A quick city search of www.allrecordlabels.com points out a surprising fact: Seattle currently boasts over 100 local labels. Almost eight years ago, when I moved to Seattle during the inevitable sophomore slump following the international media's newfound infatuation with the city, there were more home-based labels in town than there were venues. But it really hasn't seemed like that lately. Some of those labels have proven more enduring than others--Daniel House's C/Z Records persists in poking its head out of its shell every couple of years with a previously unreleased old item, and Sub Pop seemingly operates as unfazed as ever. For the most part, however, recording labels pop up here and there without much more fanfare than a cursory mention in an album review or a couple of words in a gossip column, then disappear just as quietly. Some, though, are singled out for more attention because their owners have shown themselves to have good ears--a knack for recognizing great new or underexposed bands--and care enough about these bands to see to it personally that their music gets recorded and distributed. Barsuk Records is one example (its association with Death Cab for Cutie caught the attention of many of that band's fans), as was the now-defunct Brown Records (whose owner Ben Bridwell was a tireless scene promoter with great taste--he's the person most responsible for pointing Sub Pop in the direction of the beautifully nuanced Southern folk act Iron & Wine). Sad Robot Records, cofounded by Mike McGonigal, will pick up Brown's catalog and rerelease the first two Carissa's Wierd albums with new tracks this summer; a record from the Terror Sheets should come out next month.

Steve Aoki had already made a name for himself in underground circles with his Los Angeles-based Dim Mak label by the time he and Pretty Girls Make Graves bassist Derek Fudesco cofounded Cold Crush Records last summer. In 2000 Dim Mak released Kill Sadie's Experiments in Expectation before guitarist Jay Clark joined Pretty Girls, and it was Dim Mak who put out PGMG's self-titled EP. After Fudesco saw Hint Hint's first public show at the 2002 Capitol Hill Block Party, he went to Aoki to discuss starting a label, with Hint Hint providing the first release. Sex Is Everything came out at the beginning of 2003, followed by a disc featuring previously unreleased tracks from the Hookers, the band that eventually became the Murder City Devils. A pink vinyl 12-inch from Aoki's pick Gravy Train!!!! came out in April, and Cobra High's Sunset in the Eye of the Hurricane came out last week.

Fudesco has a lot to offer a band that decides to sign on with his label: Besides the fact that Pretty Girls Make Graves have been mentioned numerous times in several national publications, they are now signed to Matador Records and Fudesco plans to take Cold Crush artists on tour with them. He cheerleads harder than just about anyone else I've ever met, telling every journalist he speaks to about local bands he likes. "I won't work with a band I don't want to shove in the face of everyone I talk to," says Fudesco, and I know he means it. Before I even got my menu open when we met for lunch last week, he'd cued up his iPod so I could hear a track from the Anna Oxygen album coming out on Cold Crush in July. By the time lunch was cleared away, I'd heard several songs and what he calls "the most awesome chorus on any record ever." He has reason to be so excited about the release--it's a stunningly full and accomplished-sounding record for a debut from a one-woman band, and it'll appeal to anyone who ever liked Erasure, Yaz, or OMD.

Fudesco and Aoki think of the inventive postpunk bands on Cold Crush as family, and offer a 50-50 profit split for each record. "I love where indie music is going now," Aoki says. "There's a stronger sense of community, and I think the public wants that too. They don't just want a business--they want to feel the love the label has for its bands. Cold Crush started quickly, and already the bands are really tight with each other. With that feeling in mind, I'm really confident in the label. The support is already there, and that's really all you need."

kathleen@thestranger.com