The 2018 A2IM Libera Awards Will Be a Declaration of Independents

Aimee Mann
Future-Image via ZUMA Press

Libera Awards performers Mann

When the A2IM Libera Awards are presented in New York on June 21 as part of Indie Music Week, the event will honor the best among independent artists, albums and companies -- but also the strength of the entire indie music business. “We want to celebrate our own, but we also want to use [the event] as a platform,” says Richard James Burgess, CEO of A2IM (American Association of Independent Music), which represents over 500 independently owned record labels and presents both the awards and Indie Music Week.

The U.S. market share of independently owned labels -- ranging from small artist-owned companies to Big Machine Music Group, home to superstar Taylor Swift -- has reached 37 percent, according to a report last October from MIDiA Research. “If you want to compare that to when A2IM started in 2005,” says Burgess, “it was 29 percent.”

The growth of streaming music promises to further strengthen the indie sector, allowing fans to access more artists and deeper music catalogs on demand. Indie Music Week’s sessions (June 18-21) will help independent companies embrace the constant change that the industry has experienced over the last five years. “Last year, we [looked at] virtual reality, we did the connected car, we did smart speakers. This year, we’re doing artificial intelligence,” says Burgess. “It’s a way of having an eye to the future. It’s a way of not getting blindsided the way the entire industry did in 1999,” when file-sharing technology decimated music sales.

Among those giving keynote addresses during Indie Music Week are Facebook head of music business development and partnerships Tamara Hrivnak and 300 Entertainment CEO Kevin Liles.

The event will include performances by Amen Dunes, Vicktor Taiwó, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, “SoCal country” artist Sam Outlaw, New Mexico singer-guitarist Raúl Midón, pioneering hip-hop group Funky 4 + 1 and a tribute to the late soul singers Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley that will also feature Lee Fields and Saundra Williams.

Brett Gurewitz, who co-founded influential punk band Bad Religion in 1980 and went on to launch Epitaph Records (home to The Offspring and Rancid), will receive a lifetime achievement award.

Here are the Libera Award nominees for album of the year.

Big Thief
Capacity - Saddle Creek

Big Thief’s second album, Capacity, turns small details into big statements. Following its acclaimed 2017 album, Masterpiece, the Brooklyn-based quartet retreated to a studio in New York’s Catskill Mountains to record Capacity, which reached No. 8 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart last July. After two sold-out shows in September 2017 at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, Big Thief’s summer tour includes Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival on July 20.

Chuck Berry
Chuck - Dualtone Music Group

Tragically, rock’n’roll pioneer Berry never had a chance to promote what may have been a career-reviving album. Chuck was released last June, three months after his death at age 90. The album captures the shambling, kinetic nature of his many years of concerts with local pickup bands, and it also has the spark of inspiration that fans adored. The record topped the Blues Albums chart for five weeks following its release.

Cigarettes After Sex
Cigarettes After Sex - Partisan Records

Cigarettes After Sex frontman Greg Gonzalez has called his Brooklyn band’s slow-burning songs “erotic lullabies,” which is perfect because they belong in the same smoking lounge as Portishead’s “Sour Times” or Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” The group’s self-titled album reached No. 8 on the Heatseekers Album chart in July 2017. Cigarettes After Sex is touring Europe through September, with a detour homeward to play Lollapalooza in Chicago in August. The group will play There’s No Leaving New York at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens on Sept. 29 with The National, Jason Isbell & The 400 UnitPhoebe Bridgers and Adia Victoria.

Father John Misty
Pure Comedy - Sub Pop Records

The singer-songwriter born Josh Tillman can be sweet, wise and poignant, but as Father John Misty, he’s also got a sharp sense of satire. The centerpiece of Pure Comedy is “Leaving LA,” a rambling 13-minute rant that refers to Oedipus, Amy Grant and “these L.A. phonies and their bullshit bands.” His current tour plays the Hollywood Bowl on June 24, on a bill with Gillian Welch and Big Thief. Misty’s newest album, God’s Favorite Customer, arrived June 1.

Slowdive - Dead Oceans

Rivaling My Bloody Valentine among European shoegaze bands that take a long time to make an album, Slowdive released its self-titled record last spring -- only the fourth studio album in the group’s nearly three-decade career. A shimmering, seven-minute opening track, which doesn't have guitar or keyboard solos so much as atmospheric repetition, is aptly titled “Slomo.” The band (featuring members who have been focusing on another ensemble, Mojave 3, for years) reunited in 2014 and regularly plays festivals, including London’s British Summer Time Hyde Park on July 7.


Best American Roots and Folk Album

Aimee Man
Mental Illness
(SuperEgo Records)

Big Thief
(Saddle Creek)

Hiss Golden Messenger
Hallelujah Anyhow
(Merge Records)

Kevin Morby
City Music
(Dead Oceans)

Phoebe Bridgers
Strangers in the Alps
(Dead Oceans)

Best Blues Album

Benjamin Booker
ATO Records

Chuck Berry
Dualtone Music Group

Joe Bonamassa
Live at Carnegie Hall
J&R Adventures

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Front Porch Sessions
Family Owned Records

Best Classical Album

Boris Giltburg; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor)
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 - 8 Études-Tableaux, Op. 33

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta (conductor)
Novák: In the Tatra Mountains, Lady Godiva & Eternal Longing

Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin (conductor) | Copland: Symphony No. 3 & 3 Latin
American Sketches


City Slang

Luca D'Alberto
7K! Records


Best Country/Americana Album

Deer Tick
Deer Tick Vol. 1
(Partisan Records)

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
The Nashville Sound
(Southeastern Records/Thirty Tigers)

Lee Ann Womack
The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone
(ATO Records)

On the Rocks
(Big Machine Records)

The Wild Reeds
The World We Built
(Dualtone Music Group)

Best Dance/Electronic Album

Ninja Tune

Four Tet
New Energy
Text Records

Nicolas Jaar
Sirens (deluxe edition)
Other People/Kobalt

Oneohtrix Point Never
Good Time Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Warp Records

Sylvan Esso
What Now
Loma Vista Recordings


Best Jazz Album

Kamasi Washington
Harmony of Difference
Young Turks

Kickinit Alone
Leaving Records

King Krule
The Ooz
Matador Records

Mike Stern
Heads Up International

Thelonious Monk
Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
Sam Records

Best Hip-Hop/Rap Album

Lil Baby 
Harder Than Hard
(Quality Control Music)

Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs
Gems From the Equinox
(Soul Assassins)

Sean Price
Imperious Rex
(Ruck Down Records)??

Shabazz Palaces
Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star
(Sub Pop Records)?

The Saga Continues
(eOne/36 Chambers)

Best Latin Album

Chicano Batman
Freedom Is Free
ATO Records

Él Mató A Un Policía Motorizado
La Síntesis O'Konor
Nacional Records

Eliane Elias
Dance of Time
Concord Jazz

XL Recordings

La Vida Boheme
La Lucha
Nacional Records

Best Live Act

Father John Misty
(Sub Pop Records)

Flying Lotus 
(Warp Records)

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
(ATO Records)

Nick Cave
(Bad Seed LTD)

Queens of the Stone Age 
(Matador Records)

Best Metal Album

Chelsea Wolfe
Hiss Spun
(Sargent House)

The Dusk In Us
(Epitaph Records)

Mutoid Man
War Moans
(Sargent House)

(Relapse Records)

(New Damage Records)

Best R&B Album

Jamila Woods

?Katie Hargrove
Katie Hargrove
(Transoceanic Records)

Take Me Apart
(Warp Records)

Mavis Staples
If All I Was Was Black
(Anti- Records)

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Soul of a Woman
(Daptone Records

Best Rock Album

(Sub Pop Records)

Manchester Orchestra
A Black Mile to the Surface
(Loma Vista Recordings)

Queens of the Stone Age
(Matador Records)

The National 
Sleep Well Beast

Best Outlier Album

Alex Cameron
Forced Witness
Secretly Canadian

XL Recordings

Moses Sumney

Sleaford Mods
English Tapas
Rough Trade Records

It's a Myth
Merge Records

Creative Packaging 

Bob’s Burgers
The Bob’s Burgers Music Album
Sub Pop Records

Father John Misty
Pure Comedy
Sub Pop Records

Hüsker Dü
Savage Young Dü
Numero Group

Sharon Jones & the E.L. Fields Gospel Wonders
Heaven Bound/Key to the Kingdom
Daptone Records

The National
Sleep Well Beast

Independent Champion





Thirty Tigers

Vinyl Me Please

Marketing Genius

Bob's Burgers
Bob's Burgers
(Marketing Lead: Jon Strickland)
Sub Pop Records

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
(Marketing Lead: Eric Moore / Jon Salter / Dave McClain)
ATO Records

Perfume Genius
Wreath Video Contest
(Marketing Lead: Rian Fossett, Marisa Gesualdi, Gabe Spierer, Hana Mogulescu)
Beggars Group

(Marketing Lead: Radiohead, Patrick North, Blake Thomas, Pablo Douzoglou, Claire Taylor)
Beggars Group

Run the Jewels
Call Ticketron! - 646.846.RTJ3 (
(Marketing Lead: Amaechi Uzoigwe & Lee Martin)
Run the Jewels, Inc.

Slowdive Album Campaign
(Marketing Lead: Phil Waldorf / Tom Davies)
Secretly Group

Best Re-Issue

Alice Coltrane
World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
Luaka Bop

Elliott Smith
Either/Or: Expanded Edition
Kill Rock Stars

Fela Kuti
Fela Kuti Box Set #4 Curated By Erykah Badu
Knitting Factory Records

Hüsker Dü
Savage Young Dü
The Numero Group

XL Recordings

Breakthrough Artist

Alice Merton
No Roots
(Mom + Pop Music)

Jamila Woods

Power Trip
Nightmare Logic
(Southern Lord)

Princess Nokia
1992 Deluxe
(Rough Trade Records)

Trippie Redd
A Love Letter to You
(Ten Thousand Projects/Caroline)

Best Sync Usage

Cigarettes After Sex
The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu
(Music Supervision: Jessica Dolinger)
Partisan Records / Spanish Prayers

Luca D'Alberto
Salvation Episode One
(Music Supervision: Nora Felder)
7K! Records

Run the Jewels
EA's FIFA '18 Official trailer starring Cristiano Ronaldo
(Music Supervision: Raphaella Lima & Amaechi Uzoigwe)
Run the Jewels, Inc.

Sofi Tukker
Apple - Meet iPhone X
(Music Supervision: TBWA\Media Arts Lab)
Sofi Tukker LLC/Ultra Records

William Onyeabor
Apple - iPhone 7 Plus - Barbers
(Music Supervision: Apple/Licensing: Fine Gold Music)
Luaka Bop

Best World Album

Forró In The Dark
Nacional Records

XL Recordings

Ibibio Sound Machine
Merge Records


Vieux Farka Touré
Six Degrees Records

Label of the Year (Big)

ATO Records

Dead Oceans

Loma Vista Recordings

Ninja Tune

Numero Group

Warp Records

Label of the Year (Small)

Awesome Tapes From Africa

Daptone Records

Kill Rock Star

Sacred Bones

Triple Crown Records

Video of the Year

XL Recordings

Noga Erez
Off the Radar
City Slang

Scared Money
Stones Throw

Perfume Genius
Die 4 You
Matador Records

Something for your M.I.N.D.
Domino Recording Company?

This article originally appeared in the June 15 issue of Billboard. 




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