On the week ending 8th May many music lovers dreams came true as they were suddenly landed with surprise releases by Radiohead and James Blake alongside hugely anticipated releases from ANOHNI and Skepta.
However, almost in anticipation of this glut of music being released at the same time XL Recordings, the home of Radiohead played a very clever game. In teasing, audiences with the Burn the Witch video and then surprise releasing Radiohead’s new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, the band and the label garnered huge media attention and huge sales. Currently Radiohead’s album looks set to top the UK charts ahead of Skepta and Beyonce and also to be a huge success in the States, anticipation led to an explosion of success.
But during this week XL recordings didn’t only release the hugely successful Radiohead album with much less fanfare the label also put out the critically successful new release from Kaytranada 99.9%. An album, which was so warmly recieved not only did it have critics claiming it to be better than Radiohead’s and James Blake’s but also to be on a par with releases by J Dilla and DJ Shadow.
Both albums are nothing short of staggeringly brilliant, Kaytranada provides a hip hop soundtrack to the summer. Whilst Radiohead provide both their most accessible and darkest record in many years. Both are very different but each will end up high upon critics’ end of year best of lists.
The tactic of achieving high sales whilst also maintaining critical and underground success is one which XL Recordings have suceeded with many times previously. The success the label experienced with the Prodigy’s album Music for the Jilted Generation being the starting point. But just last year as the label shifted galaxies of records with Adele they were also releasing an electronic compilation called The Story Continues, which collected tracks from underground artist who all have an ear firmly tuned to the future.
In being able to maintain both critical and commercial success whilst continuing as an independent label XL Recordings walk a fine tight rope, which no other label has been able to balance along before or after their formation in 1989. Not only does the critical and commercial success of the label stand as tribute to this but so does the list of artists wishing to work with them: Radiohead after falling out with Parlophone and abandoning all labels eventually turned to XL Recordings, their label mates include the notoriously difficult Zomby, the White Stripes, Wiley, Vampire Weekend, Adele, Basement Jaxx, Badly Drawn Boy, the list is endless and amazingly diverse.Such diversity has seen many incredible albums. And Radiohead’s A Man Shaped Pool and Kaytranada’s 99.9% stand alongside any one of them as truly great musical masterpieces.
Last week may have been the biggest release week for new albums this year with Radiohead winning the sales battle. However, last week really only ever belonged to XL Recordings.