There are labels, and there are labels. The former put out music for commercial gain and both make a lot of money and also make people very happy as they do it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hard to form a relationship with them.
Then there are labels. Xtra Mile are a label. They sign who they like. They release records how they like. They sign bands because they’re friends with them. Then they sign the friends of those bands. Just because. It leads to a kind of organic growth, bands begetting other bands, recommendations leading taking the label from folk rock to hardcore punk. Some of their acts, like Frank Turner, go on to open the Olympic Games and tour in arenas. Some you’ll never hear from again. That’s the charm.
It’s a spirit which informs their latest compilation album. Side A features a diverse romp through the label’s roster. Side B, though, is a 21-track smorgasbord of bands that have been recommended to the label by the acts on Side A. It exactly encompasses the Xtra Mile spirit: bands discovering new bands, which Xtra Mile then promote. But there’s also something else very Xtra Mile about it all: just as with the acts on the label, almost none of the bands on the compilation sounds anything like the next one. It’s a scattergun blast of music, the only thread that holds it together being the label that is putting it all out.
Side A opens with Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Laura Jane Grace’s triumphant punk about her gender challenges. Cheap Girls’ Man In Question follows with blue-collar rock, before the working man singer-songwriter Northcote shines. And so it goes on – sound after sound after sound. Billy The Kid broods and howls, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s indie rock shimmers, before Mull Historical Society’s psych folk or Beans On Toast’s witty lo-fi-isms alter the mood again. There’s ska with Sonic Boom Six, then Jamie Lenman’s furious thrash metal and finally the Frank Turner sideproject Mongol Horde and its bombastic hardcore. In short, there’s music to discover at every turn. Some of it will inevitably miss its mark, but some of it will surprise and delight.
Side B continues in the same vein. But more so. Failures Union sing soaring, chiming indie rock and are followed by the beautiful voice of Kayleigh Goldsworthy and her pleading folk. The Lion And The Wolf’s Ghosts On Trinity is sparse and menacing, and comes moments before Spring Offensive’s electro-rock or the pounding rap-rock of The Karma Party. You get the point: there are more sounds here than it’s possible to keep track of, all of it nestling alongside each other surprisingly comfortably given the frequent lack of shared DNA.
It’s with compilations like this that Xtra Mile stand out. A little label simply sharing the sounds they like. It’s why they’re a label like labels used to be: one whose output you can follow because you trust them – even if you don’t always like the music they release, you respect the fact it has been written and that you’ve been shown it. Wasn’t music better when there were more labels like this?