2014: Favorite 15 Labels of 2014

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series


This tiny Asheville label has been on quite the tear. Year after year (or so it seems), you’ll find at least one Bathetic release cropping up on someone’s must-hear list. And rightfully so, since they’ve quietly become a tastemaker by being unafraid to explore any sound so long as it resonates with them. Angel Olsen? You’re welcome. Bitchin’ Bajas? Get on your knees and thank ‘em. Lee Noble? Where would we be without him? For six years, Bathetic has been pushing our boundaries by breaking theirs. We were too broke to snatch up all 11 cassettes of the Dynasty at Ghost Town series, but few labels have the wherewithal or reputation to be able to pull that expansive goodness off. That’s indicative of the lengths Bathetic will go to ensure what they believe in is something you can count on. Need further proof? We got samples!

Mello Music Group

In the world of hip-hop, there are two MMGs: the one everybody knows, Maybach Music Group; and the one every head knows (or should know), Mello Music Group. Founded by Michael Tolle in 2007 when he was fresh out of college, the Arizona-based MMG has since established itself as one of the most eclectic independent labels in hip-hop and, perhaps more importantly, one of the genre’s greatest vehicles for artistic development. Producers Oddisee, Quelle Chris, and Apollo Brown have all made some of their most profound musical statements as MMGers, and yet, unlike Maybach Music Group, Mello does not have “a sound.” Indeed, if there’s one quality that the label’s most definitive 2014 albums share, it’s great packaging. Released one after the other like clockwork in April, May and June, L’Orange’s The Orchid Days, Apollo Brown’s Thirty Eight, and Open Mike Eagle’s Dark Comedy were each promoted with the kind of critical insight that would do Blue Note’s liners proud. And in keeping with the best traditions of jazz, each occupies a space all its own while pushing the boundaries ever outward. Any label that can facilitate that kind of creativity consistently is worth following.

Manicure Records

If PC Music could be said to represent an uncanny, cynical deconstruction of the pleasure principle, then Manicure Records is the exact opposite: cuteness in all its gleeful glory. Initially started as a Tumblr-based outlet for founder Ghibli’s lo-fi filter house a couple years ago, it didn’t come into its own as a powerhouse net label until early this year, adding lilangelboi, Guy Akimoto, FIJI, ponibbi, JΛSMINE, KLSWLSK, and DJ CASHINOUT into the fold and establishing a close relationship with Simon Whybray’s JACK댄스 club night. Since then, they’ve dropped six “official” releases — longer DJ mixes that function as production showcases — and a plethora of digital-only singles. They occasionally dabble in “proper” club music, like DJ CASHINOUT and CLVMVTO’s mix of LV’s smash hit “Imminent,” but their real wheelhouse is cheap, dirty edits of cookie-cutter pop music like Megan and Liz’s “Release You” and MattyB’s “You Make My Heart Skip.” 150+ BPMs, trancey synths, and chipmunk vocals are standard affair here, so if you can’t handle a little cheese, then these might not be for you. But if you get your kicks railing Pixy Stix and puking rainbows, Manicure’s take on pop music is simply unmissable.

OSR Tapes

In his short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Jorge Luis Borges writes about the elements of an invented world gradually seeping into reality. As Borges’s work largely explores how an abstract idea can permeate and influence life, 2014 seemed to likewise be the year that Zach Phillips’s Brooklyn-based OSR Tapes actualized his initially esoteric notion of “Open Session Rock.” Since 2012, OSR has released a number of exciting ventures that explored a particularly fascinating subculture of lo-fi pop. But it’s this year’s diverse and expansive crop of albums that have truly solidified what Phillips and co. are doing as a movement. In a similarly Borgesian way, “Open Session Rock” artists are united in their unwillingness to accept the pop song as a closed form. At long last, this is song-based music that is equally informed by the sonically critical thinking evident in experimental composition and the technicality of extended tonal theory and song form. This can be seen in the alternately noisy and jangling odysseys of Moth Eggs, the spatially considered minimalist pop of Ruth Garbus, the conservatory grade dissonant grooves of Ian Kovac Jr. Jr., and the Lynchian reinterpretations of standards by Jimmie Packard, amongst many of OSR’s excellent releases from 2014. OSR’s influence is also gaining traction outside of their roster, as clearly illustrated on the massively diverse tribute album to underground experimental pop icon and OSR artist Chris Weisman that was also released this year. And soon OSR’s influence will gain its most traction outside of the internet itself, when it goes offline starting in 2015.


As the definition of a record label becomes increasingly murky in an era of electronic distribution, Hyperdub has succeeded by sharing qualities with influential imprints of the past while creating beautiful realtionships in the name of curation. More than acting simply as a conveyance of sounds on vinyl or plastic discs, Hyperdub has assembled a stable of brilliant artists and endowed them with the kind of allure other labels try so hard but often fail to achieve. This year saw another solid lineup of releases, with great work by the likes of Cooly G, Flowdan, Fatima Al Qadiri, and Fhloston Paradigm. But the story of Hyperdub in 2014 also centered on both the way it reflected on its own progress (with a series of 10th-anniversary compilations, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, and 10.4) and, sadly, what the collective and the world as a whole lost this year: two amazing musicians, DJ Rashad and The Spaceape, both Hyperdub acts. If there is a singular story of Hyperdub in 2015, it’ll be about how it carries on after such passionate celebrations and memorials.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series

Most Read