Whither the Record Label?

John Schwenkler, who has glued on the sideburns at PoMoCon, links to Helen Rittelmeyer’s discussion of music and place, which excerpts this John Darnielle interview about Durham, NC. Darnielle mentions Merge as part of the Durham scene, reminding me of the curious ways labels, towns, and scenes have always overlapped.
Back when I actually followed music, the label was a meaningful signal of certain meta-musical characteristics. When someone mentioned that they were into a band on Touch and Go or Homestead or Sub Pop or whatever, you didn’t necessarily know what the band sounded like, but you knew that they somehow fit into a particular matrix of other, more familiar, artists. You had some context in which to guess how accessible or “challenging” they may be, or how deeply steeped in some regional scene. Each label was a portfolio that represented someone’s idea of the right balance between diversification and coherence.
This may still be the case, but on the rare occasions that I read album reviews, it seems like the label’s seldom cited as a unit of artistic aggregation. There are collectives and scenes and festivals that bind musicians into communities, but the label appears to do less of this work than it did, say, fifteen years ago. Is this actually the case, or do I just not get out much?