ACL 2014: The Year’s Best Labels

DenovaliAfter two years of coming in second, Denovali Records finally makes it to the top spot!  Another label makes its first appearance on our chart, while a former top pick returns to the list.  These are the best in the business, and each has something unique to offer.

There are many reasons why Denovali has been on our list for three years running, and is considered by our staff to be the top label for instrumental-based music.  It all starts with an amazing roster, which continues to grow season by season.  This year, we covered albums by Poppy Ackroyd, The Alvaret Ensemble, Birds of Passage, Blueneck, Carlos Cipa, Matthew Collings, Dale Cooper Quartet & the Dictaphones + Witxes, Origamibiro, Pan & Me and Petrels, many of whom will be seeing year-end accolades.  But this was only the tip of the iceberg, less than half of the label’s 2014 slate.  Remarkably, the label still has three albums slated for the end of this year: one from Terminal Sound System and two from N (12/31 December).


Denovali is also a friend to artists.  Many new releases are accompanied by re-releases of former works; in 2014, this was true of Matthew Collings, Origamibiro, Petrels, among others.  The label also releases follow-ups, such as remix discs (Federico Albanese) and DVDs (Poppy Ackroyd).  The annual Denovali Swingfest is now in its eighth year, having expanded from Essen to London and Berlin in 2013.  Add an extremely proactive promotions department (we’ve already received new music from next year’s slate!) and a friendly publicist, and you’ve got the model for a successful label.

Next year, Denovali will celebrate its 10th anniversary, and we can hardly wait to hear what they’ve got in store!  Already in the works for early 2015 are albums from Ricardo Donoso, Second Moon of Winter and new signee Fogh Depot, as well as the hosting of a concert by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  This label has been built to last, and we look forward to their second decade and beyond.

Denovali Website

2) Wist Records
Wist Records has been quietly making a name for itself over the past few years through a series of elegant releases, marked by unique concepts and quality packaging.  Perhaps best known for its Book Report Series, pairing Penguin Modern Classics with CD3″ scores, Wist has also been the home for investigations of a lighthouse, a mental hospital, and in 2014, a single morus tree.  Each release is prefaced weeks in advance by a telegram to followers, alerting them of the limited edition music and allowing them the chance to procure one.  This year’s releases included a 4xCD3″ set from offthesky & radere, a double CD3″ from Sashash Ulz, a jackdaw release from Lost Trail, and the crème de la crème, the seven-disc set The Unofficial Countryside, which came housed in a wooden box.  We even punk’d them with a fake review, for Depatterning’s The Mild West.

The Season of Lost Buttons

Branching into the vocal arena at year’s end, the label’s current release is Songs for Ed Ricketts, a watercolor zine and disc from Blue Funz.  Expected in 2015: new music from Being & the Humble Bee, offthesky, Talk West and more, covering subjects ranging from underwater communications to photography.  Every release from this label is worth investigation; they’ve become a name to rely on.


3) Time Released Sound
2012’s top label returns to our list in 2014, a sign that you can’t keep a good label down.  (For a full profile, check the article here.)  This year, we reviewed TRS albums from Ross Baker, con_cetta vs. monologue, and Porya Hatami, but there are many more where they came from.  The label unveils a slew of hand-crafted releases every year, and this year’s crop included a soundtrack to Orlando, an ode to Camus, and an investigation of arctic timbres, with packaging ranging from individual prints (each unique to the buyer) to a pilot’s logbook.  Supplies are limited, but subscribers are alerted by email to each upcoming release, so no one has to miss out.

Gideon Wolf

The label’s current releases are Francesco Giannico‘s Metrophony, which samples the rail lines of Rome, and Ghostwriter & Michael Paine‘s Morrow, which is an “eccentric paean to early mid century England”.  The former includes twelve unique prints and a used rail ticket, while the latter includes a small puzzle.  With bespoke packaging reflecting the nature of each release, Time Released Sound has become an artist’s dream; Colin Herrick continues to impress, and no one in the industry does it better.

Richard Allen


  1. MD

    Loving this!!!!!

    *Michael Durek* The Use | Theremin | Sound Design contributor to The Brooklyn Rail/ Tape Op/ Caliper Opt-in to receive an occasional email blast

  2. jondouglas

    Wist Rec. is definitely one of the most exciting labels around and the attention to detail is staggering. Regular customers such as myself were rewarded with a personal orienteering challenge to accompany the wonderful Sashash Ulz release. Such amazing delights with each release make me greedy for more.

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