Cheat Sheet: Kranky Records
Chicago's Kranky label has had a handle on its aesthetic from the very beginning, when albums from Labradford, Jessamine and Bowery Electric staked out ground between inquisitive post rock, shimmering ambient and the dark undertow of less recognizable impulses. But I don't think anyone could have predicted how wide the label's horizons would grow between 1993 and now, thanks both to increasingly adventurous A&R and to its roster's collective evolution beyond categories like post rock or ambient. Kranky's maturation mirrors some of the most fruitful developments in independent music over the past two decades, and in many cases -- Deerhunter, Atlas Sound, Tim Hecker -- Kranky artists have been the pioneers of niches-turned-open terrain.
Running the spectrum from Greg Davis' minimalist drone to Atlas Sound's psychedelic pop, the catalog shows incredible range, one all the more remarkable for the fact that there's generally some kind of hidden current holding all its releases together, no matter how opaque or exuberant they can be. It's less a catalog than an example of a finely honed curatorial sensibility, where every record is cast in a different light by its companions. Not every release is guaranteed to fit every listener's tastes, but they're all worth checking out, offering compelling musical arguments alongside lush, almost indulgent sonics.