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Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Records photo by Erik Hess

One of the main reasons that the Minnesota music scene continues to flourish -- in addition to the plethora of talented bands, of course -- is the abundance of forward-thinking, well-organized record labels that are spread throughout the state. These labels put out records by fledgling bands on the rise, and play a major role in keeping the local live music scene vibrant by organizing tours, and showcases that help bring the vital sounds of the Twin Cities and beyond to a much wider audience.

There is so much good, creative work being done by the tireless record labels in our area that picking the 10 best proved to be a truly difficult challenge. (We included some well-deserved honorable mentions as well). So, here's to all of the hardworking people behind the scenes at these record labels who keep our modern music scene moving forward.

See Also: Top 10 best Minnesota music videos of 2013 (so far)

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

10. Korda Records

Any record label that was able to coax new albums out of both the Ocean Blue and Jim Ruiz deserves recognition. The small Minneapolis-based cooperative label was started in 2012 by a bunch of talented, creative friends (Allison LaBonne and Brian Tighe of the Starfolk, as well as the Ocean Blue's David Schelzel and Jim Ruiz) who wanted to take an active part in releasing their own music. While Korda Records output at this point is rather small, the sheer quality and subtle elegance of each of their releases suggests that this label has some great things in store.

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

9. Chaperone Records

This emerging label out of Duluth started in 2012, and it became obvious straight away that Chaperone cares deeply about the music they release, putting out high-quality vinyl releases by their growing arsenal of artists, like Actual Wolf, Retribution Gospel Choir, Southwire, and Charlie Parr. As the Northern Minnesota music scene continues to expand and flourish, the good folks at Chaperone are certainly playing their part in helping share those wonderful sounds with the masses.

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

8. Secret Stash Records

There has definitely been a soul-revival in the Twin Cities as of late, thanks in no small part to the funky folks behind Secret Stash Records. In addition to their landmark Twin Cities Funk & Soul compilation, which got everyone in the area shaking what they've got, the label has also brought some well-deserved attention to the Prophets of Peace, Mickey Murray, Wanda Davis, Sonny Knight, and many other underappreciated artists. And, after signing the incomparable Fancy Ray to their label earlier this year, Secret Stash just became the best-looking record label in show business.

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

7. Forged Artifacts

This boutique Minneapolis label has a small but fantastic roster of artists, including Prissy Clerks, Nice Purse, and Observer Drift. Forged Artifacts does a splendid job providing limited-edition vinyl pressings of their albums, often on striking colors that only adds to the aesthetic appeal of the work itself. The label is set to release the second EP from Holographic Sands at the start of October, continuing a string of strong releases that has added a vibrant flourish to the Twin Cities music scene.

 

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

6. Susstones

Susstones Records helped define the Twin Cities sound over the past couple of decades, and continues to help shape the direction it is heading in today. Their roster is currently led by BNLX, Two Harbors, and Blue Sky Blackout, with label founder Ed Ackerson's venerable Flowers Studio enhancing and refining our scene's modern sound. Before many of these other labels were founded, Susstones was putting out records by Polara, Astronaut Wife, the Mood Swings, Faux Jean, the Melismatics, Mark Mallman, and many more, and hopefully the venerable label will continue to play an integral role in the future sounds of the Twin Cities music scene.

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Anna Gulbrandsen

5. Doomtree

While Doomtree are rightly recognized as being at the forefront of the Twin Cities spirited hip-hop scene, they have also established themselves as a thriving business model, with good music amongst friends being their ultimate focus. After searching for a label to put out their music initially, the crew just decided to do it on their own, and have continued to operate that way ever since. Each of Doomtree's releases are put out by the Doomtree imprint, with many of their subsequent solo albums also released on the label as well. Each of the talented artists still maintain not only a strong dedication to each other and their cause, but also a brazen sense of independence that has kept them from signing any contracts associated with Doomtree. No kings, indeed.

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Anna Gulbrandsen

4. Guilt Ridden Pop

Chances are, if you hit up a local show on any given night in the Twin Cities, one (if not more) of the talented acts from the Guilt Ridden Pop roster are bound to be on the bill. Keith Moran has assembled a terrific batch of bands to help build the St. Paul-based label, with Gospel Gossip, Is/Is, Kitten Forever, Claps, and many others helping keep the Twin Cities music scene churning urgently forward. The label is readying the highly anticipated new full-length from the Chambermaids, which should be the perfect soundtrack to fall settling in over the city, with plenty more musical gems on the horizon from Guilt Ridden Pop.

 

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

3. Modern Radio

This terrific Twin Cities independent record label was founded in 1999 by Tom Loftus, and continues to churn out one bristling, inventive release after another. Hell, any record label that put out an album as urgent and vital as STNNNG's Empire Inward would proudly be included in this list. Modern Radio has also put out the brilliant recent record from Hollow Boys, It's True, as well as stellar past work from Vampire Hands, Signal to Trust, and Sims's Bad Time Zoo. Modern Radio also curates a lively message board that continues to provide engaging, informed discourse about the current music scene. But it is ultimately the indelible music that Modern Radio has consistently released for the past decade and a half that truly deserves to be celebrated (and turned up -- LOUD).

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

2. Rhymesayers

Rhymsesayers Entertainment has helped share the Twin Cities hip-hop scene with the musical masses over the years, while giving unheard or underexposed artists an outlet to prove their talents on the progressively bigger stages of their Soundset Festival. Plus, their Fifth Element store has given hip-hop an unoffiical home base in Minneapolis that we've needed for years. Having talented acts like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and P.O.S. on your label is bound to attract plenty of attention and accolades across the country, but Rhymesayers have turned that attention and focus towards other breakout artists who are just starting to gather some momentum in the local and national hip-hop scenes, while consistently paying tribute to the past as they continue to take hip-hop into the future.

Top 10 best record labels in Minnesota
Photo By Erik Hess

1. Totally Gross National Product

Any good record label will not only be in touch with the pulse of what is going on today, but they will also keep a watchful eye on where music is heading tomorrow. And the imaginative folks behind TGNP have always done a fantastic job in knowing precisely where the sounds of the moment are going to lead us in the future, from putting out the stellar debut from Poliça, Give You the Ghost, well before they broke big throughout the rest of the world, as well as releasing challenging, inspired work from Building Better Bombs, Digitata, and Mystery Palace, TGNP have always just known what's up. Earlier this year, TGNP released the highly anticipated new record from Solid Gold, and that momentum only continued with fantastic releases from Marijuana Deathsquads, the Cloak Ox, and Pony Bwoy, in addition to upcoming albums from Lizzo and Lazerbeak, Moonstone Continuum, as well as a full-length from MDS.

On top of all the stellar music that Totally Gross National Product has put out, they also throw the best parties in town, with their next musical shindig going down at Icehouse on September 28. If you want to hear what the future of music sounds like, you should definitely show up at that gig, as well as familiarize yourself with the inspired, unconventional sounds of TGNP.

Honorable Mentions:

Amphetamine Reptile Records: While they have helped shape the Twin Cities music scene for over two decades, their current releases are mainly small-batch, limited-edition pressings by the Melvins. Still cool as hell, obviously.

Stophouse Music Group: Essentially this is Prof's label for himself. The Minneapolis rapper's King Gampo LP and his Kaiser Von Powderhorn mixtape series have grown popular enough in the past few years, that he was able to host a sold-out mini festival featuring Run the Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P), Evidence, and many others at the Cabooze Outdoor Plaza this summer. This imprint is riding quite high on its flagship artist.

25 Diamonds: This small Minneapolis indie label is just starting to hit their stride, releasing quality 7-inches from Wooden Wand, Ex Nuns, and Violent Bullshit, in addition to stellar work from Teenage Moods.

Soft Abuse: A label that Chris Berry started in Florida before moving to Brooklyn, has now found a flourishing home in Minneapolis, putting out Brute Heart's stellar LP, Loneyly Hunter, as well as Blackout Beach, Threads, and many others.

De Stijl Records: This fiercely independant label has consistently put out inventive, challenging records by Wolf Eyes, Robust Worlds, Michael Yonkers, and many other artists well worth checking out.

Afternoon Records: Ian Anderson's label helped form the creative template for a lot of indie labels that followed, with Afternoon releasing terrific albums from Now, Now, Every Children, Dream Brother, Tarlton, and Bad Bad Hats.

Red House Records: This venerable St. Paul label has been doing things the right way for over 30 years now, churning out wonderful, acoustic-based releases from the likes of the Pines, Greg Brown, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Pieta Brown and many other talented artists.

Learning Curve Records: This longtime Minneapolis label (founded in 2000) could have stopped with just releasing the incendiary records of Gay Witch Abortion and the Blind Shake and they would have left their thunderous mark on the Twin Cities music scene. But they have put out a slew of other fine releases by the Soviettes, Private Dancer, Birthday Suits, and many others, ensuring that Minnesota keeps on rocking.

mpls ltd: As their understated lowercase name suggests, the folks behind mpls ltd records aren't after fame or fanfare, they are just interested in putting out great music. And their records are consistently some of the best in the area, with top notch releases by First Communion Afterparty, Flavor Crystals, Mercurial Rage, Ouija Radio, and Bridge Club to name just a few. You really can't go wrong with anything put out by mpls ltd.

Moon Glyph: While the highly revered Moon Glyph label has recently moved from Minneapolis to Oakland, Steve Rosborough's stellar cassette-focused label still releases so many great works from Minnesota bands that it deserves some special recognition here.

See Also:
50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Top 10 must-see Minnesota music videos this week

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