Sacred Bones: Label Brings Unearthed Music to Light

Sacred Bones

Imps of Perversion, the new album from Brooklyn’s Pop. 1280, ricochets the sour roil of its punk guitars off a frigid keyboard squeal. It’s queasy, abrasive, occasionally hostile and scarily absorbing — at once a purist-satisfying throwback and bristlingly modern. 

It’s also on Sacred Bones Records, so all that makes sense.

In 2007, at the height of the Brooklyn indie-rock wave, Sacred Bones debuted with a single from bleak post-punk band The Hunt. Their album, One Thousand Nights, inaugurated a label that nine years later has become one of the most selective, aesthetically confident and uncompromising in its city.

It became the home not just of Brooklyn post-punk (beside The Hunt, there’s Florida transplants Crystal Stilts, the clamorous, rangy The Men, some early releases from Mike Sniper’s Blank Dogs and a small, knotty plethora of others), but of acclaimed art-poppers like Jenny Hval, the noise-besotten Zola Jesus, lovelorn folkie Marissa Nadler, bubbling psych-rockers Psychic Ills and the glorious noise of Margaret Chardiet’s Pharmakon.

As it grew, Sacred Bones began to land bigger and more established artists without abandoning its commitment to eerie, unconventional sound. The label found a surprisingly fertile source of that sound in a venerable pair of movie directors: In 2013, it put out the second studio album of dreamy blues-rock by the uncanny David Lynch, who provided lyrics for the glassy, ravishing Julee Cruise songs in his movies as far back as 1986’s Blue Velvet. (It would also reissue the menacing soundtrack to Lynch’s 1977 Eraserhead.)

Lynch’s contemporary John Carpenter, who has scored nearly every one of his own films (Halloween, Escape From New York, They Live and the 1976 original of Assault on Precinct 13), recorded his first album of non-film music for Sacred Bones in 2015. Now, the still-small label is being feted by the likes of Billboard and The Wire as one of the best in America, even as its releases grew, if anything, wilder and noisier.

Sacred Bones enters 2016 led by Pop.1280’s postmodern punk and a new set of bejewelled synthscapes from the Danish band Lust for Youth, whose journey on the label took them from minimalist one-man gloom to lush ’80s-tweaking synth pop.

The label may be bigger now — and broader, stretching from Brooklyn to Copenhagen and beyond — meaning it can’t possibly feel as cozy as it did in 2007. But it’s never lost its taste for the dark, the abrasive and the oddly comforting; nor has it  lost track of its original mission: “bringing our friends’ music to light, as well as unearthing music lost to time.”