The Key's Year-End Mania: Brian Wilensky's favorite hype labels of 2018 - WXPN
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photo by Brian Wilensky for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, Key vinylologist Brian Wilensky unpacks the part of the record that often goes overlooked: the hype label.

Chances are you bought a record or two this year, and paid little mind to the hype label slapped on the shrink wrap. Maybe you briefly glanced over it while frantically tearing the plastic from the corner of the sleeve to release the album from the its embrace. Maybe you contemplated the verbiage on the sticker while in the store, pushing you to put the hammer down on a $22.67 LP that you’ve only hear good things about. These labels, as innocuous as many of them can be, deserve some recognition.

The hype label is the last piece of bait, at least if you’re shopping in a store, that the record label and/or artist has to reel in the listener, rather, consumer. They’re important in that they’re supplemental to the album art, an additional piece that’s often communicative for what’s seen on the cover, but also suggestive of what’s to come aurally. But they’re intriguing in how easily they can be overlooked. Which in turn, they often get thrown out. And saving them? Well, who really wants to cut the plastic wrap just to save the sticker? Where would you store it – in the sleeve with the album? It’ll probably get crushed, much like that annoying download card that will never be redeemed. Keep it in a binder or collage? Sure, that sounds nice but also sounds like extra work and I’m not very crafty.

If I like one enough, whether for the language or design, I’ll save it by ever so carefully slitting the cellophane, forever preserving the sleeve in its original wrap and keeping these stickers intact and where they belong: with the record. Here are a few of my favorite hype labels of 2018.

photo by Brian Wilensky for WXPN

The Sueves – R.I.P. Clearance Event: Just look at all that text. Chicago’s Hozac Records, takes it old school in its way of describing this barn burner of an album by The Sueves. Funny thing, the sticker doesn’t even mention the album’s title. Instead, you’re left with nothing but forceful wording for this three-piece’s searing guitar playing, which is right up front with the singer’s raspy howl on “Dead People’s Cars,” and “Never Been to the Beach.”

photo by Brian Wilensky for WXPN

Mountain Movers – Pink Skies: Stickers don’t lie. As Trouble in Mind describes on this hype label, Pink Skies is a trip through space. With the dragging tempo of “Snow Drift” being the only time this album touches the ground, the murmuring hum that follows on “Bridge to this World” sets up the blown out “My Eyes Are Always Heavy,” just right. Psych albums like this one aren’t every day, every vibe plays. They’re an escape to a specific headspace when the time is right.

photo by Brian Wilensky for WXPN

Charnel Ground – Charnel Ground: Once you can get past the fact that a charnel ground is an above ground area where human remains are left to decay, this album, released on Austin, Texas’ 12XU, presents a lot to explore. The foundation of the first two songs aren’t holding much of anything back for those drawn to noise and drone. However, the album’s sparse yellow sticker on its plastic wrap, which features only the band members’ well-known names as descriptors, matches with the B-side of the album. The single 18-minute song on that side of the record, which shares a name with the band and album, lands curiously at the opposite end of the spectrum where the album started. But it only proves this three-piece’s strength beyond its only five songs.

photo by Brian Wilensky for WXPN

Ethers – Ethers: The last line of the hype label speaks loudly to this album from Chicago’s Ethers. Many people have yearned for better days and felt the times have been pushing against them at one point or another, especially in 2018. The former members of Chicago garage punk mainstays Heavy Times, Radar Eyes and Outer Minds, seem to be finding catharsis throughout this one. When reflectively singing “We could never find the time,” on “Past My Prime,” it’s clear as day this band’s feeding off what’s eating at them, but undoubtedly moving ahead from it.

photo by Brian Wilensky for WXPN

Cheap Nasties – Cheap Nasties: With another solid archival release from Hozac Records, it’s exciting to find out how punk rock was developing in the late 1970’s Australia. Does it say “snot,” at the end of that hype label? Of course it does. Per the sticker, this LP is raw and not-yet melodic, too. Yeah, nailed it. This reissue of totally blown-out lo-fi punk rock shot from the hip that will blow the felt right off your speakers.

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