insufficient data" section.

Ubiquity Like Six Degrees, they've got a wide palette mixing organic and electronic sounds, and maybe they've had a higher percentage of really impressive albums? BC

Victor They're as close as I've found for a reliably interesting Japanese label, though hardly small. Not sure if I trust them enough to snap up everything I find, but outside of stores with a lot of Japanese music it's pretty rare to find anything with the distinctive blue & red V label.

Wall of Sound Plenty of what one reviewer from days at WOBC called "tubby custard" on there. Electronic with a dash of smooth funk that's urban but not edgy.

Waveform I can imagine many placing them much lower, given that many releases now seem dated, but I think electronic ambience and experimental stuff holds up better than most techno. They were never a Warp or a Ninjatune, but being around almost as long with consistently listenable albums is no small task. I can't say I've heard much in recent years. BC

WaxTrax! Old subsidiary of TVT used to be the place to go for industrial and electronic music with an edge. BC

Woodson Lateral Another apparently small and newer label with some perfectly good albums. Worth exploring beyond the few I own.

XL Lots of electronic alternative acts seemed to end up here, and there are definitely more high points than low ones. I'm concerned that earlier releases might sound dated.


Hit & Miss (A crapshoot still worth shooting if the budget allows. Keeping expectations low for these makes for happy surprises. Occasionally have to question how much my $ is really worth compared to the experience of listening to a dud of a record.)

Alien8 Some of it's just too noisy for me with nothing to hold onto or make me want to listen even twice. Experimentation nonetheless much appreciated!

Audio Dregs Never a good idea to name your label to reflect the dismissive criticism of the vast majority who just don't get your music, say I. Some of their collections of electronic beeps and snippets do sound like the gathered detritus from the cutting-room floor, the musical equivalent of krill and bottom-feeder fodder. But I actually like most of it. Stick to Melodium and Global Goon. BC

Beggars Banquet I feel like I don't appreciate all the critical darlings on here, but they do have some crowd-pleasing bigger names too.

Bulb Some dark, epic electronic releases on there, but they don't tend to demand being reheard often.

Dim Mak I don't remember what I liked from this label, and there've been enough disappointments to make me hesitate before expanding my collection.

Eenie Meenie A lot of middling fare of indie genres on here, but I'll take it any day over commercial radio! BC

File13 Coming out of Philadelphia apparently, and what I've picked up recently has been a nice mix of rock and electronic. I don't think anything has blown me away, and sometimes I fail to appreciate their stuff. BC

Frenchkiss A lot here my dear youngest bro would call "upper class mediocre" other than a few highlights.

Grand Royal Heavily associated with the Beastie Boys, so there's sometimes an excess of funky party music that does little for me. They also brought Buffalo Daughter to the U.S., though, and I'm grateful for that.

Greyday Productions This one tests my assumption that anything coming out of Portland, OR, Brooklyn, NY, Austin, TX, or Athens, GA, is going to be worth listening to. I've enjoyed Books on Tape but have mixed feelings about Minmae, not least b/c my family once asked me to turn them off in the car.

Gondwana I'm hardly a jazz enthusiast, but hearing groups here which indisputably "know how to play their instruments" and prefer new compositions to standards is definitely a pleasure. BC

Hardly Art Haven't heard enough from this one to make a full judgment. What I have is promisingly original, though slight. BC

Harmonia Mundi Obviously a world music label, and its geographic scope makes generalizations worthless other than to say some gets a little too cheesy for me. Fairly reliable not to be terrible. Sometimes paired with Le Chant Du Monde.

Harthouse German techno label of Sven Vath, I believe, went defunct with it its Eye Q spin-off in the late 90s? Hard to draw the line between what's a classic and what's dated in their catalog.

Hush For a while I thought theirs was top-tier material and bought everything I could find, even occasionally for more than $1. I don't remember what I liked. Loch Lomond is a keeper, several others not bad. BC

Hydrogen Dukebox Duke Mushroom seems to be closely associated with this oddly named and middling electronic label. Their best releases are at least interesting, but there's no shortage of albums with little to distinguish them. Not sure if they outlived their most prolific stretch in the late 1990s-early 2000s. BC

Hypnotic My mainstay of now somewhat primitive trance in the 1990s. I remember going to Borders and Best Buy and fantasizing about owning all the electronic music they had in stock, largely on this probably defunct subsidiary of Cleopatra Records. Slowly this dream could come true as the genre marches on, but so too have my musical tastes and ambitions changed. Would need the Hypnotoad to sway anyone else to it. BC

Instinct This older electronic label's forays into the rave scene(s) don't sound so hot today, but some of their ambient albums have aged better.

Interscope Kinda big & corporate for my tastes, though definitely has had some acts I approve of strongly. Harder rock is what I remember it for.

Jade Tree A lot of emo and otherwise overly guitarry stuff on here scares me away, but I really like several albums that don't conform to that. BC

Jetset They had a good streak going in my WOBC days, but digging deeper into the catalog didn't result in greater endearment.

Kitty-Yo A surprisingly lengthy list of artists yields some winners and seems worth further exploration someday. Gotta get more European.

Mango Reggae and world music that can often be refreshing but just as often be a slog through insufferable cheese.

Mille Plateaux More minimalist than I usually care for, but in the right mood their stuff works. Sounds like it should be French but apparently is German.

Modular Australians burn hot but disappoint with some frequency, unfortunately.

Narada World A lot of stuff on this label was featured on WORT, I think. Not bad or cheesily produced.

Narnack Judging by the description of the music I shouldn't like the label, but it has several acts in the catalog I do.

Neurot Another one which as described doesn't fit a lot of the artists I like on the label. Every now and then something's just an alternating noisy dronescape, but well worth risking $1. BC

Pony Canyon After discovering Book Off stores, I was suddenly inundated with hundreds of $1 Japanese cds with no way to guess if I'd like them. Every time I wanted to call Pony Canyon the Japanese version of ____ (insert any other rock label), it'd throw me off and make the comparison inaccurate. Their selection on eMusic is downright perplexing.

Projekt Admirable goth imprint, but sometimes we all need something a bit more chipper, don't we? BC

Rune Grammofon How much Norwegian experimental electronic music does your collection need? Suffice it to say you probably don't have enough.

Saddle Creek Given that I'm not a fan of Bright Eyes' "best" albums, it follows that I don't like everything Mr. Oberst signs off on, no? I wonder if everything indie from the Great Plains gets sent here. BC

Sanctuary For a while in the early 2000s they got some bigger names to sign on, but I don't know if the efforts were sustained. Strike that. On eMusic they seem to have amalgamated entire decades of classic and prog rock.

Shanachie I will say about this label that what I've heard seems pretty genuine, unadorned by keyboardists who want to make world and Southern music more commercially palatable (cheesy). They have some of the strangest looking people on their album covers; quite refreshing to compare them to teenybopper fare.

Soleilmoon Bigger experimental and goth names lift up the others to the point where I'd risk a dollar, but it's by no means a sure bet either way.

SpinART Had several bands who straddled the line between indie and alternative, right up my alley. Also had more than its fair share of duds. I consider unknown artists risky here.

SST Legendary label I have as yet failed to appreciate, but one doesn't become legendary without merits, I assume.

Tee Pee A couple of strong releases color my view of this one, but I really haven't come across enough albums to make a solid judgment. BC

Teen Beat They seem to have a lot of upbeat, middling rock and synth-rock groups, and that's usually fine, if rarely distinguished.

Thirsty Ear A mixed bag of semi-outsiders, industrial, and rounded out very nicely by the experimental and nu-jazz of the Blue Series.

Tiger Style At their best, I'd liken this one to a poor man's Thrill Jockey, though with more straightforward guitar-led instances.

Tigerbeat6 Their releases exemplify the positives and negatives of electronic music becoming both more accessible and commercially viable in the early 2000s.

Too Pure For a brief while I snapped up everything I could on Too Pure, thinking that it'd mostly be electronic, but mediocre rock surprises now make me wary.

Tree Music I've sprung for some expensive new albums on this label out of Beijing, and some of them have been worth it.

Troubleman Unlimited Several big names on this one, but I haven't leapt at the unknown artists so far.


Some Diamonds in the Rough (Gotta look releases up online before pulling the trigger on albums put out by these labels. Approach with caution.)

Acid Jazz A lot of their output puts the emphasis on jazz of the cheesiest kind, and stuff featuring electronics in the early to mid-90s often sounds dated now, but not all of it.

Alternative Tentacles This is one of those anything goes free-for-all record companies whose spirit I admire and whose catalog I do much less so. BC

ATCO A subsidiary of the giant Warner was revived, but its history goes back too far for my tastes. I don't even remember what I liked on here. Might actually be ATO, home to My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes, etc. BC

Avex Trax When they get away from pop and cheese, which is to say very rarely, there's some interesting Asian (mostly Japanese) melodies to be found on their very mixed roster.

Capricorn Borderline-punk and guitar-centeredness is not my cup of tea, but I recall liking a few albums (but not which ones).

Cleopatra Some worthwhile goth stuff on here is all I can recall. Its subsidiary Hypnotic was a favorite in the 90s, but a lot of that is dated now. They have some apparently random, big international acts too. BC

Dangerbird Their origami logo can deceive one into thinking their output is creative, but more often their releases are competent but undistinguished semi-indie rock. I've yet to hear anything that was really impressive from them (so being in the "diamonds" section is more a reflection of not being so strongly varied as "hit and miss"), and a "meh" is all too common. At their best, they seem to be just fine. BC

5rc Lots of noisy guitars is what I expect, but I haven't sprung for enough albums to be sure.

Gee Street Mostly urban stuff, quite accessible and thereby not edgy enough for me. Unsure if they folded or persist.

Hydra Head This is one of the experimental labels I want to like, but most of their discography is just too loud for my old ears. BC

Invisible In the 1990s there were so many fewer labels. This was one that occasionally struck industrial gold but often put out impenetrably dense sounding stuff.

Joyful Noise Kishi Bashi is by far my favorite thing this label is responsible for, so much so that I should probably re-evaluate other stuff of theirs. Several other albums have impressed of late. Ready to upgrade this one soon. BC

K Records Super lo-fi and atonal stuff usually scares me away from what can occasionally be a total surprise of experimentation.

Kemado Some real luminaries are involved there, so I have to believe they've got some more worthwhile acts signed. More than once I've had to stop their rock for being average.

Kompakt To tell the truth, I can't remember the differences between this one and the next and may be mixing them up. BC

Kinetic Too much dancey, trance, and nondescript electronic here to be relied on, but there have been some albums I've liked.

Level Plane Described as specializing in emo & screamo, one wrong step could ruin everything.

Lookout! This is only to say I'm not a fan of punk generally. I'm sure they're reputable among fans, and they'd probably be my go-to suggestion for anyone who mistakenly asked me to name a good punk label.

Mammoth Output drastically tapered off after the 1990s, and a lot of it didn't do much for me anyway. Still some worthwhile listens and fondish memories, but always reminds me of graveyard shifts at WOBC when I was consciously trying to purvey what I found in the Madison, WI, dollar bin in high school to an unreceptive audience. Ah, I had so much to learn.

The Militia Group They've burned me badly with some of the most generic guitar-led 4-piece bands I've come across since 2000, but a few have been OK. Comparable to Startime?

Moon Ska Thankfully descriptive name, and ska can occasionally be refreshing. Occasionally.

Moonshine A limited supply of electronic labels and, indeed, artists in the 1990s meant that I ended up with a glut of "dance" music on this commercially prolific purveyor of trancey nonsense, most of which I never listen to anymore. There's certainly still some redeemable value in their discography, but I'm too busy to dig for it.

My Pal God What I like of theirs appears to be almost solely Emperor Penguin, though I admire their independent spirit.

Nettwerk At the expense of other people losing stuff that they like (but I don't), I wish Nettwerk put out a lot less stuff. For every discovery, and there have been several luminaries and undoubtedly many more yet to discover, I feel like two or three are painfully nondescript. Can't fly blind with them. BC

N-Soul Christian techno, anyone? No? I have occasionally remarked upon the audacity of the Jesus people to try to proselytize into music so many find soulless. That said, I like some of the stuff by Cloud 2 Ground and a few others whose names escape me.

Om Electronic dance music veers into easy listening without experimentation and innovation. Most of what I've heard on Om wouldn't interrupt a meditator or challenge a raver on ecstasy. BC

One Little Independent (Formerly One Little Indian) Home of Bjork and what else? I don't know if I'd be brave enough to risk a dollar on others, but probably might. OK, Clem Snide too, and it appears I was overly harsh after not finding much new that I liked with shots in the dark. BC

Planet Dog Home to a lot of techno I thought was pretty cool in the mid to late 90s, but a lot of it sounds dated now.

Quartermass As someone who likes experimental electronic music, the releases on this label tend to try my patience and not go much of anywhere in the direction of discernable melodies. If that's what they're going for, fine.

Rock! Records (Taiwan) There are so many variations of their yellow diamond logo that I can no longer reliably distinguish the genuine article. A whole lot of cheese to sort through, too.

Rough Trade Off the top of my head I couldn't name a band or album I like off of here, but I vaguely remember there being one or some. BC

Scream! Gone are my innocent days in Beijing in 2001 when I thought anything Chinese other than Cantopop was worth my time. Most of their output is too loud for my tastes today, and much of it is amateurish in a way I no longer find fresh.

Shadow I was overjoyed to find another electronic label in the early 2000s until after several releases I got the impression that this was like the minor leagues for Ninja Tune. A lot of it is mediocre, and electronic music, like rock, is a very dangerous style not to be distinguishable in because there's just so much of it to hear. Similar to Hydrogen Dukebox, though with jazzier, Japanese, and less British albums. Fine for fleshing out a collection of electronic music, but nothing I'd use to convince a skeptic.

Sick Room Guitar-heavy but with some more experimental releases sprinkled in. This one's been really frustrating, and I've pretty much given up on it unless I've got time to sample or look something up before buying an album.

Skint High school me was fond of big beat electronic music. Graduate school me has had quite enough of it and doesn't expect to get nostalgic any time soon.

Terminus Coming out of Memphis means fine musicianship but questionable musical tastes, in my book.

Tooth & Nail For a while I mixed this one up with Touch & Go, much to the chagrin of my ears.

Unitone The rough here is elevator music, plain and simple. Ever-so-slight electronics are added to soft brass, woodwinds, or pianos, occasionally with musicians I recognize. The inoffensiveness of their releases is itself an affront to music, while never quite becoming fully ambient or New Age.

Warm Electronic This one is the home of Liz Durrett, one of my favorite female vocalists, but I only have heard a few other albums on it that were underwhelming.

Wind-Up The poppier rock sensibilities of this self-aware-enough-to-call-itself "indie" label often turn me off.

Windham Hill Yes, I do have a soft spot for SOME ambient music that falls dangerously close to being simply New Age. An association with 1980s keyboard music doesn't help their reputation, but there are many worse things to listen to (including most classic recordings of most genres) when one needs to relax. BC

World Domination They put out some Loop Guru and other interesting electronic and industrial music, but overall the quality was quite mixed, due in no small part to their getting in the game while some pretty obsolete technology was still in use. Comparable to Invisible.

Yep Rock There's just so much they put out that some of it is bound to strike a chord. Unfortunately, I've largely exhausted my patience for most of their middling releases and now usually pass over them even for $1. The Bandcamp catalog is appropriately huge and with some big names like Apples in Stereo, Laika and the Cosmonauts, etc. BC


Dishonorable Mention (Maybe got my hopes up after one interesting album, but everything else has been disheartening. Also, some "labels" which may not really ever have existed except to put out a release or two to make it look like it was peer-reviewed and approved. And I guess I'll lump some respectable punk and harder rock labels in here whose music I just don't like, though I respect the enterprising spirit.)

Ace Fu I've seen plenty of releases from this one but either had one bad experience or never actually bought anything. Or my prejudice could date to WOBC.

Brassland Every time I find one I get excited looking at the list of instruments in the liner notes, but they mostly end up being forgettably lightweight hack jobs.

Cold Front Probably the most generic electronic music label I ever came across.

DeSoto I've been tricked into thinking I liked the label enough to buy and forget I didn't like what I bought. Too guitarry for me!

Dischord From the slacker logo, one can guess that uninspired guitar trios and quartets will be the norm there. I haven't tried to prove my prejudice wrong, admittedly.

Dorado In the early 1990s, a very fragile time for electronic music, they had a large output, of which some today don't sound completely dated. But only some.

Higher Octave Deliberately mushing world, electronic, and new age together is a recipe for blobby nonsense.

Novamute Back in the 90s I thought minimalist techno was cool because all of it was new and different back then. Nowadays I can't imagine sitting through an album.

Razor & Tie For such a big list of signees, I should recognize a lot more. Not sure where to toe the waters with this one. The Hold Steady are no introduction.

Relapse From the looks of things, there is an awful lot of extremely loud music to sort through with them to get to anything I'm interested in. Help a wimp out and describe the acts on the back liner which are not "extreme metal"!

Roadrunner I remember overhearing someone saying how good they used to be, about the only other time I've heard people talking about a record label outside of a radio station, but I'm not sure why. Seems they've had their fair share of controversy.

Sire Certainly more my fault than theirs, when I was a young and impressionable music consumer in the 1990s I noticed that my favorite electronic pair, Orbital, was sometimes paired on their label, FFRR, with Sire, and so I wrongly assumed that it was an electronic label. Not that cheesy new wave keyboards are light years apart, but I sure don't want to listen to most of it then or today.

Slash Being local is great and all to support the artists, but what I'm looking for are labels who are consistent, and there's too much here that shoots for commercial viability in genres I'm only marginally interested in. That said, they did put Soul Coughing out there.

Punk labels I respect but whose music I don't care much for: Asian Man, Fat Wreck Chords, Grass, Kim-Chee

I thoroughly encourage metal labels to put "Metal" as the first part of their names to clue me in that there's "nothing to hear here, folks." Move along.


Avoid Like the Plague (Have yet to find anything on these meeting my oh-so-high standards to rip to iTunes. I'm sure independent Country and Christian labels exist, and I hope they wouldn't be relegated here. Not exactly seeking them out, though. Extreme prejudice has so far been justified.)

Arista A bunch of cheesy 80s records carried over into stuff I really disliked from the 90s on a few CDs.

Epitaph Just too darn loud for me! Or at least the louder stuff has possibly permanently scared me away from trying stuff I might like.

Nuclear Blast Aptly named.

Victory Records I do not trust the bulldog on their logo to have tastes aligned with my own. A reliable supplier of sub-mediocre rock.


Insufficient Data (I'm still in the testing phase for these labels, and the tests are likely to be postponed indefinitely while I pursue surer things. Maybe I've seen some in the dollar bin and not yet taken the plunge, or maybe I only have one or two albums from them, and I will withhold judgment until I've heard more. The biggest labels like EMI, Universal, Capitol, Polydor, Geffen, Epic/Sony, etc. deliberately try to diversify their catalogs beyond generalization or judgment, just as likely to buy out an entire, promising indie label like those listed on this page as to put something out themselves that would interest me.)

Artemis A NYC imprint, but I have no opinion.

ATP Recordings Sometimes there's a / between the name and the Recordings, home of Fuck Buttons & Bardo Pond so worth trying some others.

Bambola One good compilation of Japanese music is all I have to judge.

Bella Union Apparently an EU imprint, so it's rare to find them in the U.S. dollar bin where I do my shopping.  I thought it was mostly electronic and synth pop from 2010 and later, but recently found something from 2001 that was less electronic and still pretty nice. Needs to be top tier for I Break Horses, Tasseomancy, and some actually famous acts BC

Box Factory One release of instrumental rock "Lynx" was better than the Simpsons episode by a good measure.

BubbleCore Probably unrelated to Kindercore, and though I'm sure I've got several albums, I haven't been able to put them together in my mind. Are they electronic or not? Post-rock? Seem to be mostly from the 1990s and 2000s? I can't think of anything new on it.

Captured Tracks Looks like some post-punk and rock, but nothing much lends itself to sampling yet. BC

City Slang I think I've seen more than I've sprung for. What I have is pretty earthy and has the GEMA imprint from Germany. Should be top tier for lots of big names BC

Cooking Vinyl What's cookin'? I don't actually know yet. BC

Cumbancha World music, mainly Africa? BC

Good Looking/Better Looking Records Are they actually related?

Eibon A single album of dark atmospherics by a Norwegian is enough only to wonder what else they put out. BC

The End Records The catalog acronym TER precedes the #, and perhaps I should try another since Badly Drawn Boy is with them.

Far Out British electronica similar to Big Beat and other more worldly and folk-tinged? BC

Flying Nun A big back catalog dating to the 1980s offers lots to explore, but having nothing even vaguely recognizable other than the Verlaines, not sure I want to. BC

Harvest Home to a TVotR album but I dunno what else.

Imago I don't think they survived the 1990s.

Le Maquis French. One electronic album in my possession. Worth further inquiry.

Major Domo Late 2000s have an Earlimart album but I dunno what else.

Marina It's got a recognizable logo and a German headquarters but not a familiar sound.

Mental Monkey Does coming out of Berkeley mean very intelligent bands or selectors?

Moikai Experimental?

Monitor A good start, but the catalog seems limited.

Moteer A UK imprint apparently, and I've got one album of abstract electronic music to enjoy so far.

The Music CartelJust have one fine, mostly electronic album from the late 1990s.

Nonesuch The folks at Nonesuch clearly have taste, so I'll usually snap up whatever's on clearance. With time, they could well get top tier status, though I don't know what my favorite from them would be. Branching into world is a good move for them, IMO. Lotsa big names on Bandcamp BC

RareNoise Thankfully not all noise, though there is plenty to be had for those who enjoy it. Instead, there's a lot of healthy experimentation going on here, obviously appealing despite what appear to me to be almost entirely unknown groups. Comparable to Tzadik, perhaps. BC

Red Ink Definitely some big names and enjoyable releases on here, but they're almost always paired with another, less recognizable and presumably smaller label. I don't want to give them undue credit. Definitely disappointed sometimes, too.

Redrum Worth further exploration after a really interesting electronic discovery.

Righteous Babe Another label one almost has to support for its feminism, but the music has yet to blow me away or congeal into the kind of artist or sound they're proffering. Is Ani DiFranco in charge of it? BC

Rookery A favorable signing of Rotary Downs suggests promise.

SeeThru I know I've liked Radar Bos. & Starlight Mints on here, but I sure can't think of anything else I've heard.

Shangri-La One boisterous rock album by Amazing Baby is not enough to judge.

Slowdance Seen a few, bought fewer so far.

Slumberland One cheeky rock record I've liked (by Peel Dream Magazine) and no others I know. BC

The Sign Records The one thing I have appears to be European and also deliberately mysterious, so I don't see this leaving this section any time soon. BC

Sonic Unyon Trying very hard not to let my distaste for onions affect my judgment. I probably have more from them than I realize but haven't put them all together to form an opinion.

Suicide Squeeze Pretty sure they've had a high profile group sign with them, and I know there's a lot that tumbles into my price range. Been slow to try them out but might pick up. BC

Team Love What I've got and heard has been poppy, though not in a bad way.BC

Tinder A world release or two here and there were fine, but I can't find a pattern yet.

Vagrant Home to The Hold Steady at least once, but I don't know anything else.

Verve Forecast Presumably this is an offshoot of the reliable jazz purveyor, Verve, and several here have been interesting, though there's definitely a tilt toward pop acessibility in the production values. Depending on your taste, that can elevate or make even more predictable some borderline acts.

VHF Coming out of the state of Virginia, I haven't heard enough to judge. Experimental and often NYP on Bandcamp. BC

V2 Poppy production values undermine the wide variety of acts with releases on this label. Reminds me of Sanctuary or Interscope. What I've heard seems a little to generic.

Xenophile A few more successes should put this into a positive category. I'm certainly with them in spirit for the exploration of world music.


Anything coming out of Athens, GA, Portland, OR, or Austin, TX, might get a pass and the benefit of the doubt if the record label is unknown or there isn't one. But there are limits! Canada Fund and MAPL logos appear to be more and more common; I sure wish the U.S. gov't would do something like it. Can't say if music with that kind of backing is more likely to be my cup of tea. Labels from Madison, WI, should obviously be near and dear to my heart and are apparently "booming," but I actually know virtually nothing about Crustacean, Sunday Night, Kitschy Spirit, Uvulittle, Stone After Stone, Yugen, Loretta, Secret, Amarass, No Coast, Dirtnap, or Rare Plant other than what the Isthmus published in a pair of Aug. 2018 articles.

For those with intimate knowledge of a label's full catalog, the above will likely have seemed like the "blind men describing an elephant." Obviously there's a ton more I'm missing, both reputable and less so. It could be that I just haven't heard enough, don't own enough, or haven't come across anything in the dollar bin. Give it time! If this was overwhelming, stay away from Wikipedia's list; it really shows the need to make a list of favorites like this. Also, thought about linking to labels' websites, but given that several are already defunct and linking out is a very slow process (leaving the Favorite Music page pretty spottily linked), I think I'll just gradually add to the comments. What will the end of albums, in favor of single songs, mean for record labels? One can hardly go against the bleak presumption of a multi-whammy of increased piracy by file sharing and streaming. Tough times these are!

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