Label Year 2011 Wrap Up

Label Year is a feature in which I purchase all of the releases of a given record label for an entire calendar year and post on each one. I will also look at other significant releases from the label's past. 2011 will be devoted to Arts & Crafts out of Toronto. For more info, check out the introduction.

As this column's "mission statement" says, I embarked on a musical journey to acquire and listen to everything that record label Arts & Crafts put out in 2011. I called it Label Year. The final tally was a very diverse sixteen releases, plus two bonus articles related to one of my all-time favorite bands and label founder Broken Social Scene. Tonight I bring the feature to a close with a look back, as well as a glimpse of what's to come.

Here is a list of everything that was covered, in reverse chronological order: 

Check out any of the articles to hear tunes or click here to listen to a Spotify playlist I made.

All told, there were seven physical albums (Chikita Violenta, Memphis, Timber Timbre, Dan Mangan, Feist, The Darcys, Los Campesinos!) two digital albums (Chilly Gonzales, Stars), four digital singles (Chilly Gonzales, Ra Ra Riot, Zeus, Eight and a Half) and three 7-inch records (Timber Timbre, Zeus, Cold Specks) from thirteen artists. Five made their debut on Arts & Crafts (Chikita Violenta, Memphis, Eight and a Half, The Darcys, Cold Specks) and three of those were making their debut period (Eight and a Half, The Darcys, Cold Specks).

I expected going in that I would gain a sense of a certain unifying aesthetic, but it didn't take too long to realize that there was not going to be one. The Arts & Crafts range of sound may not divert too greatly from band to band, yet enough distinctions exist to instill a general sense of its spirit as simply high quality music, whatever that might sound like, rather than fitting a specific, narrow mold. I consider the label as a curator of some of the most exciting and worthwhile music coming out of Canada.

Of course, the label is also home to the occasional international act that embodies a sprawling, spirited take on indie rock (in the vein of forefathers Broken Social Scene), extending the geographic footprint. In 2011, that was Mexico's Chikita Violenta, the United States' Ra Ra Riot, and Wales' (or maybe more accurately the United Kingdom's?) Los Campesinos! Over the year, I also heard rock music that seemed very "now" with the stately pop of Memphis and the 2000s British rock touchstones of The Darcys, and very "then" with the twisted noir doo-wop of Timber Timbre, the classic rock of Zeus, and the dusty Americana of Cold Specks. I heard electronic music that was highly danceable from Chilly Gonzales and more downbeat and contemplative from Eight and a Half. I heard singer-songwriters Dan Mangan and Leslie Feist pushing themselves in directions way beyond the "person & acoustic guitar" idea that hyphenated signifier usually evokes. I heard the world's first orchestral rap album (also from Chilly Gonzales) and I heard the birth of one the label's biggest releases with the demo album from Stars.

The only real constant was that I liked just about everything. It wasn't all stunning, but I can't recall anything being outright bad. Three of these albums made my top ten of 2011, and Los Campesinos! would probably have made it if I had gotten it sooner. I return to much of this music frequently and have discovered bands that I will follow well into the future. I also enjoyed how the diversity of releases let me explore different topics, like how songwriting evolves, the connections of music to nature, what makes a successful remix, buying vinyl, and more. You can read any of the articles if you are curious about this. Honestly, there are too many highlights to list, ranging from albums that impacted me, songs I played repeatedly, cool music videos, and an amazing live show.

I didn't necessarily initiate as much conversation as I had hoped (though now that we have a new comment system, feel free to jump in below to make up for that, people! Haha). My biggest personal disappointment is that I did not delve into the back catalog as much as I hoped I would. In fact, I really did not at all. The only extra posts were on seeing Broken Social Scene live and also a review of the amazing This Book Is Broken: A Broken Social Scene Story. I am proud of both these posts for sure, but I have to admit I did not achieve this part of my original goal.

I enjoyed the process because I like a lot of these bands and I like taking a comprehensive, completist approach to things sometimes. I always wondered what it would be like to get everything on a label because I still like to think that independent label's are an important source of musical discovery and appreciated the chance to lend my support back to them. I will not, however, be doing this feature again this year for a variety of reasons, but I could revisit it in 2013.

Don't think I won't still be listening to Arts & Crafts music this year. Plenty of great stuff is coming out. After hearing the early singles, I am highly anticipating the upcoming albums from Zeus (3/27), Eight and a Half (4/10), and especially Cold Specks (5/22). The Darcys have released another digital album, their take on Steely Dan's Aja, and there is a remix of Feist's "How Come You Never Go There?" by Beck available. Two new bands have debuted as well: Bishop Morocco put out a single in advance of their EP due 3/13 and Trust's album TRST is out today, 2/28. Sample single "Sulk" below. I have no doubt that even more awesome stuff will be appearing during the rest of the year. Everything is available at GalleryAC. Also, many of these artists are on tour – it's shaping up to be a big year for Feist, to name just one act – so keep an eye out for dates in your area.

I put a link to a playlist covering all these releases above, and all my reviews linked here should help encourage you to check these fine musicians out. Thanks for reading the feature. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on it, I'd love to hear them. Even if Label Year is now in hiatus, I wouldn't be surprised to see more Arts & Crafts-related posts on Those Who Dig in the future. It's a great label with great music and I dig it.