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Label of the Month: The EDM Pioneers Behind Ghostly International

Welcome to our Label of the Month feature, where we'll expound on some of our favorite music manufacturing companies, the folks that help mold the entire picture for amazing artists and shoot those ideas out into the world. This month, we're aiming our sights on Ghostly International, the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based label known for consistently challenging the idea of what we call electronic music.

See also:

-River Jones Music Adds Five Bands to Roster; Here's Our Breakdown -Cassette County: Three Local Cassette Labels -Hydra Head Records: A Personal Recollection

Ghostly is everything a label should be and then some, describing itself as a "multi-platform cultural curator, a tightly knit aesthetic universe fulfilling the roles of art gallery, design house, clothing designer, technology innovator, music-publishing company--and, yes, record label--in one." Naturally, design-driven personalities like Matthew Dear, Com Truise and Tycho fit in nicely in this arena, but it's also home to many other pioneers in the realm of genre-bending tunes. Here's a small sampling.

Phantogram Everyone must like Phantogram, given how often I hear "When I'm Small" in hipster hangouts and dozens of TV spots, but they have other songs, too (surprise!). "As Far As I Can See" definitely channels that hip-hop infused chimes apparent in Purity Ring or Cults, but there are multitudes of unique impressions on 2009's Eyelid Movies. "Let Me Go" feels like a long lost Nujabes track and with that choked-up warble on "Running From The Cops," it feels a bit like being dragged into the underworld in Minority Report.

Outkast rapper Big Boi is also a fan of vocalist Sarah Barthel's talents - she contributed three tracks on last year's Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. I have two words for that: Fuck. Yes.

Kill Memory Crash If Phantogram is too light for you, take a hit off this dark bong. Summed up in one word, Kill Memory Crash would be "sinister." Imagine if Trent Reznor dropped some MDMA and stopped whining about self-destruction (love ya anyway, Trent).

These nods to '80s clubs, drilling bass and Gothic overtones (minus the makeup) can make a song like "Hit + Run" really feel like getting crushed by someone's black Cadillac and dragged a few blocks. But if you'd rather dance, Kill's issues on Spectral Sound (an off-shoot of Ghostly) are more friendly, but not by much. Mux Mool Alright, so "Mux" is short for "multiplexing" or " involving simultaneous transmission of several messages along a single channel of communication." Chac-Mool on the other hand is a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican statue of a reclining man. As much as this wordplay conjures up images of DJs that "just press play," thankfully there are deeper elements to Mux Mool.

Brian Lindgren, as his mother calls him, explained once that his secret is pumping legitimate emotion into his tracks. While most EDM sounds robotic and repetitive, Mool is breaking those tropes with something genuine. For example, when John heard the track "Get Better John," he instantly recovered.

School of Seven Bells Named after a legendary South American university for pickpockets, SVIIB does like to carefully pick and choose their influences. When describing their style to Feed Me With Your Kiss, Benjamin Curtis claimed inspiration from "everything from Kraftwerk, Wire, Beyonce, New Order, Blonde Redhead, to Section 25 comes to mind, along with singers like Joni Mitchell and Robert Wyatt. We're huge fans of pop, too, mainly because we're huge fans of smart songwriting."

That explains why one track can be total bubblegum pop shoegaze (see "Chain") and another can be upbeat new wave (see "Dust Devil.") Their newest album Ghostory explores the concept that ghosts aren't undead spirits that moan in your closest, but rather the things in life you haven't let go of, like ex-romances and abusive parents and other sad stuff. It's almost a given that the music itself would be poignant and refreshing.

P.S. Because [adult swim] is the MTV of this generation, they have a super nifty a free sampler waiting for you.

Troy Farah does more music writing stuff at

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Troy Farah is an independent journalist and documentary field producer. He has worked with VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, Golf Digest, BNN, Tucson Weekly, and Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Troy Farah