Later this month, we’ll have released our 100th album edition, which is an achievement we never imagined when we started this small label back in 2016. Back then, it was another small experiment, born from a series of other small experiments with the running of labels (Audio Gourmet, Tessellate, Warehouse Decay). We were pretty serious about getting some music out there, but we’re proud of what has been achieved, with the help of our artists, friends and fans.
We’ve got lots planned this month, following on from the Spheruleus and Kraut Sounds EPs that kicked-off what’s to be a busy month. Speaking of Spheruleus, our label owner Harry Towell has put this one together and it is hosted on his Mixcloud page. The mix plays through as a chronologically history of the label, by blending a track from each album in chronological order.
It’s an overview of the styles we’ve released over the years so far, covering ambient drones, electro-acoustics, modern classical, folk, electronica and sound art. It concludes with a bonus track, from the forthcoming Glåsbird soundtrack album for Return to Sea and Sardinia. This will be our 101st release, as we start the next century of album releases.
You can check out the mix by hitting the play button above, or by clicking HERE to be directed to the Mixcloud page. We hope you enjoy this hour and a half journey through our discography!
It’s been a strange old year, as pretty much anyone reflecting on 2020 is likely to conclude. I’ll see if I can write this without mentioning Covid-19. Failed already.
As many of our followers will know, our schedule of physical releases hit an unplanned break in April, due to the closure of our local post office. We also felt that even if it were to be open, it wouldn’t be right to stand in a queue of people to ship packages a few times a week. So we decided to stop all of our plans completely. Before long, we launched into another project: Home Diaries. 30 albums from 30 artists later, we were into the warmth of July and were delighted to release our CDs again! We summarised Whitelabrecs related things in our last post, so I think the Whitelabrecs story ends here for now as far as this post is concerned.
Aside from a seriously busy year of running Whitelabrecs and even making some of my own music, I also feel that in 2020 I was able to listen to more music than I ever manage in an average year. I’ve been working from home as well as having time away from work altogether, which resulted in lots of DIY. Any household chore or job for me will always involve music. The washing needs to go on the line – it takes 5 minutes – that’s a track that can be played. Glossing every radiator in the house for example, gives time to take in a few albums! The shortlist really swelled this year and as always, my list is not about the best executed record or the perfect sound. It’s about the feeling it created for me, and how well I connected with it. I want to listen back to the records in this list in a decade or so and be taken back to this year, as strange as it was.
I stopped writing on the Irregular Crates blog a while back and this is where I’d normally announce a ‘best of’ list. But we set up Wallofambient this year alongside some other ambient labels and it’s been a bit of a consideration on whether I would post my list there. As I finalised it though, I realised several albums I’ve chosen are not ambient… so I didn’t want to annoy the ambient purists too much.
So I’ve decided to share it on the Whitelabrecs page this year and I’m sure there will be a few Ambient purists that are disappointed in my selections! Hopefully you’ll find some gems here though still. I’ve made no secret of my wide open taste in music, probably influenced by my microscopically successful DJ career, which I still look back on nostalgically. This influences my curation of Whitelabrecs and the sound we put out. Sure, the label sound is ambient overall, but you’ll see that generally I favour a melodic, melancholic or textured sound. I’m sure this is linked to a taste that dabbles in Dub Techno, Drone, Jazz, Liquid Funk, African Music, Chillhop, Deep House, Modern Classical, Funk, Folk, Field Recordings, Bossa Nova and many other styles.
So if you click the big yellow image of Port Isaac in Cornwall (from our holiday in September), you’ll be able to listen to a mix which is a countdown show of a track from each album in my top 25. My wife Beth has kindly leant her voice to provide the countdown and I added some delay and reverb effects just for fun. Below you can see a gallery of the cover art for the list of 25, as well as my thoughts on each album:
1st: Bibio Sleep On The Wing Warp
“At the top of my list ever since the night I noticed this new Bibio record emerged on Warp. Definitely the soundtrack to late summer for me, and I played it in the car on our family holiday to Cornwall a lot this year. So this will be a very nostalgic record for me in years to come. The use of instrument, particularly strings is a perfect blend and it’s one of those albums you can easily listen through in full. It retains your interest too with its variety of moods.“
“I was sat listening to jazz fm in the car when an advert for Melody Gardot’s album came on. It was starting to get pretty wintry and thoughts turned to Christmas – the lush string arrangements in the snippet of audio I heard urged me to listen to the album on Spotify. I literally listened to the album over and over that whole weekend; I decided I couldn’t live without the double LP too. This isn’t necessarily my usual taste as it’s singer-songwriter stuff. But it really is just so so good all the way through. The Philharmonic orchestra certainly help, as the whole arrangement in every single track is perfect. Nearly my album of the year, this…“
3rd: Offthesky & The Humble Bee We Were The Hum Of Dreams Laaps
“This record for me was the clear winner for 2020 right up until I discovered the top two in my list. It came out at around the time the lockdown kicked in here in the UK. I was doing lots of DIY jobs around the house and the expert sound design from these two masters was just the perfect tonic to long, slightly strange days stuck indoors. There’s so much detail to get lost in, yet it still sits in the ambient genre which allows you to drift as you listen.”
“Out in January, this one escaped me to the point when the vinyl versions had long since gone. This is a small band creating hushed ‘indie’ music, dare I say. The tones of the guitar, keys and vocals are warm and enveloping. Every single track in the album is excellent and again, the sign of a top album is one you can listen to in one sitting, without feeling the need to hit ‘skip’.“
“This album was always set to be good with the combination of talented artists Eluvium and Explosions In The Sky. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting however, as this set of fun folk ambient tracks are full of twists and turns. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and some of the samples or recordings will make you smile, whereas there are also plenty of moments that are truly beautiful.“
“It was another solid year for Lost Tribe Sound with another excellent series of releases. My favourite was Mute Forest’s Riderstorm, a blend of soft rock, folk, Americana and the lightest touches of electronica. Some of the pieces are instrumental whereas others make use of Kael Smith’s song-writing and vocals. There is a generous palette of instruments used throughout but a sparse, intimate feel to it too.“
“Over the years, Modern Classical ambient music has featured heavily in my favourite records of the year. Generally, I’ve relied on household names such as Arnalds, Frahm or Jóhannsson but this year, I discovered Bygones by Mathieu Karsenti as my favourite classically influenced record. The strings and arrangement of the instrument tones are as rich and lavish as you’d find in music by these household names and that’s likely due to the fact that Karsenti is a film score composer. Only gripe is that this one’s digital only… would love to own it on vinyl!“
“I’ve been following the work of trumpeter, jazz artist and Gondwana label owner Matthew Halsall since his album Colour Yes and pretty much own all of his albums. There’s a rich and vibrant feel to all of his work but this latest album, ‘Salute To The Sun’ there’s a slightly more exotic, ‘world’ feel to it in places with more than a nod to Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. I’ve listened to this a lot since the beautifully designed CD arrived and wonder whether this might be higher up the list if I’d have been listening back in the summer.“
“Kranky have a knack for releasing some real acoustic ambient classics and some of the finest albums blending acoustic instruments into melancholy drones. Stars of the Lid are the obvious stand out. This one by Less Bells was subject to a lengthy pre-order with a sample track available to whet my appetite. I knew this would be right up there from that very first listen and this one’s been a regular in my playlist this year. It has everything – variety, strings, texture, tasteful choral vocals, echoes of other stringed instruments and swells of cathedral drone.“
“There was a repress this year of Romeo Poirier’s excellent Plage Arriere but before this, the jazz flecked electronic sound art of Hotel Nota really impressed. An inevitable comparison to Jan Jelinek or Jon Hassell can be drawn but you’ll get past that to enjoy Poirier’s approach to composition and enjoy the enveloping detail of these works. I own it on vinyl and that really adds an extra layer of dust that gives another dimension.“
11th: Alabaster DePlume To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 International Anthem
“I listened to a fair bit of jazz this summer, particularly the more experimental or hushed works or slower, spiritual jazz. Discovering this album by Alabaster DePlume was quite something and from the opening moments of Visit Croatia, these restful woodwind, strings and guitar compositions were a welcome sonic backdrop for warm summer days indoors.“
“I’ve followed the work of Tom Ellis for years, since my DJing days. He originally produced a deep, minimal micro House style and it was interesting to see him branch into a live approach, focusing on jazz and soul. This year I’ve spent a lot of time listening (and mixing) house music and it’s disappointing to me that I don’t represent this in my end of year list. However, this record bridged my attempts to make DJ mixes again with my taste for jazz music too. It starts with a beautifully deep sax and Rhodes reprise and there are some slow, leisurely House jams intersecting this beautifully deep record.“
“Laaps has quickly established itself as one of the finest ‘ambient’ labels around, following on from the success of the Eilean imprint. This one from Japanese artist Tomotsugu Nakamura has been in my car CD player for most of the year and has been a calming ‘return to the office’ record, sounding particularly nice in the sun. Acoustic sound sources, reversed notes and clicks and cuts nod nostalgically back to the mid-2000s.“
“This record by Okkyung Lee has caused quite a stir this year and I’ve seen plenty of positive reviews and comments in the press. Lee is a South Korean cellist and her album goes far beyond the cello, as piano, low slung bass and harp amongst other creaks and clangs which makes for a playful but at times, spooky record.“
“Dronarivm is a label that you tend to expect to provide high quality year-end list esque material every year. In 2020, pick of the bunch for me is this beautiful ambient album by Sinerider, a range of woozy, hazy sun-speckled guitar drones. Some of the tracks are blurry, some are more open loops but this for me has to be one of the finest ambient-leaning albums of the year, something you can easily sink into at any time, and drift away.“
16th: Gastón Arévalo Terrain A Strangely Isolated Place
“When I first discovered ambient music, through netlabels, I also fell across the work of Gaston Arevalo whose sound was often a mixture of field recordings and experimental, electronica influenced ambient. I must admin, I have not followed his discography for a good number of years but this mammoth collection of deep listening-drones on A Strangely Isolated Space was a big hit for me this year, particularly late at night. At an hour long, it needs plenty of time to give it your attention and is best enjoyed as a whole.“
“Lontano Series have emerged as a strong label in the ambient scene and this album by Morimoto Naoki is really quite something. It’s a collection of static-riddled electro-acoustic moods, full of warmth and light melancholy. It’s difficult not to think of the 12k label when listening to this and for me, it’s easily one of the finest ambient records of the year.”
“I’ve been a fan of chillhop for a few years now and several of these short, chilled instrumental hip-hop eps and mini albums are in my headphones over the course of any given year. I was really impressed with this one by Mell-ø & Ambulo, with beautiful licks of smooth guitar taking centre stage.“
20th: Footshooter Libations & Movement Dance Regular
“I discovered this one early this year and it sort of started my interest in beat driven music as I looked for some styles to help keep a level of positivity throughout the pandemic and its lockdowns. This one’s billed as an EP but the length is more like an album. The tracks use a street-wise London approach in the beats and vocals, but there’s a nu-jazz, broken beat and house influence running through too with some really clever production. There’s even a short ambient piece in amongst these tracks!”
21st: Session Victim Needledrop Night Time Stories
“I’ve got all of the Session Victim albums and have long since been a fan but Needledrop is easily a favourite, and an early contender for album of the year. This artist is often filed under house but in this record, there’s a beautifully adept ability to create downtempo, soulful tracks too. Waller and Pierce for me is the stand-out track with smooth and deep soulful vocals.“
“I’ve been enjoying Ryan Bissett’s work as Halftribe for quite some time now and a jaw dropping moment occurred not long after I hit play on ‘Backwater Revisited’ from the trusty Dronarivm label. The record features synth and electro acoustic tones, drenched in reverb and a tasteful hint of chorus. Plenty of crackle and space between the lines to allow for a glistening, wintry backdrop. The artwork features an adaptation of open source imagery by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis from back in 1908 and this rustic, vintage cover fits in perfectly with the blanket-like folds of Ambience Ryan created here.“
“I’ve always been into bossa and Latin music since my late teens, so occasionally I’ll discover something within these categories that I end up playing a lot, particularly in the summer. This one by guitarist Fabiano do Nascimento got some serious hammer and I found I played it a lot at around breakfast time. It’s got great variety and depth and has been pretty uplifting for a heavy old year.”
25th: Domenique Dumont People On Sunday The Leaf Label
“It happens every year; I finish agonising over my end of year list after months of shuffling my ‘chart’, casting an eye over everything I left out… then I happen to discover something wonderful in December. I’d already made my end of year mix and just had to swap in this album by Latvian artist Domenique Dumont, which had been on repeat all day. There’s a child like sense of wonder about all of these playful synth melodies and rhythms that I just can’t escape. I’ll state the obvious: a few more weeks of owning this, how high up this list might it have been?”
Last year we made a small batch of 20 mixtapes available after a disagreement between my wife and I, as she didn’t think people still had tape players. I decided to prove her wrong and put together a special anonymous mix solely using Whitelabrecs material and the tapes sold out in hours.
I’m not sure why, but we haven’t made any more and I’d love this to become a series that anyone can get involved in – over the last few weeks I’ve been in touch with Andrew Sherwell who released ‘Orthodox Tales’ with us earlier this year and he’s kindly assembled the wlt-02!
Many record labels create compilation samplers of material but for our version of this, we decided that mixtapes would be a fun format to introduce people to the label, similar to how vinyl DJ mixes might have been home-taped back in the 1990s.
Andrew’s mix traverses two different paths over sides A and B,
with a dark opening to A unfolding to lighter, dreamy moments with the accompanying micro sounds of overlapping field recordings. Side B is more of the same, yet with added warmth. As always, the tracklist is anonymous as these tapes are intended to be works of art in their own right, rather than a compilation tape.
There are so many amazing releases on Whitelabrecs. I should imagine that it would be quite a daunting exercise, a label specific mix. Where to start? What tracks to choose? Or harder still, what tracks to leave out? Impossible.
Luckily for me, when Harry suggested the idea, I already had a head start. I was already working on a mix which contained quite a few Whitelabrecs tracks. It was a mix to accompany my habitual dusk-time walk along a wild and deserted estuary foreshore, next to which my elderly parents live. A few blustery moments in which to forget the pressing effects of the passing of time, to stop worrying about what is surely hurrying towards us, and to just be……present.
With quite a tricky limit of just under 23 minutes a side, I edited the mix down, keeping the Whitelabrecs tracks already there in place, adding others that suited the mood. Soon the two sides developed their own personalities. Side One: the walk from the house to the rock from which to watch the sun sink slowly into the mouth of the estuary. Side Two: the walk back to the house in the gathering gloom.
Recorded digitally within Ableton (my laptop is all I had with me.) Some tracks are edited, some have additional processing, some suffered both. Thanks to Harry for the invite and to all Whitelabrecs’ amazing artists. Apologies to those artists whose work I have mangled.
For my parents.-ANDREW SHERWELL
The cover artwork printed on the packaging was taken during a huge thunderstorm at the end of an extended period without rain.
Released August 17, 2018
Mixed by Andrew Sherwell
Artwork by Harry Towell
You can visit the dedicated page on the Whitelabrecs Bandcamp site where an order can be placed by clicking below or HERE
Bill of The Prairie Lines spent some time putting together a mix of his favourite ever tracks for Irregular Crates‘ ‘Grounding Sounds‘ series to coincide with his Whitelabrecs release ‘Eyes Down Slowdown‘.
Bill’s show includes selections from the likes of Grouper, Nils Frahm, Tim Hecker, Labradfordand William Basinski to name but a few. You can check out the mix by hitting play above, or you can click HERE to visit the dedicated page on Irregular Crates.
William Basinski – Disintegration Loops 3 (Excerpt) 
Grouper – Dragging The Streets 
Delia Derbyshire & Barry Bermange – Invention for Radio No.1: The Dreams (Exerpt) 
Perfume Genius – Floating Spit 
Nils Frahm – Them 
Beat Happening – Run Down the Stairs 
The Microphones – Tonight There’ll be Clouds 
For a good while, we’ve been meaning to put together a sampler mix to showcase some work from select releases in our catalog. Ever since recent studio experiments with tapeloops, we’ve taken an interest in the cassette format again and decided that our sampler would literally take the format of a mixtape, similar to how bootleg vinyl mixes might have been home-taped back in the 1990s.
The mix is a ‘guess-who’ of material from our discography, blending tracks harmonically into 22 minutes and 50 seconds each side of the tape. The mix is available digitally if you’ve sold your cassette player on a car boot sale but for anyone who still have a machine, the added hiss will surely add to your listening experience.
The cover artwork printed on the packaging was taken in a field a couple of hundred yards away from our home, on a warm summers day.
Our tape supplier has many colour options so these will change as this infrequent sub-series continues but naturally, we plumped for white in this inaugural edition.
released August 29, 2017
Mixed by Harry Towell
Artwork by Harry Towell
You can visit the dedicated page on the Whitelabrecs Bandcamp site where an order can be placed by clicking below or HERE
Our label boss Harry was recently contacted by Swedish blog Sounds Of A Tired City to put together a mix under his artist name Spheruleus. Naturally he obliged and made a vinyl-only mix, blending Modern Classical and Ambient/Drone records using harmonic mixing techniques. Since Whitelabrecs is inspired by Harry’s love for vinyl, this was a fitting opportunity to chat to SOATC about Whitelabrecs, vinyl and Harry’s other commitments such as the Audio Gourmet netlabel.
You can listen to the mix by clicking HERE or the images above, which features tracks from artists such as Richard Skelton, Peter Broderick and Greg Haines.
You can read the full interview that was featured below or visit Sounds Of A Tired City site by clicking HERE
SOATC: If we look at your music-related activities, we gotta say you must be a rather busy man! You’ve been prolific with Spheruleus and you’ve been running the Audio Gourmet netlabel for six years now. What can you tell us about these projects?
HT: Indeed, I have no idea how I manage sometimes as I have two jobs too! What I’ve done more recently is slow down a little, take my time with work as Spheruleus and the labels too. Followers of Audio Gourmet will notice that releases are very much few and far between these days, but we’re still going – slowly! I think a lot of artists, labels etc. get to a stage when everyday life ‘gets in the way’ or becomes more important and then they decide the logical thing to do is to just stop. I’ve just made a decision not to be rushed, pushed to deadlines or stress about any of it – as this whole thing is supposed to be enjoyable at the end of the day. So I tend to self-release a lot of my own work these days, or with labels I know well so that I can go at my own pace.
I also suffer from a condition that many artists have – I’m not sure of its name, but it’s basically when you are working on a project and decide to start a new project… so I have 4 labels and a few recording aliases as well as a blog.
I think the main thing that motivates me is making music available to the world, without worrying about what will ‘sell’. This gives me a chance to work with new or unknown artists and if I can move them one step further forward, then the labels are a success.
SOATC: You have the soul of a curator. What are you looking for when you release or write about other people’s music? There is so much to discover constantly, what is that makes something for you more special, different? How can something stand out these days?
HT: For me, when curating it’s best to keep an open mind and listen to lots of different styles of music. Whenever I receive a demo I’ll listen to it with positive thoughts – I tell myself, I want to like this record. If I just can’t, then I have to leave it there. I also try to listen to a record in different contexts: I’ll listen in the morning on the way to work in the car or I’ll listen last thing at night – it’s amazing how much the listening environment can influence on how music is received. For Whitelabrecs, we’ll specialise mainly in ‘Ambient music’ I guess, but I’m more interested in ‘sound art’ – how people express themselves with sound.
The great thing with that, is that this allows for artists who want to do something different – maybe experiment with beats, something dark, a little noise or minimalism. So it’s all about giving new ideas a chance and then packaging them into something that listeners will enjoy or ‘get’. I believe that the sound is only really 80% of the story – good mastering, track titles, artwork and a write up helps bring everything together and can enhance a listener’s experience overall. When I write a press release, I’ll ask the artist a load of questions to get them thinking about their work, their ideas and how they approached the work. Then I’ll put together all the most relevant points. I hate this part of releasing a record but it’s so important
SOATC: You’ve recently launched your new label called whitelabrecs. What do we have to know about it and what are your plans with it?
HT: Yes, yet another project! I guess Whitelabrecs is the label I’ve always wanted to run – it is influenced by my love for vinyl, there are no set rules although the packaging takes a steady format: vinyl effect CDrs inside a vinyl style sleeve, rubber-stamped text and cover artwork as a polaroid photographic print. Everything is hand-stamped, burnt by hand so again, it takes a bit of time but to keep it all manageable I’ve capped the editions at 50 copies for each release. That way, there’s a bit of a collectible impulse from our listeners which means that each release should sell out quickly, meaning I can keep on going! I’ve got loads of demos confirmed and ready to go – I think we’re up to the 15th release behind the scenes, which is fantastic. Genre-wise, I’ve not settled on any particular style and plan to just keep evolving it – who knows what sounds we’ll put out. At the moment everything is pretty much within the Ambient scene with modern classical, drone, field recordings, glitch, folk and electroacoustic music being represented. I’d love to put out some jazz, post-rock, dub techno or trip hop someday! Who knows where we’ll go.
SOATC: Could you tell us a bit about the selection of tracks in your mix?
HT: I have quite a large vinyl collection covering all different styles of experimental music and I basically just pulled out my ‘Ambient’ section and selected records that were based around modern classical, drone or electroacoustic elements. I mixed the records using my Technics 1210 turntables through 10 year old styli that are as good as useless – they are worn and tired, so there’s lots of extra crackle and lo-fi texture in the mix that wouldn’t be on there otherwise. I’ve recently purchased some new needles and this mix is the last thing I’ve recorded with the old needles.
When buying vinyl, I only really buy albums that I feel are going to stand the test of time – records I’ll still want to hear time and time again. This is simply down to the sheer price of vinyl these days so I have to choose wisely when buying!
For me, Peter Broderick’s ‘Float’, Richard Skelton’s ‘Marking Time’ and Christoph Berg’s ‘Paraphrases’ are absolutely phenomenal records and these are perfect examples of the ‘quality control’ methods I go through when buying vinyl.
01 Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer – Cloudline
02 Willamette – At Length And Dead Horse
03 Field Rotation – Swayed By The Wind (Awakening)
04 Goldmund – Getting Lighter
05 Wil Bolton – Blackpoint
06 Scissors and Sellotape – It’s A Long Slog
07 Jared Smyth – Burnout
08 Simon Bainton – Porlock
09 Willamette – Images D’une Longueur de Cheveux
10 Peter Broderick – Another Glacier
11 Greg Haines & Wouter Van Veldhoven – On Waiting
12 Lowered – Lattitude 33 Degrees North, Longitude 40 Degrees West
13 Richard Skelton – Heys
14 Olan Mill – Amber Balanced
15 From The Mouth Of The Sun – Color Loss
16 Christoph Berg – Quiet Times At The Library