Since 1993, Chicago record label Kranky has been setting the pace for experimental and post-rock scenes around the world. Co-founded by friends Joel Leoschke and Bruce Adams, the imprint was crucial in introducing foundational artists such as Low, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Deerhunter. Kranky also holds a deep connection with the city of Portland, having released work by Jessamine, Ethernet, and their newest signing, Saloli.
It’s fitting, then, that Kranky would choose our city to kick off their run of 25th anniversary celebrations happening around the US in November and December. With the help of multimedia wizards Ambient Church, Kranky is taking over the First Congregational United Church of Portland for two evenings of performances, including headlining sets by Grouper and Vancouver, BC-based ambient producer Loscil, along with an immersive light show.
Kranky’s 25th anniversary offers a chance to reflect on the label’s legacy and 10 of the most essential releases from their incredible catalog. Your mileage may vary, but we think these records best represent the depth of their roster and how far-reaching Adams and Leoschke’s tastes run.
Roy Montgomery, Temple IV (1995)
One of the first solo releases by Roy Montgomery, this collection of instrumentals teeters with copious layers of guitar melodies, drones, and Moog synth noise in an attempt to capture the enthralling feeling of his visit to Tikal, an ancient city in the Guatemalan rainforest.
Jessamine, The Long Arm of Coincidence (1996)
Portland-based ensemble Jessamine proved downright magical as they connected the sparking wires of Krautrock, modern classical, and the shadowy regions of psychedelia without getting burned. This double-LP was their peak.
Labradford, Mi Media Naranja (1997)
Many artists of this era aimed to strip their music down to the barest essentials: a few stray guitar chords and bass tones with the wisps of a keyboard floating in from the beyond. But this Virginia trio perfected that sound, particularly on their spacious and unforgettable fourth album.
Windy & Carl, Depths (1998)
The first record for Kranky by this Michigan-based duo is the platonic ideal of modern shoegaze. The booming drums and fey vocals are gone, replaced by long stretches of drone, guitar shimmer, and barely audible vocals snuggled deep within the music for warmth.
Low, Things We Lost in the Fire (2001)
Low hasn’t put out a bum record in all of their time together, but the slowcore trio’s second album for Kranky felt like a major turning point. Their heartrending visions felt clearer and more complete, with little bursts of volume and dynamics flaring up to further illuminate Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s devastating harmonies.
Charalambides, Unknown Spin (2003)
Everything you need to know about the work of Tom and Christina Carter can be found within this album’s nearly 30-minute title track. It requires patience and a quiet mind to capture the nuances and depth of their guitar and vocal interplay. There’s a lot of empty space to get lost in. Trust their guiding presence.
Deerhunter, Cryptograms (2007)
You choose your fighter with the second album by Deerhunter. Do you want the warped pop group that bends and shimmies like a lost Nuggets single left out in the sun too long? Or would you rather have the zonked-out ambient explorers climbing up walls of guitar effects and modular synths? Get you a band that can do both.
Disappears, Lux (2010)
One of the loudest and most out and out rocking selections in Kranky’s discography. This Chicago psych ensemble believes that repetition holds the key to enlightenment, bearing that out with a throbbing insistence and a lot of guitar melodrama.
Tim Hecker, Virgins (2013)
Canadian composer Tim Hecker burst into rarified air with his album Virgins. It’s a startling work charged with political overtones (sample song title: “Incense at Abu Ghraib”) and built on a framework of rickety synthesis and drones that feel like they could give way at any minute. How Hecker keeps it all together is a delicious mystery.
Christina Vantzou, No. 2 (2014)
The thin boundary separating modern classical and experimental music is where Christina Vantzou has set up camp over the past decade. Her roots go deep into the earth on her second album, with sweeping chamber orchestra pieces sharing space with flowing rivulets of electronic sound.