The art of running a record label in 2014 is an interesting
one. In times of yore, labels had a clearly established role: They found the
new artists, signed them, and threw record deals and funding at them. Now? Not
That whole Internet thing, combined with the spread of home-recording
technology, changed a lot. Websites like Bandcamp and Tumblr let acts get off the
ground without much external help, and for a lot of smaller artists, that works
just fine. With many acts doing digital releases or just hand-making cassettes
now, sometimes that extra middleman simply doesn’t make sense.
So when I find record labels that still take their art
seriously, that still work to curate a worthwhile roster, that still operate at
that ground floor of practically unknown artists, I take note. Today, we’ll be looking at Brooklyn’s incredible Orchid Tapes.
Instead of doing the typical thing where music journalists piece together a ton
of interviews and articles to construct some sort of revisionist narrative for
the label, I’m going to take a different approach and focus almost solely on
the releases themselves, some recent and some not.
I chose Orchid Tapes this week for a few reasons. For one,
they’ve already done three releases this year, one of which came out just this
week, so they’re as active as ever. They also have a wide back catalogue
(37 releases deep) that covers a range of styles, from fuzzed-out garage to
hypnagogic dream pop. Oh, and all their stuff is free/pay-what-you-want
digitally, so like, get on it.
The first release we’ll look at is arrange’s brand new
album, Their Bodies in A Fog, which
came out on Tuesday, March 4. On his debut for the label, the Portland-based musician
turns in a gorgeous album of refined, lush dream pop that draws as much from
Cocteau Twins as it does contemporary R&B and ambient.
He contrasts the
instrumentals with distinctly un-dreamy and direct vocal work, plainly singing
about the typical indie pop subjects without ever becoming overwrought. It’s
actually pretty masterful. On tracks like “Home,” with its perfectly placed
triumphant horns, he even manages to create the same lofty chamber pop sounds
that Justin Vernon did on Bon Iver’s self-titled. Highly recommended.
Featured on arrange’s album is Maryland musician Sam Ray,
aka Ricky Eat Acid, whose Three Love
Songs you might have seen adorning all kinds of blogs last month (and
rightfully so). Ray’s intricate, loving blend of found-sound ambient collage
and IDM-influenced house is absolutely compelling.
On “In my dreams
we’re almost touching,” he chucks a sample of a Drake cover at itself so many
times that it collapses and melts, sounding like the Field, Gold Panda, and Air
France all had a cool baby, while tracks like “Driving alone past roadwork at
night” have much more in common with the KLF or Secret Boyfriend. One of the
year’s essential listens.
The last of Orchid Tapes’ 2014 releases (so far) is Fog Lake’s
Virgo Indigo from Newfoundland solo
artist Aaron Powell. While past releases showed lo-fi affinities with his
label-mates like R.L. Kelly and Coma Cinema, this one turns up the dense
ambience, resulting in a more devastating bed for his angelic rasp of a voice
to come through.
When he sings, “We were fucked from the start / it was never
enough,” it hurts. For fans of last year’s Mutual Benefit outing (or more
broadly, dude-with-guitar-ambient-ballad-emotional-things), this one should
scratch an itch.
And now we’ve reached the label’s back catalogue, which is
wide enough that space limitations will only let me tell you about a few of my
First up is basically everything South Carolina dude Mat
Cothran has ever done. The brains behind both Elvis Depressedly and the
now-deceased Coma Cinema, he churns out lo-fi bouts of inner turmoil like it’s
Depressedly’s 2013 album holo
pleasures was one of my personal favorite releases from last year, a
crushing slab of downtrodden emotion and angst. Perhaps the successor to
Elliott Smith’s hollow throne, Cothran is a songwriting master.
Released at the tail-end of last year, Euphoria Again’s
self-titled LP (which was mastered by Cothran) echoes with a similar
singer-songwriter plaintiveness for most of its duration. When it finally opens
up with a feature from R.L. Kelly on “Thanks,” things become hopeful, even
He follows it up with “Fairy Forest,” a song that I’ve practically
worn the digital grooves out on in the past couple weeks. In theory, the line
“I’ve been to fairy forest / I think it saved my life” should make you cringe;
with enough honesty, though, it cuts like a knife.
This is just the start, too. Orchid Tapes has churned out great
release after great release from the very beginning, with early releases like
Ghost Animal’s fuzzy Summertime in Heaven
and Teenage Reverb’s wall-of-noise-pop experiment Isolation Tape Night. Looks like you have some downloading to do.
Gage Taylor PO ’16 is majoring in media studies and philosophy. He is the electronic music director for the 5C radio station KSPC.