Label Focus - International Anthem

LABEL SPOTLIGHT: Launched in 2014 by Scottie McNiece and David Allen, The Chicago-based International Anthem (IA) is one of the most exciting avant garde stables going. While ostensibly a jazz label, IA releases tend to push the boundaries of that word to the point of them being thrillingly uncategorisable – and add to that the phenomenal level of musicianship that is always a feature of their records, and you can see why Dreamhouse digs them so much ...

Here, we focus on 13 stellar albums from IA artists that we think you should know about. Enjoy!

Daniel Villarreal - Lados B 

Lados B from the celebrated Panama-born, Chicago-based percussionist Daniel Villarreal was recorded over just two afternoons in Los Angeles in 2020, with two top-draw collaborators: the brilliant Tortoise guitarist (and solo jazz artist in his own right) Jeff Parker, and the gifted Australian bassist and composer Anna Butterss. For all three musicians it was the first in-person ensemble recording session they'd done since the pandemic locked the world down, just seven months prior, and the sheer joy and relief of playing with each other in the same room is palpable. (Released: 06/10/2023)

Daniel Villarreal - Panamá 77
And another great LP from the Panamanian. For his lead artist debut ‘Panamá 77’, Villarreal engages a diverse array of friends and collaborators – including Bardo Martinez (Chicano Batman), Jeff Parker (Tortoise), and Marta Sofia Honer (Adrian Younge) – to create a vibrant and verdant suite of multi-textural psychedelic instrumental folk-funk. (Released: 20/05/22)

Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer - Recordings from the Åland Islands

Lovely debut duo album from the unlikely pairing of Jeremiah Chiu (modular synthesizer) and Marta Sofia Honer (viola), featuring post-composed improvisations interwoven with field recordings from sojourns on the Åland archipelago in the Baltic Sea. For fans of: Ariel Kalma, Franco Battiato, David Behrman, Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, Terry Riley, and Ralf and Florian. (Released: 11/03/22)

Makaya McCraven - In the Moment

Reissue of Makaya McCraven’s 2015 modern classic (and International Anthem debut); in addition to being a Gilles Peterson ‘Album of the Week’, I was voted as a ‘Best Album of 2015’ in The Los Angeles Times, NY Observer, Pop Matters, and Chicago Reader. (Released: 25/11/22)

Photay With Carlos Niño - An Offering

Experimental ambient music like you’ve never heard before, ‘An Offering’ from the absurdly talented duo of Photay and Carlos Niño is all multi-rhythmic, expertly constructed free-floating walls of sound. Taking as its starting point Steve Reich and Susumu Yokota, ‘An Offering’ quickly heads into wild, uncharted sonic territory. (Released: 11/11/22)

Alabaster DePlume - Come With Fierce Grace

‘Come With Fierce Grace’ is the sixth album by the charismatic jazz saxophonist Alabaster DePlume – AKA Angus Fairbairn – and features the Mancunian’s go-to collaborators in the London scene, yielding particular space to percussionist Tom Skinner (The Smile, Sons of Kemet), vocalist Momoko Gill, and percussionist/vocalist Donna Thompson. The result is a raw, beautiful, percussive, in-the-room music that is some of the best of Fairbairn’s remarkable career so far.

Jeff Parker - Forfolks

That name again: Jeff Parker, the feted Tortoise member and virtuoso jazz musician. ‘Forfolks’, an album of sublime solo guitar/electronics, was recorded over two days in June 2021, and includes interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s 'Ugly Beauty’, and the standard 'My Ideal', plus six original compositions. (Released: 10/12/21)

Ruth Goller - Skyllumina 

Perhaps best known for her bass and vocal work with Alabaster DePlume, the Italian-born composer Ruth Goller’s CV includes performance and recording credits with Melt Yourself Down, Shabaka Hutchings, Rokia Traore, and more. On her beguiling second LP (and International Anthem debut), Goller expands on the concept of debut ‘Skylla’ – centred around Slint-like de-tuned bass harmonics, with layered voices – with the novel idea of collaborating with a different drummer on each track. And what a list of percussionists it is, including The Smile's Tom Skinner, Polar Bear and Sons of Kemmet founder Seb Rochford, and International Anthem labelmate Bex Burch. (Released: 01/03/24)

Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble - Where Future Unfolds

Chicago-based sound and visual artist Damon Locks’ ‘Where Future Unfolds’ is a live capture of his Black Monument Ensemble's epic debut at the Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory on the West Side of Chicago. Recalling the spirits of Phil Cohran's Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Eddie Gale's Black Rhythm Happening, Archie Shepp's Attica Blues, and Public Enemy's ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’, the album presents an inspired, innovative and immediate intersection of gospel, jazz, activism and 808 breaks. (Released: 15/04/20)

Ariel Kalma, Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer - The Closest Thing to Silence

In August 2022, Australia-based, French-born fourth-world music legend Ariel Kalma was invited to participate in BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ series of special collaborations. Kalma was quick to suggest working together with two musicians whom he’d never met – the International Anthem recording artists Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer, whose critically-acclaimed ‘Recordings from the Åland Islands’ (spotlighted above) had been released just a few months earlier. The incredible result, ‘The Closest Thing to Silence’, is a modern classic of serene, experimental jazz. (Released: 16/02/24)

Damon Locks & Rob Mazurek - New Future City Radio

Damon Locks is perhaps best known for his expansive latter-day gospel/jazz project Black Monument Ensemble (see above), while fellow Chicagoan Rob Mazurek is feted for his blistering Exploding Star Orchestra (for which Locks provides vocals), and the blistering ‘New Future City Radio’ sees Locks’ BME-style sample-based sound collages, which play out like a series of fractured radio transmissions, providing the compositional bedrock for Mazurek’s Roland SP flourishes and arresting brass improvisations. A masterpiece from two legends of the Chicago avant-garde. (Released: 28/07/23)

Bex Burch - There Is Only Love and Fear

In summer 2022, the British composer Bex Burch was invited by International Anthem to spend a month in the US. Immersing herself in the label’s creative community, the beautiful leftfield-folk album There Is Only Love and Fear emerged from the collaborations and environments she encountered. The eminent cast of musicians who feature on the record includes Ben LaMar Gay, Anna Butterss, and Dan Bitney of Tortoise – all of whom Burch met for the first time in the moments before they played. These moments of instant collaboration were then edited, decomposed, and re-contextualised by Burch, resulting in a deeply organic work of supreme tranquility and experimental exploration, with Burch’s mutative, minimalist percussive patterns at its heart. (Released: 20/10/23) 

Rob Mazurek, Exploding Star Orchestra - Lightning Dreamers 

Dedicated to the late Jaimie Branch (a protégé of Mazurek's), ‘Lightning Dreamers’ features a slimmed-down version of the long-running Exploding Star Orchestra, which includes Jeff Parker (him again), vocalist Damon Locks (him again), drummer Gerald Cleaver, and pianists Angelica Sanchez and Craig Taborn. With a stellar band like that at your disposal, anything is musically possible, and the fiercely imaginative Mazurek takes full advantage, creating an album suffused with four-dimensional chromatic funk, labyrinthine time-signatures and Bartokian riffs. Everyone is on full space-shred mode, helping to make ‘Lightning Dreamers’ one of the finest records of outer-limits exploration you’ll ever hear. (Released: 21/04/23)