THE LABEL Barsuk (pronounced bar-suke; Russian for ''badger'') ESTABLISHED 1994 AESTHETIC You know the indie-rock template: Cofounders Christopher Possanza and Josh Rosenfeld couldn't find a label for their experimental Seattle rock band, This Busy Monster, so they started their own. ''We were hand-assembling records on the floor of [Possanza's] house and they all had dog hair in them,'' remembers Rosenfeld. After such humble beginnings (the label only released three singles in its first four years), Barsuk found its niche in the power-pop underground by issuing Deathcab for Cutie's dreamy debut in 1998. ESSENCE Although Deathcab singer Ben Gibbard is their highest-profile troubadour, Barsuk boasts enough emo and indie confessors -- including Kind of Like Spitting, Nada Surf, and the Long Winters -- to melt the iciest heart. ''Every release has strong songwriting,'' says Rosenfeld. ''If I could put out a Paul Simon record, I'd love to.'' Simon might want to consider it. Barsuk aims to take care of its touchy-feely roster financially. ''We've sent our contract to bands' attorneys and I've had attorneys remark, 'Wow. Really?''' says Rosenfeld. ''That makes me feel good.'' ESSENTIAL Deathcab for Cutie's latest, ''Transatlanticism;'' Nada Surf's excellent post-''Popular'' record, ''Let Go.'' EXPECT... Albums from indie-pop auteur John Vanderslice and recent signees Aveo in early 2004.