Here is a list of my favorite netlabel releases of all time. All of these albums can be legally downloaded for free (or nearly free) from the netlabel's web page, the artist's web page, or sites like archive.org (the place where the album should be available is given in parenthesis). As far as I know they are all still available. The listing is in no particular order. See the last.fm player for samples of most of the albums as well as some other stuff I've been digging lately.
Artist - Album (Label)
Esem - Scataren (Kahvi) - If I were asked to pick one netlabel album as my favorite, this would probably be it. This is melodic IDM music par excellence, with a warm spacious feel, beautiful melodies, skittering rhythms, and an air of wistfulness. The production is also excellent. I have all three of Esem's albums and like this one better than the other two, which I paid for. In general, I'd say this album is far better than a great deal of what can be paid for. I have about 40 GB of music on my iPod and this one gets played with a fair amount of regularity. If you like electronic music, especially melodic IDM, then do yourself a favor and go download this right now. Perfect music for an overcast or rainy day. (Unfortunately, it seems the album is no longer availabel in MP3 format, but only in OGG. OGG files can be played and burned to disc using the Winamp player.)
Sinq - Passage (Monotonik) - I'd say this one ranks pretty close to the Esem album in terms of my absolute favorite netlabel releases and might even give it a run for its money. Like the Esem album, this is an excellently written and produced melodic IDM record which often conjures up wistful feelings. This one differs, however, in having a more soulful feel on a number of the tracks, including some well done vocals on the track "Be Brave." Sometimes the music has an almost ominous feel to it, though never in a way that is oppressive or scary. Whereas the Esem album seems more like a trek through some exotic jungle landscape, this album gives the feel of being far more rooted in an everyday urban/suburban landscape, though still giving a sense of the mysterious and beautiful that lurks within and behind those everyday realities. Excellent stuff.
Stockfinster - All Becomes Music (Sutemos) - Mixing elements of electronic and ambient music with more conventional instrumentation and vocals, Stockfinster offers up a lovely, melodic album of what could probably be accurately called post-rock music. One of the things that really distinguishes this album for me is the excellent use of sampled dialogue. Whereas the use of sampled dialogue can often feel stale, too clever, or simply banal and overdone, tracks like "Dismantled" and "Duel" use long passages of movie dialogue in conjunction with the music to create a strong emotional impact on the listener. Other tracks, like the closer, "In Transit," use a single line of well timed dialogue to powerful, almost heartbreaking, emotional effect. "A Crack in Time" is another melodic track that features an excellent chorus with actual vocals, though for this listener it is somewhat marred by the long sample of some New Age guru expounding his views. A couple of other tracks also have vocals, the best of which is "Verge," which is very reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins, though with a more electronic edge to it. Beautiful and moving music. (P.S. - There is an excellent alternate version of the title track to this album available from the Sutemos compilation album "Red, Green, Blue and Other Summer Feelings," which features some great music largely in the shoegaze/post-rock vein from a number of excellent artists. I actually prefer it to the one on the album.)
Colin Everingham - Skies of Error (Enpeg)
Xerxes - The Mirror Formula (Xerxes webpage)
(Val)liam - Early Reflections (archive.org)
Somehow, it feels as if I'm forgetting one or two things that ought to be included here, but, then again, perhaps my forgetting them is a sign they don't really belong here. Sometime soon, I hope to do another list featuring my favorite netlabel compilations. I'd also like to do a list of albums that didn't quite make it to this list but that I still think are pretty super. That's it for now. (I'll add comments for the other three albums listed here as I have time and energy.)