Timeless Pop: Cascine Records Reflects on Half a Decade of Music in Brooklyn and Beyond

Yumi Zouma will play Cascine Records' birthday bash at the Wythe Hotel on September 17, 2015.EXPAND
Yumi Zouma will play Cascine Records' birthday bash at the Wythe Hotel on September 17, 2015.
Photo by Chad Kamenshine

It’s not easy to isolate what makes Cascine so special. The catalog of the boutique Brooklyn label flits about genres, textures, and geographic time zones like so many butterflies evading an entomologist’s pin. A Cascine release might incorporate real instruments or digital breakbeats, offer nebulous atmospheres or slick immediacy, and hail from anywhere in between Sweden and New Zealand. There’s a core methodology, though, that can be found in an exacting blend of warm and cool emotional hues. Bright euphoric moments are often flecked with regret on Cascine releases; and those steeped in melancholy are tinged with the rosy outlines of uplift.

For Cascine manager Andi Wilson, the sound of the label can be summed up in a succinct description: "Timeless pop."

Take the 2014 music videos for New Zealand group Yumi Zouma’s “The Brae” and “A Long Walk Home for Parted Lovers.” Together the videos tell the story of a young woman cheating on her boyfriend with her best friend. It’s a simple narrative, yet the videos convey the woman’s complex mix of resentment, exhilaration, despair, and affection through little more than a series of close-ups on her loaded glances. Faces, like pop melodies, can telegraph conflicting emotions at the same time. That’s what elevates a lover’s look or a musical phrase into something you never forget — the spark of antithetical feelings converging in a single sublime gesture.

“Cascine captures a sense of internal and external wanderlust,” notes publicist Sandra Croft. With Croft, Wilson, founder Jeff Bratton, and licensing director Marchese Taylor, the number of people on the staff at Cascine Records rounds out to an intimate four. “Our sound is a dream of travel and time, following an endless summer around the world: the Mediterranean, Helsinki, London, Florence, Sydney, Los Angeles. Getting there, but also just finding that place.”

Bratton stumbled on the catalyst for Cascine back in 2009. “I was working with a Swedish label at the time, a wonderful little label named Service,” he explains over email. “We were sent some demos by Shine 2009 and I just fell in love with them. They were intended for Service, but Service didn’t think they were a fit. I was nuts about the tracks and decided to start Cascine to release them. A classic case of passion driving decision-making, despite experience.”

The Scandinavian connection should not be overlooked. “For years before Cascine began, I was in love with the sound of bands like Boat Club, Air France, the Tough Alliance, and the Embassy,” explains Croft, naming several revered groups who helped make Northern Europe the epicenter for an explosion in delectable Balearic pop throughout the Aughts.

“When Cascine started, I wanted to recapture the feeling that I got from those artists — an escape into something deeper, tender, more real,” she adds.

Over the last half-decade Cascine has released dozens of albums from artists all over the world. For Bratton, Cascine's reissue of House of 909's The Children We Were is one of the most prized titles the label's put out. “It’s essentially a deep-house LP from the mid-Nineties that I really connected with as a kid in college," he explains. "Once we decided to reissue it, it took over a year to track down the original artists and another year to get the materials pulled together. The process was a trip — super zany and incredible communications with the 909 guys.”

“Boat Club’s Caught the Breeze reissue has made a profound impact on my life,” gushes Wilson regarding her favorite pick. “I go back to it often to reflect. There’s nothing more classic than dream-pop of its quality.”

Croft agrees, calling it the “epitome of refinement and internal voyages.” Her favorite, though, is Southern Shores’ Atlantic, “a masterwork in escapism, so eloquently woven and evocative."

Taylor chooses the debut album from the first band Cascine signed: “Realism by Shine 2009. That was early 2011, when I first discovered Cascine, and I played that record nonstop. It felt like something created specifically for me — the art, the lyrics and overall vibe. I must hold the world record play count for the song 'New Rules.’ ”

The employees’ palpable enthusiasm for the music they put out translates to the bands they work with.

“There is something deeply honest and pure about Cascine that is very hard to describe,” remarks Callan Clendenin of Brooklyn trio Lemonade. “We always know how we want things to sound, so the label supports us and helps us realize the vision.”

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Despite its enthusiastic fan base and impressive catalog, Cascine's staff find running a label to be an increasingly fraught task in a shifting economic climate. “The industry has gone through massive changes in the last few years and it’s left a lot of us trying to figure out how to make it a worthwhile business pursuit while keeping the passion high,” explains Croft when I ask about challenges facing the imprint. “Financially, an independent label’s slice of the pie is narrowing while fans become more fickle.”

Wilson is equally realistic about the tough financial calculus facing bands today. “Everything to create a successful release — PR program, radio campaign, retail marketing, vinyl manufacturing, music videos, remixes, tour support, etc. — requires a significant investment,” she notes. “The reality is that for most artists, those monies are never recouped via record sales and syncs.”

Cascine emerged from the MP3 blog paradigms of the late Aughts, when a relatively small sphere of devoted fans built communities by scouring the Web for new tunes. Over the last few years, Croft describes watching this culture “transform from something holistic and heartfelt into an extremely crowded space governed by metrics, page views, and social media engagement."

“Life is weird and wonderful,” she adds, “and we connect closely to the music we release, so a purely metric-based approach doesn’t do that view many favors.”

That said, everyone at Cascine remains optimistic about the label's fate. “Being independent allows us greater control of artistic decisions,” Croft observes, “and puts us in direct contact with fans, which gives us deeper insight into what they love and how to deliver on that without compromising our ideals."

“That connection is special,” agrees Wilson.

“It’s a challenge finding time for new endeavors, but essential if we want to thrive moving forward,” concludes Bratton. “Whatever comes next, the Cascine brand and our core values will remain at the center.”

Cascine will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a birthday bash at the Wythe Hotel, featuring live performances by Lemonade, Korallreven, Yumi Zouma, and more on September 17. Grab tickets here, and prepare for the party by streaming an exclusive retrospective playlist the label put together for us below.

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