10 Essential Releases from 10 Years of Tri Angle Records
Tri Angle comes to an end as a label but begins as an important archive of electronic music. To celebrate these legendary 10 years of Tri Angle, here are 10 of their many essential releases.
On 24 April, Robin Carolan announced the end of a 10-year succession for the independent label Tri Angle Records. He nodded, "I wish all my fellow independent labels / artists the best of luck in what are sure to be very trying times." Indeed, his farewell foresees the developing uncertainties for labels and musicians due to COVID-19, but also it pointed to the constant battle for independent music in general. That is, to survive in the margins of pop culture, independent collectives must somehow capture what is indescribable, something bubbling in the air, something magic.
Tri Angle did just that from its start in 2010. In fact, I remember first hearing Balam Acab, Holy Other, oOoOO, and thinking "what is this magic?" Like many others, I was pleasantly shocked to trace them all back to a single label.
Tri Angle managed to seize and shape those dark, hazy sounds that billowed beneath the turn of that decade. Initially, many called it witch house, but the label's emerging aesthetic certainly surpassed the effect of any microgenre. Indeed, it developed into something far more influential as it even compelled the legend Björk to spin a DJ set for the label's 5 year anniversary.
So, Tri Angle comes to an end as a label but begins as an important archive of electronic music. It is a history that extends to the changing ethos of independent labels, several movements of experimental genres, and other cultural texts beyond music, such as film and dance. So, to celebrate these legendary 10 years of Tri Angle, here are 10 of its many essential releases, ordered by its release dates.
1. oOoOO - Self-Titled EP (2010)
oOoOO's self-titled EP embodies the beginnings of Tri Angle. It is a brooding concoction of unrelenting pitched vocals samples, screaming but fragile synths, and trap-influenced beats. Even beyond the sounds, it aesthetically laid the foundation for the label's obscured airs. His moniker was frustrating to search, the album art is immensely haunting, and its track titles offer little to no context for its message. Simply, it was an introduction to something that was more of a feeling, something that couldn't be articulated just yet.
Best Tracks: "Burnout Eyess", "Hearts"
2. Clams Casino - Rainforest (2011)
Clams Casino first popped off with his immensely striking 2011 mixtape Instrumentals, featuring beats for the likes of A$AP Rocky, Lil B, and Soulja Boy. Months later, he joined Tri Angle to release his EP Rainforest. These stand-alone instrumentals were just as lush as the priors but more whole. He maximized his ability to capture serene moments with flooding interludes and vaporous soundscapes. It was a declaration of his abilities to not just produce for others but also create for his own intent. And, as for Tri Angle, a year after its first wave of releases, it was a testimony of its massive imprint on the coming years of electronic music.
Best Tracks: "Waterfalls", "Natural", "Gorilla"
3. Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder (2011)
Following his first 2010 EP See Birds on the newly formed Tri Angle, Balam Acab dropped his highly anticipated debut full-length Wander/Wonder. On the album art, a blue-tinted stream of light penetrates an empty cove, shining hope within a void. As such, this collection of ambient ballads perfectly exists in the crossing of ecstasy and melancholy. Its poetry romantically appreciates "a flower opening", yet it also must ask, "I miss you where are you hiding?" These fleeting, frail croons drift into cold arpeggios and deluging water samples. If not already, Balam Acab's Wander/Wonder absolutely ended the weak classification of Tri Angle as a witch house label. It sprung another distinct thread from the label's growing entanglement of electronic experimentations.
Best Tracks: "Apart", "Motion", "Oh Why"
4. Evian Christ - Kings and Them (2012)
Evian Christ's earliest music invertedly jumped off on YouTube, as Pitchfork found. He uploaded his beats with little thought, simply sharing the link with a couple of friends. Soon after, a number of labels raided his inbox, but he found his way to work with just one, Tri Angle. This collaboration led to Evian Christ's first mixtape Kings and Them. It is an early blend of what has now been replicated to death. That is, it had the audacity to tangle unrelenting 808s, skittering rap cues, and ghostly ambiance—in particular, it is a strange but perfect sampling of 2010's hip-hop vocals and Liz Harris' Grouper. So, Evian Christ's Kings and Them tells yet another story of Tri Angle's place in progressions of electronic music. Continually, the label searched out and worked with the best emerging innovators of electronic music.
Best Tracks: "Fuck It None of Ya'll Don't Rap", "MYD", "Drip"
5. Holy Other - Held (2012)
Holy Other laid his debut 2011 EP With U on Tri Angle after its first year. It was a harmonious marriage as its 5 tracks intertwined tortured melodies with sultry airs that fortified the emerging aesthetic of the label. Then, in the following year, Holy Other wholly fleshed out his sounds into the emotionally gripping full-length Held. The parallels to his first release are there—there are the obscure phrases that title the tunneling openers "Know Where" and "(W)here," or the pounding kicks that exact the wistful vocals of "Touch" and "Inpouring". But also, such allusions lead to something far more emotional than his prior EP. Holy Other's Held is a mastery of the minimal, a careful composition of a few notes but an abundance of sentiment. It embodies the precise conflict of emptiness and longing, creating one of the most romantic, cohesive albums on Tri Angle.
Best Tracks: "Held", "Nothing Here", "In Difference"
6. The Haxan Cloak - Excavation (2013)
If not already with his 2011 self-titled debut, his sophomore full-length Excavation was an early but sure indication of the Haxan Cloak's later production and filmic success—Bobby Krlic co-produced, with Arca, Björk's 2015 full-length Vulnicura, and he most recently scored the ritualist retreat of Ari Aster's 2019 film Midsommar. It flexes an already masterful touch for forming visceral, mortifying atmospheres. Its sheering strings, unsettling rumblings, and industrial bursts feel fit for the greatest pagan horror films or psychological thrillers. But also, its unpredictable movements and intricate soundscapes are entirely able to seize senses without the aid of visuals. Ultimately, The Haxan Cloak's Excavation is a reminder of the immense talents that intersected with Tri Angle throughout the last decade, connected to some of today's best music producers and film composers.
Best Tracks: "Consumed", "The Excavation (Part 2)", "The Drop"
7. Forest Swords - Engravings (2013)
To continue Tri Angle's remarkable streak of sophomore releases and succeeding film composers, Forest Swords joined the label for his full-length Engravings. It is a unique exploration of an old method, sampling. It filters its samples of scattered vocals, psychedelic strings, and acoustic drums, to create distance. But, this isn't any sort of cheap distance, like a faux lo-fi. Rather, it is a distance that provides the necessary perspective to wholly recognize the broader ecosystem at work. That is, it is a layering of synthetic sounds through a naturalistic ethos, pushing electronic music to a space that does not feel electronic. Forest Sword's Engraving creates such a perspective that goes onto score Bassam Tariq Netflix documentary short Ghost of Sugarland and Emma Portner's "Islands" with the Norwegian National Ballet at the Oslo's Opera House. It creates such a perspective that reflects Tri Angle's unique mark on cultural texts, whether that is music, film, dance, or more.
Best Tracks: "The Weight of Gold", "Thor's Stone", "Friend, You Will Never Learn"
8. serpentwithfeet - Soil (2018)
While Tri Angle always existed on the margins of vocal music, it greatly entered the throes of it with serpentwithfeet's highly acclaimed full-length soil. On it, serpentwithfeet creates a choir of himself, layering spiritual croons about queer love. It copes with the "mess" of the prior unsalvageable, but it also moves toward the possibilities of new desires. For he knows, "How could I keep these love documents to myself?" So, he presents such meditations in whirring falsettos above heavenly productions from Tri Angle artists, Clams Casino, mmph, and Katie Gately. As such, serpentwithfeet's soil is the culmination of Tri Angle's many prior contributions to vocalists. After a decade of sampling and producing other vocalists, the label finally endorses a truly distinctive, necessary voice.
Best Tracks: "cherubim", "messy", "mourning song"
9. Lotic - Power (2018)
As this list has tracked, Tri Angle naturally progressed with the emerging movements of electronic music. And, this remained true with Lotic's full-length Power, a staple of the 2010's late wave of what many refer to as deconstructed club. It is a rightfully unrelenting collage of harsh, skittering noise. But even more, it is a rightfully unrelenting expression of queerness and blackness. Aurally, it maps the oppression of the patriarchy, and vocally, it yields such chaos into its own power with chants like, "Brown skin, masculine frame / Head's a target / Actin' real feminine / Make 'em vomit". Lotic's Power indicates Tri Angle's growing ideological voice. Its latter half was dedicated not just to marginalized sounds but now, also to marginalized expressions.
Best Tracks: "Power", "Hunted", "Distribution of Care"
10. Vessel - Queen of Golden Dogs (2018)
Vessel's earlier works, 2012's Order of Noise and 2014's Punish, Honey, truly reflect the early, brooding aesthetic of Tri Angle. However, his latest full-length Queen of Golden Dogs is a colorful opus. While the priors painted bleak landscapes, the latter spews copious amounts of over-saturated hues onto electronic and chamber compositions. It is a perfect overindulgence of electronic experimentation, Baroquian influences, and allusions to philosophies. Vessel has been with Tri Angle for nearly the entire decade. And, as one of the label's final releases, Queen of Golden Dogs coincidently reflects the broader arch of Tri Angle. What was once known as a force of dark beats fully flourished into a multitude of sounds and expressions. And, what was once known as a cove of enigmatic artist is now an archive of some of the most influential artists.
Best Tracks: "Paplu (Love That Moves the Sun)", "Fantasma (For Jasmine)", "Argo (For Maggie)"