ACL 2022 ~ The Year’s Best Labels

While many music labels impressed us this year, few had to deal with invasion and war.  Our Label of the Year is Ukraine’s Corridor Audio, a shining example of grace under fire.

In retrospect, it seems scary to recall that Corridor Audio’s first release, a transparent 10″ record from Stanislav Tolkichev, was entitled The Last Day.  Few labels have had to face the challenges that Corridor Audio ~ and other labels from Ukraine ~ have faced this year.  How can we record this music?  Is there any way to distribute it?  Are my artists alive?  Is there any way to reach them?  And most crucially, what is the role of music in a time of crisis?

Label owner Tymur Samarskyi aka Splinter (UA) has continued to release music as the war has raged, including what is arguably the best compilation of Ukrainian music to come from Ukraine this year, We Are Invincible.  The sheer number of benefit compilations this year has been overwhelming, but those looking for a place to start should begin here.  The tracks were recorded just before the invasion, the album released just after.  At the time, Samarskyi wrote, “It is difficult to say what our music will become in the future. But we are sure that new music will be the music of peaceful Ukraine, the music of the free land, the music of strong heroes, full of rage and strength to fight for the future of their independent state.”  One can hear this rage and strength on his own track, “Mojave Gun,” a pounding techno beast.  And like all of the label’s albums, We Are Invincible also includes enticing, impressionistic art, a perfect pairing with the abstractions of the mysterious electronic music.  In addition, “All revenue will be donated to charitable funds to support Ukraine and its people.”

Since then, the label has released three very different albums: Shear’s dark and percussive In a Polar Shield, Lu Joyce’s sprawling and moody Sisyphus and Friedensreich’s ambitious suite AXX.  The liner notes are often as abstract as the music.  April’s message: “A place of wonder … help(s) us to keep sanity regardless of what everyday reality has to offer.”  In July, “Each physical process has its own philosophy: after all, we are trying to answer the same questions.”  In August, “Fear is what makes us who we are.”  The music may be instrumental, but these tone poems provide something to ponder while listening.

Once one has heard the label’s recent material, one may wish to investigate the back catalog.  The finest of Corridor Audio’s 2021 releases is NFNR’s Dog Rose, which we covered back in March.  The prescient words that accompany the album:  “The world is constantly changing. Sometimes we feel that changes are happening too fast, and we cannot keep up with the tempo.”  With 22 releases to date, many of them compilations, it’s easy to expand one’s musical world on a single site.

We were fortunate enough to be able to reach Tymur by email and ask him a few questions; his answers are below.

Your label has an incredible art aesthetic.  What can you share about the process of creating the album covers?  I am especially interested to learn how the art for We Are Invincible was created.

We believe that in modular music and the music of our label, it is important to look at the details, apart from the general ideas. The search for details is such a specific skill,, observing the elements of everyday life. Our life is a composition of different fragments, and sometimes we do not fully understand the current moment, but it is important. These fragments may be part of something bigger or not. Actually it doesn’t matter, because all that really matters is the moment we are in right now. The covers for our label were created by Ukrainian artists Anatoly Gryaznov, Ivan Starenkov, A. Grigorov and Oksana Demidova. Each cover is comprised of fragments of real works of art – like a frozen or captured emotion one might feel after listening to our music.

Have you heard a shift in the tone of music being created by Ukrainian artists since the invasion began, and if so, what trends have you observed?

Yes, the music of many of our artists has become more emotional, patriotic or eclectic with a touch of lyrics or Ukrainian folk – this is a new vibe that has worked very organically, because these are our realities. We see how making music helps many artists to cope with their psychological traumas or get rid of some anxiety – it is definitely a tool that gives music extra fullness and completeness. Ukrainian music has become more Ukrainian, without any external influence from our terrorist neighbours.

You have our greatest respect for continuing to release music in a time of war.  What obstacles has the label faced, and what challenges still await?

We can’t say that we have faced any difficulties – on the contrary we have discovered many young and unique artists who are now in Ukraine and channel their experiences through the prism of musical reflection.  This was the year of albums for the label – I think this trend will continue, because we have three new and very interesting and beautiful albums being worked on now.


Honorable Mention:  Deutsche Grammophon
This German imprint was first established in 1898, which makes it by far the oldest of the labels featured on our site.  Few labels also release hundreds of albums in a year, which is what Deutsche Grammophon did in 2022.  While the majority are classical (Bach, Beethoven, Chopin), we’re most interested in their quickly-expanding roster of modern classical composers, including Max Richter, Peter Gregson, Balmorhea, Hildur Guðnadóttir and more.  A high proportion are covered on our site because the quality is so high, as demonstrated by their presence on our year-end lists.

Honorable Mention:  Room40
Australia’s Room40, last year’s ACL Label of the Year, released approximately an album a week in 2022.  We have no idea how Lawrence English does it.  The most astounding facet of the label may be its ability to produce quality music across multiple genres: ambient, drone, experimental and even field recordings.  The releases are announced and promoted well in advance ~ half a dozen 2023 releases are up for pre-order.  The label continues to be on a tear, with no sign of slowing down, and every release is worth hearing.  Their December releases are streaming below.

Richard Allen

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