While for me the past decade hasn’t been the revelation musically that the 90s were, there was still some amazing material. And here are the top twenty songs of the decade, according to me.
It’s going to take the best part of two months to post these on successive Tuesdays, but below begins my top 100 tracks of the past decade (and followed by the top 50 albums). There are very few tracks from this year in the list, simply because they may not have grabbed me enough yet. Indeed I may well revisit this list sometime and see if any more from 2009 should have made it in. But anyway, enough of that, let’s get started.
But first: you may disagree with items in this list this week and in the coming weeks, as I post the rest of it, but remember this – this is my top 100 tracks that are here for all kinds of reasons, and if you disagree, tell me what you would have put in, not what I shouldn’t have included.
[A final note: This was written in 2009, and aside from formatting updates to match the new website style, this is unedited.]
Full-on, rhythmic-industrial noise seems to be in short-supply nowadays, so thank god W.A.S.T.E. are here to assault our ears. Just about everything they have released so far seems to have declared war on my speakers, my ears, and dancefloors if I dare play them when DJing, and I fucking love it. Bring a level of industrial rage that few other acts seem to even dare aspire to, this track is the centrepiece of the Violent Delights EP, with a writhing mass of samples that fill the gaps behind a jackhammer beat that could quite likely rip holes in the floor. Oh, and add to that the high-pitched squeals that some find desperately uncomfortable (I’m all but banned from playing this in my girlfriend’s presence)…and you have one hell of a confrontational track. But then, isn’t this what this genre is supposed to be about?
I Hate My Fucking Job (Rmx by Imperative Reaction)
A curious lot, this band – slightly odd industrial with the band choosing to pursue a steampunk image (just check this live version of the original of this track). The lyrical theme, as the title suggests, is rather more rooted in the present, a seething tirade at shitty, dead-end jobs – and features unexpected sample use from Red Dwarf episode Timeslides. While the original is interesting, it’s the Imperative Reaction remix that gets the nod, for it’s beefing up of the beats and generally tweaking the track to make it much, much more snappy and immediate…
The one time this band have reached near-perfection, this icy synthpop track was one of those rare tracks that seemed to appeal right across the spectrum. Shorn of the experimentalism that the band are sometimes guilty of indulging in on their albums, this was simply a straight-up pop song that mystifyingly never became a massive hit (despite being re-released). Some people have no taste, clearly…
There was more than a little fuss when this band first appeared, mainly I think down to the appearance of Maynard James Keenan as vocalist. Needless to say, his vocals are immediately recognisable, but what he brings here is very different to his work in Tool, and in other subsequent side-projects. There was a dark, gothic heart to many of the songs, and in addition the lyrics were a little less cryptic and perhaps more nakedly emotional. That said, debate still appears to rage over what this particular song is about – I’m going with the religious imagery/allegory explanation, myself – but whatever it is about, its an astonishingly tense lesson in musical control, as the verses are reserved, before a whole torrent of emotion is unleashed for the chorus and the climax of the song, too. Not only the best APC track by a country mile, it’s probably up in the top handful of tracks Maynard has ever been involved with, as far as I’m concerned.
The last recorded word by the greatest black metal band of them all, this was the staggering closing track to their most experimental album, an album that probably gained them a whole lot of new fans in their quest to expand their sound. It wasn’t in vain, either, in my view – this was the best Emperor ever sounded, a dense, orchestral-Black Metal sound that at the same time never allowed any element to be buried in the mix, and when you ended up with songs like this, it was hard not to want to bow to it and salute what a fucking amazing job they had done.
The jaw-dropping, bleak closer of A Sun That Never Sets, this is the deepest, darkest blues updated as only Neurosis can – complete with the tolling of a funeral bell heralding the opening of the track, before the riffs rain down from the black clouds that gather over them. Many have problems categorising Neurosis, and it’s not hard to see why. Not quite doom metal, not quite blues, not quite stoner metal, hell, they even include industrial electronics and production methods at points. Whatever they are, though, they stand alone above so many other bands who have never quite nailed the sheer depth of emotion and reach of their musical experimentation, and for me, with this track in particular, they remain utterly, utterly peerless.
Left Spine Down
U Can’t Stop The Bomb
Fighting For Voltage
So, maybe, this is what cyberpunk actually is, in sonic terms. Punk song structures and attitude, with a sleek industrial production and effects. Oh, and kick-ass songs like this, too. With links to various other north american industrial bands, they’ve got themselves quite a fanbase in a short space of time, and it’s not hard to see why. When they are done releasing a seemingly endless set of remixes of their songs – and notably, perhaps, this track has been released a lot less than some of their other output – their next new material should be worth hearing. But if you need somewhere to start with this band, you need to start with this.
It was definitely this track that made me really sit up and notice what Mastodon were doing. The first album was good, solid metal, but it was Leviathan where the staggering scope of Mastodon’s influences and aims were laid bare. And it was the opening track, Blood and Thunder – surely the first metal track ever about Ahab and his hunt for the great whale – that stormed into being one of the most played metal tracks in some time. With good reason, too – it’s storming, driving metal with an unusually clear narrative, and a massive, massive whale-sized chorus. Although for reasons probably best known to the band, the video involves a lot of clowns.
Collide are one of those bands that many people have heard of, but may not have actually heard. At least, that used to be the way. Nowadays they seem to have a little more of a profile, and there can be no doubt that it is this track that has had a significant hand in that. The original, languid version on Some Kind of Strange was good, but once Charlie Clouser got it’s hands on it, it was transformed into a slow-burning, sensual epic that brought to mind all kinds of fun things, and also helpfully summed up all that was great about this band. More based around atmosphere than anything else, their intricately constructed tracks are frequently soundscapes that reward repeated listening, and this was exactly that – this remix, though, just helped to make it that much more accessible. The subsequent video edit is pretty much a merging of elements of the Emirian mix and the original, too, hence why I’m linking to that here.
Inexcusably shorn of it’s trademark voiceover intro for the re-release of Hold Your Colour, I’ve seen this titanic, armour-plated track obliterate dancefloors in clubs all over the place, from drum’n’bass clubs to metal clubs, industrial/goth clubs, indie clubs…this and the act’s appeal seemed limitless to start with once they caught on, but it never quite seemed right once they turned into a full band and started adding vocals. Nothing on In Silico comes close to the mastery of Hold Your Colour, but then this is one step further on from that too. Pure fun-loving, jump-up drum’n’bass with a horrendously catchy – and yes, cheesy – synth hook, I now know what “the sonic re-creation of the end of the world” sounds like – this.
Stromkern may have finally got the recognition they deserved with the highly-political album Light It Up a few years later (and in particular the single Stand Up), but those who were already fans surely most have known what was to come following tracks like this. A devastating critique of the suicide bomber, asking whether it is really worth killing yourself for a belief, it literally explodes – pun intended – into the chorus. Probably Stromkern’s most nakedly hip-hop moment, too, it was also the opener for their set at Infest 2006, and was just as effective then.
Five years have now elapsed since the last recorded output from Rico, and while the website and myspace remain live there has been precious little word to suggest that there might be more material coming. More’s the pity, as his second album was even stronger than the first, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. An album that grew and grew in stature, revealing it’s many charms listen by listen, it was also unusual in that all of the strongest tracks – without exception – were in the second half of the album, almost as if the tracklisting was back to front. It culminated in this slowly unfurling call to grasp the here-and-now and do something, anything, before you waste your life wishing it away. An unusually uplifting track from Rico, in some respects, if this was the last word, it’s an impressive way to finish. On the flipside, closing on a high like this only makes me hope all the more that another release will follow.
By 2006, and the impending arrival of this album, I was not alone in fearing that FLA were a spent force. It had been years since they have released a decent album, with only the odd hint that they still had something worth listening to. This album changed my view – along with the staggering live shows that accompanied it – but more than anything it was this immense track. FLA finally picked up on drum’n’bass, having barely even looked at it previously, and created one of their most anthemic tracks ever based around a thumping, urgent beat that had fucktons of bass, too. A new album is now in the works, apparently, and if Bill Leeb’s interviews from a year or two back are to be believed, this could be a last hurrah. Well, if it reaches anywhere close to this, it’s going to be a hell of a way to go…
In the end, it was a straight decision as to whether to include this or We Stand Alone, and I think that in terms of pure impact it really has to be this. It may be a stretch to say that it revitalised their career, but what it did do was to make many realise that there was much, much more to them than trashy electropop like Dead Stars. This was deep, thoughtful stuff, with lyrics alluding to Greek myth and legend, pounding, club-bound beats and a synth hook that was simply divine – the step up through the gears after the first chorus, particularly in the live version, has to be seen/heard to be believed. Endlessly played and requested since, but it never feels like a trial to listen to it again and again – instead it’s always a pleasure.
Aren’t We All Running?
The Fall of Math
It’s amazing to think that it’s only five years since I first discovered 65DoS (thanks Kelly!), and I’ve been an avid fan ever since. As they have progressed, and added more and more electronic textures, though, I’m still finding my preferred listening being their first album, which is a fantastic mix of post-rock, glitch and electronics. Amongst the many great moments, though, it’s this – the closing track – that is still the unassailable peak. Opening with a mournful, but urgent piano melody, before twinkling electronics and the merest hint of guitar join in…and then a gulp of air before the whole, majestic track comes crashing in – a trick pulled more than once. It’s the ending, though, that gets me every time. The gulp of air is stretched out for four, five seconds, before it rips back in one more time, then stopping dead and leaving you, the listener, to contemplate just how a band that are almost entirely instrumental could ever get so utterly thrilling to listen to.
There is a not a single song in this list that comes even remotely close to the sheer emotional punch that this song possesses, and I’ll be surprised if I ever hear another that does. A lengthy, elegaic track about the humiliation the band’s Irish forefathers suffered in attempting to escape the Irish Potato Famine, it’s powerful sweep never fails to send shivers down my spine. A band that, perhaps, have never quite got the coverage they deserved in the metal scene in the UK at least, they nowadays are a slightly more restrained doom-folk-metal band, quite a difference from their black metal roots, but at times the fury and anguish they unleash is staggering – and this is one of those tracks.
The shooting, screaming star of AFP’s solo album, and as far as I’m concerned still the best moment she’s put on record so far – and that includes all of the Dresden Dolls stuff, too, hence why this comes in higher than my DD inclusion in this list. Written while a relationship was/had disintegrated/ing – although the full story is far more complex than that – having more than just vocals, piano and drums makes AFP sound like the larger-than-life, brash and ballsy star that she really should be. Shamefully Roadrunner Records fucked her over in a big way, barely promoting the album and leaving it to die, but a massive online following and AFP’s happy involvement with them seems to have done far more good. Anyway, this track is awesome, and if you haven’t heard it, shame on you – and watch the video linked above.
Some of you may be surprised to see this not at number one in this chart, but there is no doubt that it deserves it’s place in the top three. This was the first track by the band that I heard, after I bought the album without hearing it following a glowing review on Music Non Stop. “That sounds just like the kind of band I’m looking for”, I thought – and so it proved. Four years on, it’s still a staple track in my DJ sets, and is probably the one track I play that I get asked “what is this” more than any other. If you’ve been reading my blog for all this time and still don’t know what it sounds like, here’s a quick version – stomping, drum’n’bass-infused industrial metal with Slayer-esque breakdowns that sounds like an awesome apocalyptic future. Now you know, and if you like, go watch the video and perhaps even order a copy of the second version of the album…
A still extraordinary track even now, well over two years since release, that unveiled Battles as a band that were doing something very different to just about everyone else. A infectious, technicolour blast of *fun*, built around, of all things, the Glitter beat, it was probably the catchiest song of the year and most other recent years, and yet was light years away from being mainstream pop. Which is probably a good thing, as these guys are far too good to lose to the mainstream, right? Electronic music played live, with an endless sense of invention and curiosity, I’m never going to get tired of this.
Scorch The Ground (Version)
I debated long and hard as to what the top track on this list was going to be, and certainly the number one slot only got decided for sure earlier today, when I heard this track again. I’ve already mentioned how brilliant Seabound are, but this is their standout moment. A mid-paced, electro-pop track with a heart of pitch black, this is a tale of revenge, of wanting to be every perceived threat and fear to whoever it is that inspired this song. The tune is memorable in itself, but it would be nothing without the lyrics and the vocal delivery – Frank Spinath’s air of calculated calm throughout the song is, perhaps, a little unnerving. But then, that is most certainly the aim, at least if you are the subject. To me, it’s simply the most well-rounded, and therefore best, song of this decade.