So what’s your favourite record label?
We’re genuinely interested in people’s favourites! Labels are something of a passion of ours here at For The Rabbits, but picking a single favourite, that’s nearly as hard as picking a favourite album.
To get to the bottom of the conundrum, we suppose the obvious question is: what makes a good label anyway? Like a good blog, or a friend with reliable taste, a good label is a taste maker, someone who takes you somewhere new and offers you a route to discovering exciting new music.
A good label should be reliable, when you put on a record from Bella Union, you know that record comes with a seal of approval from label bosses who rarely, if ever, let you down. They gave us Midlake and John Grant, sure but even their lesser known artists come with a near guarantee of quality, the likes of Celebration or 2:54 may never sell bucket loads of records, but the quality control means they come with a guaranteed air of professionalism and intrigue.
Labels shouldn’t be afraid of not selling records. Easy to say for the armchair fan, who’s money isn’t on the line, but if you look at a label like Domino, a reputation is built as much on taking risks as it is on finding success. Sure they’ve released records by Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand to critical acclaim and humongous record sales, but they’ve also put out cult-oddities like Robert Wyatt and Grant Hart, and gambled on artists like Villagers and Wild Beasts, who, whilst still a long way from being household names, have achieved a great deal under the gaze Domino’s expert eye… or should that be ear?
Perhaps most of all a label needs a strong identity. Sub Pop is as synonymous with grunge as ripped jeans and badly died hair; Postcard Records albums should come with a Glaswegian phrase book; and Fortuna Pop! is as perfect microcosm of the UK’s thriving, underground Indie-pop scene as you could ever hope to come across.
Like anything else to do with art and music, it’s all about finding the label that works for you, and for us…well we couldn’t possibly only have one favourite!
FLOWERS – DO WHAT YOU WANT TO, IT’S WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
As yesterday’s birthday boy Leo Tolstoy once said “there is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness and truth.” London-trio Flowers most likely haven’t set out with that as a manifesto for their debut album, but it would certainly be an appropriate motto. Because whilst many bands focus on complexity and detail, Flowers keep things wonderfully, beautifully simple. The majority of the album features just three key components, Sam Ayres’ jangling electric guitar, Jordan Hockley’s precise but quietly fierce drumming and Rachel Kennedy’s fragile, beautiful, choral vocal, and generally that’s about it. There’s the odd buzzing synth here, a few notes on a bass there, but ultimately, it’s an album that’s just stunningly simple, and all the better for it.
It’s a wonderfully brave approach to a debut album, it leaves you with nothing to hide behind, but if you’ve got natural gifts let them shine, and in Rachel’s voice they are blessed with a truly wonderful one. Blessed with a soprano voice, she’s part of a lineage of female pop singers stretching back to Elizabeth Fraser via Stephanie Dosen and Marissa Nadler, that take voices usually associated with classical settings, and puts them to an alternative-pop backing; and Rachel is as good a singer as any of them. Luckily, like those singers, she also possesses the good sense to not over do it, no vocal histrionics on show here, just brilliantly crisp, clean tones, and a stunning range, it’s a truly wonderful thing.
All of this would count for very little if the songs weren’t there, and luckily for the most part, they are. Lyrically it’s a series of ruminations on the subject of, to paraphrase Kings of Leon, youth and young womanhood, and they don’t hang around getting there! The opening line of the opening track, aptly entitled Young, spells out the conflict that underpins the album, “Well now don’t you weep for me, I am young and carefree” because for all her protestations here, it’s very clear that Rachel is anything but carefree! Throughout the album she comes across entirely torn between wanting to be young and not face the worlds problems, but also being emotionally wrought, and in some ways wanting to settle down. As a lyricist she’s at her best when she’s being heart-breakingly honest, be it about herself, or about someone else. She can be wonderfully cutting, to a level even Morrissey would be proud of, take Drag Me Down, with it’s frankly crushingly honest lines “I don’t want to go through all this with you” and “I was trying to help you up, but you still drag me down.” it’s got to sting! Joanna too is delightfully cold and winningly poetic “cry on your shoulder if you want, I think it’s better than you don’t, it’s not that I don’t sympathise, just better that you dry your eyes.”
For all her posturing about being carefree, and her sometimes chilly lyrics, Rachel also does a fine line in achingly sad. Stuck, the closing track that builds on nothing more than a repetitive lone bass and vocal, is entirely raw and incredibly sad “Would I cry if you bruised me? Would I smile if you amused me? I don’t know” she sounds so completely lost, and live she is; standing alone on the stage, it’s a truly powerful thing. Be With You too, is achingly sad, a gently strummed guitar, underpins the opening lyric “the say it’s only psychological, but what I feel is something physical.” Throughout when they strip it back they’re wonderful, and when you think they’re stripping back from a three-piece you realise just how bare the moments are.
The only criticism of the album is that it’s a little bloated, when your longest song comes in at under three and a half minutes, does your debut album need to last nearly forty? At fourteen tracks it’s unsurprising the quality drops and at times it gets a little repetitive. Tracks like Anna, Worn Out Shoes and Comfort aren’t bad songs, they’re just lesser versions of other tracks here, and as such they break up the flow. It’s completely understandable to want to get as much of yourselves out as possible on your debut record, but by dropping these tracks the variety would shine through, and hidden on an album of simplicity there’s some wonderful variety. Take the brilliant, I Love You, is not just their most exciting deviation from their normal sound, incorporating an almost dub-step electric hum, but also utterly wonderful, “you make me want to cry, overwhelmed by how much I love you” Rachel sings, it’s just beautiful.
Ultimately, Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do, is a triumph of a debut album, because irrespective of trends, Flowers have done what they want to. It’s a classic alternative record, laced in indie-pop, punk and lo-fi influences; it’s a triumph, but more than that it’s an exciting taster of what could be to come, perhaps youth and naivety suits them, but watching them grow still further might just be thrilling.
Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do, is out now on Fortuna Pop! in the UK, and Kanine Records in the USA now. Flowers tour the UK with Fear Of Men at the end of September