ACL 2019 ~ The Year’s Best Labels

When it came time to tally our votes, we discovered that this year’s winners had never been listed before!  A huge congratulations to Wisconsin’s well-deserving and hard-working Lost Tribe SoundA Closer Listen‘s Label of the Year for 2019, followed closely by London’s fine Village Green Recordings.

Lost Tribe Sound will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020, and is run by the tireless Ryan Keane.  The label has gone from strength to strength over the course of the decade, bolstered by the talent of their prolific signature artist William Ryan Fritch (responsible for the label’s very first release as Vieo Abiungo) and two successful subscription series, the latest which wrapped up this year.  In 2019 the label released nine albums, seven of which were part of the series and two of which were new film scores from Fritch (also found on our Best Film Scores list).  The packaging was sublime; gorgeous artwork received the full vinyl treatment, and hardback editions continued to be a physical bonus.

Congratulations on being named our label of the year!  We’ve been corresponding for years, so it’s an honor to be able to share this news with you.

You’re about to approach the decade mark (you’re one year older than we are).  Looking back, can you tell us when you first thought of starting a label and how you chose the name?

Crazy to think that we’ve been communicating with ACL almost from the beginning.  We get a good share of our favorite musical suggestions from you all, including Alder & Ash. Which thanks to your review a few years back, lead us to signing him to the label. 
Lost Tribe Sound came about from enjoying the off-kilter forms of electro-acoustic music our friends Craig and Andrew over at the UK label Moteer were producing at the time. Though we wanted LTS to focus on a similar breed of music, we had the idea to push it in a more of roughhewn, ancient, and at times tribal direction.  Hence the name was born Lost Tribe Sound. We thought it had a nice quick ring to it.  Though many people have tried to rephrase our name over the years… Lost Tree Sound, Lost Tribe Records, Lost Tribe Sound Records.
When did you first meet William Ryan Fritch?  At the time, did you have any idea that he had the potential to be so prolific?
William Ryan and I first met at the end of 2007.  A buddy of mine had introduced me on to his music, and Fritch was coming to Tempe, Arizona to play a show. Our first time meeting was fairly innocent, I mentioned that was starting a label… that I’d checked out some his tunes online under the easily pronounced name, Vieo Abiungo, and that we both enjoyed a good amount of the same musical oddities.  From there it took around two years before the first Vieo Abiungo and Lost Tribe Sound release came out, titled, ‘Blood Memory.’  The album was a fairly hassle free process, and it came very naturally for us to communicate ideas back and forth about the music, artwork, and achieve the end results we’re hoping for.  We recognized how rare this was, to have such honest and open feedback about our efforts without getting offended and shutting down creatively, but I don’t think either of us could have predicted it would lead to 29 more Fritch releases over the years.


What releases are you most proud of and why?

It’s hard to nail it down to one or even a few albums, as we tend to work very slowly and methodically on each release, making sure each one is something that we really love and that it will stand the test of time.  Each album becomes very personal to us during the process. By the time the album reaches the public, there are feelings of relief that we’ve made it this far and created something we are proud of. And there are feelings of hesitation with a tinge of sadness, hoping that the world treats it well and gets what we were trying to do with it, and the bit of sadness might just be that loss of intimacy with the music. 
With that in mind, it feels like we’ve been able to release some pretty rare albums by established artists over the years, albums that were either more acoustic or atypical for the artist, such is the case with Cock & Swan’s ‘Stash,’ The Green Kingdom’s ‘The North Wind and the Sun,’ or the recent Spheruleus album, ‘Light Through Open Blinds.’  Also, Western Skies Motel’s ‘Settlers’ will always hold a place near and dear to my heart, because the artwork was essentially a personal family photo album.  With William’s releases he and I always joke, that sometimes it feels like the releases we spend the least amount of time on are the most publicly adored. The rawness of Vieo Abiungo’s ‘Blood Memory’ stands out, and the dark-hearted classics that are ‘The Old Believers’ and ‘Ill Tides’ have fully assimilated into my bloodstream at this point, but I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite from Fritch.  I could mention each artist/release in our catalog with similar fondness and appreciation for the relationships that have developed from it, but that’s a lot of talking.
In the streaming age, it’s a pleasure to receive tactile objects.  You put a LOT of work into your physical editions, from the design to the careful packaging ~ and by packaging, I mean the way each release is wrapped before it is mailed.  What has the response been to the physical side of your releases?
The physical edition is always treated equally as important as the music it showcases around these parts. We’ve gone through various phases with our physical formats, from fully hand-making everything, and crafting our own hardcover and soft cover books, to sparing no expense on quality vinyl manufacturing. We’ve always felt visuals were our strong suit versus the written word. We love texture, drama, and the weight of things – whether it be the tooth of paper, the depth of detail in the artwork, a substantial heft to the hard cover editions, or making sure the reverberation of the bass has the right feel to it.  It’s all considered.  We’ve joked privately that when it comes to cover art, it seems like metal albums get to have all the fun.  All the in-depth illustration and epic dystopian scenery Metal covers pull off, has us jealous at times… but we do our best utilize the art we love without getting mistaken for the genre.
Lost Tribe’s shipping and packing department… Pandora’s box, alright, we can talk about this. It’s something I take pretty seriously.  My main reason for mailing our albums with the kind of protection I do, comes mainly from being an avid music collector.  It’s a great bummer to spend $30 to $50 on a limited edition vinyl or CD, only to have it arrive with the corners bent, splitting through the sleeve, crushed, etc.  I’m not well off financially, so when I commit to a buying a record, it’s a big investment and it’s always an album I’m looking to cherish in my collection.  Of course with shipping prices being very high these days, it adds another reason why I owe it to our fans to ship items with the highest possible protections available – special boxes, padded corners, stiffeners, vinyl removed from the sleeves when possible.  I picked up most of my early knowledge on the subject from the site, Mugwumb, and highly encourage labels and artists who want repeat customers to learn how to ship like this.  The detailed artwork, deluxe formats, and care taken in shipping the item, hopefully shows how much this music means to us.
What’s next for Lost Tribe Sound in 2020 and beyond?
This is a tough question… what remains for the future? With so many world-altering events happening daily, the thought of what will become of our niche corner of the music scene seems less important than ever.  It’s been a struggle to determine if our contributions to our listener’s well being is significant enough to continue on.  Though the creation of music has a symbiotic hold on us now. So if that were to go away, the host may be lost in the process.  
While that’s a bit bleak of a response, I’ve always tried to maintain a positive public presence with the label (though it’s gotten harder over the years).  I am incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last 10 years.  The outpouring of love from fearless critics willing to take a chance on our brooding music, to the fans who support our ambitious series and ideas, to the incredibly musicians we’ve worked with that have become great friends; all of it has kept the fires burning on this end.  Albums that are solidly in the works for the future include, a poignant new one from Mute Forest set to release in the spring. Also, with our 10th birthday next year, William Ryan and I have our sights set on a beastly new full-length from Vieo Abiungo. The rest will remain a mystery, but more ideas are brewing.
One last thing I’d like to add, as an avid music fan and buyer of physical and digital music.  It doesn’t take much to show your favorite labels and artists that you truly appreciate them and want them to continue making music.  The streaming culture is not a sustainable means for most independent labels and musicians. With that said, I myself stream music for the purpose of discovery.  But I think there is a way to do it responsibly, personally I will only stream something no more than 2 times, before I make myself buy the album, even if it is just a digital copy.  For those that may not have the funds to buy the full album, think about going and buying just a few songs, directly from the artist or label.  In that simple gesture, you will have already paid the artist more money than a life time of one person streaming their music.  Another small thing fans can do that ends up becoming a huge benefit for indie artists/labels… get a Bandcamp fan account, write a little Bandcamp mini-review (even if it’s just a few words). This spreads the word in the least offensive and most organic way I’ve ever discovered. 
Thanks again A Closer Listen for this recognition! Not going to lie, we’ve been watching all the very deserving labels over the years get named in this article, and hoping that one day we’d get the shot. Thanks for making our decade. Cheers.

This year’s runner-up is London’s Village Green Recordings.  Like Lost Tribe Sound, this is the first year they have been listed.  As we tallied our year-end charts, we realized something else about them. The average chances of review at A Closer Listen are one in eight, but in 2019, Village Green issued five releases, and we covered all of them!  That’s a clear sign of consistency.  Active since 2012 (but kicking into a higher gear in 2016), the label has put out a slow, steady stream of quality releases and has built a beautiful roster.  Enjoy the year’s full output below in order of release!

Richard Allen

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