Montreal’s Constellation Records returns to our top spot this year, with five charted releases. Also selected as ACL’s labels of the year are London’s Erased Tapes and France’s Eilean Records. These labels are producing some of the industry’s finest work.
Constellation has been producing high-quality albums for two decades. One of the secrets to their success is that they have a relatively small roster. Another is that they are extremely proactive on promotion, with months of advance notice given to album releases and excellent communication from Graham in the front office. Less secret is the fact that they have been able to sign some of the industry’s best artists, led by GY!BE and its various offshoots. That band produced a surprise album in 2015, but the label’s biggest impression was reserved for Matana Roberts, whose COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee offered a sublime left turn from the first two installments. Also of note this year were instrumental-based albums from Esmerine, Jerusalem in My Heart, & Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld. The fact that every release continues to be available on vinyl is an added bonus; the internal packaging for Roberts’ album (pictured above) is of particular note. We suspect that the label will continue to go from strength to strength in subsequent years, and we congratulate them for their return to the top!
Given recent releases from Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Masayoshi Fujita and Lubomyr Melnyk, along with prior works from artists such as Peter Broderick, one could be forgiven for thinking that Erased Tapes is a piano label with a hint of vibraphone. Yet while the ivories remain the label’s bread and butter, multi-faceted LPs by Rival Consoles and Dawn of Midi reveal a dancier side; and Frahm’s installment of Late Night Tales is one of the most varied mix tapes we’ve heard in quite some time. But our favorite Erased Tapes release of 2015 came from relative newcomer Michael Price, providing a sign that the label continues to seek and sign some of the industry’s best artists. Not content to rest on its laurels, Erased Tapes is continually expanding both its roster and its sound. In addition, Sofia and Julian have also done a wonderful job of advance promotion throughout the year. Of special note: our article How to Be the Next Ólafur Arnalds attracted more reader attention than anything else on our site this year! With new signees for 2016, we’re eager to hear what comes next.
Eilean Records released so many good albums this year that we began to review them in batches. The label is run by Mathias Van Eecloo (Monolyth & Cobalt) with design by Rémi Verdier (“and the lovely help of Sarah”). Each release has a number that corresponds to a point on a map; a season; a color; and soil samples (seen only in photograph for now). This attention to detail, along with a unified cover aesthetic, has allowed the label to make a large impact in a short period of time. Van Eecloo (“M”) is an excellent communicator, which makes a reviewer’s job easy; artists can rest easy knowing that promotion has been done well, with everything from album samplers to short videos (also produced by M). The label’s highlight for 2015 was a split CD/cassette collaboration between the rosters of Eilean and Dauw records, a wonderful example of the cooperative and collaborative spirit. Musicians have taken note; the release schedule is already booked through January 2017! Congratulations to Eilean for their first appearance on our list!