Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the final part of the best albums of the 2010s. This has been an interesting, and memory-laden trip doing this list. I’ve dredged up a few memories, reconnected with a few albums I’d not heard in a while, and generally enjoyed doing it. It took a while, too. I started considering this list back in October last year, so it’s taken the best part of six months to complete.
In this list of 100, there were artists from twelve countries across three continents, released on 71 different labels (and five that were self-released). Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me. Expect the equivalent tracks of the decade listing to follow. It’s not going to take another six months, but it certainly might take another couple of weeks before I start posting it.
The 2010s were an interesting decade for our corner of alternative and electronic music. Some veteran genres got a hell of a resurgence, others have faded away. New styles have appeared, become the “in thing” for a bit, then gone again. Other styles just soldier on, as if they’ll never go out of fashion. Technology has perhaps democratised music more than ever before – anyone can self-release, can potentially become a star. But is there the revenue any more to live off it comfortably? This was also the decade where I began to travel so much more for music. I’ve been to Canada (once), to Belgium (seven times), to Chicago (three times), to Prague (once), to Düsseldorf (once), all to mainly see live music. I’ve made new friends, reconnected with old friends, and discovered new music along the way.
While I still try and keep the broad focus of the music covered here to the wider sphere of industrial music, I also listen to other music, and thus the spread here is perhaps a bit wider than you might otherwise expect. You know what, though? Try some of this music. Especially the stuff you don’t recognise or don’t know. Go for it – I love hearing new music that someone else has enthused about, trying to understand what’s so awesome about it. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it will take days or weeks to click, and hopefully, something here will do that to you.
Time to cue the music. You can listen along on Spotify or Youtube. Links to the right, and as the rest of the posts are added, the navigation links below will go live.
The only new material released by EN this decade (aside from a release or two for supporters right at the end of the decade, as they gear up to release their new album in 2020), and indeed prior to Lament I was wondering whether we’d ever see anything more from them. The centenary of the beginning of World War One turned out to the catalyst, as the band were commissioned by the Flemish town of Diksmuide to do a live piece to commemorate. Not surprisingly, they ended up touring the piece, and it became a striking album, too. This wasn’t just Neubauten doing what they do, fascinatingly they dug into unexpected stories around the First World War, even a few covers and some deeply experimental pieces, but it all hung together.
There were interpretations of telegrams between closely-related Russian and German leaders, a crossing of the old German national anthem and the British national anthem (that at one point shared the same music), a quite beautiful Seeger cover, but most notably, the band let loose on a couple of songs originally written by the Harlem Hellfighters – and I would never have expected EN to sound so glorious when taking on old ragtime songs. A curveball of an idea became an absolutely fantastic, intelligent way to mark an important occasion.
Hip-hop has been a fascinating place this decade, as long as you swim away from the mainstream a little bit. Away in the corners known as alternative-hip-hop, some fascinating groups have busted through the walls to prominence, and one of those has been Death Grips. A core of MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin is the beating heart of the group, and their first mixtape (in reality a full album, and certainly released as such a little late) was my intro to them (thanks to my wife noticing the floor-shaking Guillotine (It Goes Yah) and sending it to me, going “this might just be up your street…”), and it blew me away. A grimy, chaotic (and really fucking loud) release that took in punk, industrial, dub and old-school rap (and likely a few other things besides, including a whole host of samples), it is cryptic, intriguing and bludgeoning, and seemed to set the scene for the rest of the decade. Music as confrontation was the way, it transpired.
/Joy As An Act of Resistance.
The groundswell of support for this band in the wake of their debut album seemed to grow exponentially once this album was released, and it was perhaps at least partly due to what they were saying, at the time they were saying it. In the wake of the divisive Brexit vote, much like Gazelle Twin, they were commenting on what they saw – but rather than concentrating on the negative, and what angered them, they flipped it and looked at positive ways to fight back.
Thus came songs about familial responsibility and love, songs celebrating their friends and immigrants, their working-class origins, and masculinity and how it can become toxic, among other things. But critically, it was an album of roof-raising power, and going on their anarchic, brilliant live shows, one that brought everyone together in the way that sometimes, only punk rock can. Amid the gloomy outlook right now, this is proof that there can be good from this, people fired up that want to make a difference, get through this and make the world a better place.
I’d only really heard of this new genre “Witch House” by 2011 – up to that point it had passed me by – and it took until I heard this group’s towering take on a Swans classic before I really started paying attention. Perhaps, though, it also set unreasonably high expectations. The entirety of this six-track mini-album absolutely slays. Using the methods pioneered by the Houston chopped and screwed scene that bled into Witch House, tempos are comparatively glacial and everything is distorted until the origins are barely recognisable.
That includes the vocals, as they get overlaid, pitch-shifted and retreated until they sound like hellish demons barking orders to cowering humans, but the music is what defines this. It’s pitch-dark, threatening and utterly thrilling – making excellent use of guns reloading as part of the rhythm on Maasym – and nine years after it came out, I can’t think of a single release in the related genre that even comes close to it.
There were, curiously, quite a few albums dealing directly with death in the latter half of the decade, but while most of them seemed to be wallowing in grief, or at least dealing with it, School of Seven Bells managed to make their final album – completed after the death of Benjamin Curtis, and very much about him and his life/work with Alejandra Deheza – an extraordinary burst of life and love. From the first to the last, it absolutely crackles with love, desire and at points anger and despair, inspiring frankly staggering songs like Ablaze and Signals that reach for the stars, or others like Open Your Eyes that are devastating in their sadness. Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places, and as the final word from the group, it could not possibly have been a better epitaph for what they had.
An absolutely towering, imposing beast of an album from the moment it was released, this enthralling album divided opinion, but I thought it was a phenomenal piece of work. Best enjoyed extremely loud, on good speakers, to appreciate the sheer scale of the sound she makes – the organ elements of it were recorded in Copenhagen on the pipe organ in Marmorkirken – this is the kind of album that makes you think.
Von Hausswolff clearly pours her entire being into her music, letting her emotions loose in her extraordinary vocals (just check the sheer range of it on the Swans-esque charge of The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra), and while this album broadly lives in the darkness and shadows, it has moments of jaw-dropping purity and beauty (such as the choral elements that feel like the sun bursting through the windows on the brilliant, epic opener The Truth, The Glow, The Fall). She is a genuinely unique talent, and frankly god only knows where she goes, and what she does next, to follow this.
A slow-burner, this – initially released in Iceland in 2012, and picked up by Artoffact for release elsewhere later that year, it seemed to take an eternity to catch on. Vocalist Krummi was already known to him from his time in Icelandic hardcore firebrands Mínus, but this was a world away from that. Electronic rock music, if you will – the structure and power of rock, but entirely electronic – this album takes a couple of tracks to get into its stride, before exploding into a dazzling suite of quite brilliant songs, from the rousing urban love story (and key changes!) of City to the bleak, jaw-dropping religious imagery of Sister, the epic title track that sounds stadium-sized… This was a new way of looking at electronic rock, and the results were glorious. Also of note were their live shows, which were similarly fantastic.
/The Future’s Void
Writing songs or indeed albums about digital disconnection is a mighty risk. After all, technology has moved on so fast in the internet age, how soon will it be before such a release feels dated and out of touch? Erika M. Anderson seemed to hit the right balance with her second album, as she wasn’t necessarily talking about technology. This album was often about our relationships and how technology has changed us, how we interact, how we create personas for ourselves online, how we can project how we want to be and be seen. The sometimes gloomy nature of this album (the clanking, dystopian power of Neuromancer in particular as it coldly dissects the selling of sexual imagery online) is hard to escape, but six years on from this album being written and released, perhaps Anderson was something of a soothsayer. A number of events have revealed – and begun to tackle – the sheer scale of abuse online, and national/international involvement in socio-political meddling and intervention has been revealed, with potential for even scarier stuff in the future. Technology has changed the world, but not always for the better, and like this album, it feels like opening a pandora’s box and getting hit with a thousand thoughts. EMA’s greatest album thus far, that’s for sure, and one that demands attention and immersion, even if it won’t soothe your troubles away.
Nika Roza Danilova’s work as Zola Jesus has always suggested turbulent times amid the dark themes and sounds she creates, but in the run-up to this staggering album she went through an awful lot of tragedy and difficulty in a short space of time, and it showed clearly on the end result. The industrial-chamber-pop(ish) music of the album wasn’t perhaps a surprise – although it felt more purposeful than some of her work before as if she’d finally nailed her concepts 100% at last – while the delivery was. On song after song here, her vocals are urgent. As if she had to get these words out now, or they wouldn’t carry the same meaning, as she implored friends not to kill themselves (the extraordinary, chilling Siphon, and the water-terrors of Soak), unleashed powerful catharsis (the pummelling, tribal chaos of Exhumed), and there is the stark Witness, which goes back to dealing with death and loss. This is an album of black moods, of death, of loss, but also of hope, as Danilova fights back with all her might, and produced probably the best album she’ll ever write. Seriously, how on earth does she follow an album of such power? I can’t wait to find out, mind, however long it takes.
/The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
I fell in love with Fiona Apple’s music on Tidal, nearly a quarter of a century ago, and The Idler Wheel… was her fourth album, back in 2012 (the follow-up is finally due, as I write this). It felt like a departure at the time, but the more I think about it in hindsight, it was simply Apple finding another way to do what she does. An entirely acoustic album – even if at times what feels like the entire contents of a house (including the kitchen sink and the cutlery, among other things) are being used to provide the percussion – the whole album is dominated, as ever, by Apple’s rich voice. As always, sex and depression and mental health are the topics of the day, but her words and songs are so intoxicating, so fascinating, that it’s hard not to get drawn in. That, and Every Single Night is both one of the best opening songs of the decade, and one of the best most accurate songs about anxiety and fear I’ve ever heard.
Probably the biggest surprise across what was an exhausting, exhilarating week in Montreal, at Festival Kinetik in 2011 was the striking, all-too-short performance from Continues later in the weekend. This turned out to be Dan Gatto, who up to two years prior, was the front-man of industrial-junk-punk duo Babyland, who had a fearsome reputation live (and were pretty damned great on record, too). The sheer fury and nihilism at the heart of Babyland, though, was swept away with this project, which turned out to be romantic minimal synth – and an exceptional release at that.
All ten songs contained tenderness and yearning that I could never have possibly expected from such a vocalist (he has a distinct style that may not appeal to all), it’s stuffed to the gills with memorable hooks and choruses, and perhaps no better sign of how good this album is, is just how many of my friends (who have no interest in the wider industrial scene that this comes from) were avowed fans of it once I began spreading the word. Aside from the odd single, mind, we’re still waiting for the follow-up, but I guess the problem is: how do you repeat on what is near-perfection?
The leap forward that Teeth of the Sea took on MASTER cannot be understated. Up to this point, their material was interesting but perhaps not too remarkable in the grand scheme of things (with the exception of a couple of bulldozing tracks, particularly the behemoth that is A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.). But MASTER seemed to change everything. A sheen of retro-futurism permeated this album, from the artwork to the muttered apocalyptic descriptions on The Servant, to the proggy, sci-fi-like synths that pass across the mix like neon trails. As well as that stylistic move, though, the vast, broadened expanse of their sound allowed new ideas to take root, and the results were astounding.
Two pieces, in particular, stand out – the malevolent, stalking power of Black Strategy, which holds back the build, and trumpet, until nearly five minutes in, before it explodes into full being like some kind of monster emerging from the darkness. The other is the absolutely staggering closing track Responder, a techno-industrial-jazz freakout that takes every single idea the group had come up with until this point, thrown it all in, then thought of a few things besides, to create an irresistible beast of a track that, unsurprisingly, remains a staple of their ever-brilliant (and astonishingly loud) live sets. Trying to categorise their neo-psychedelic, industrial-jazz-prog is frankly a mug’s game – just appreciate this for what it is, fearlessly forward-looking, brilliantly experimental music that doesn’t once allow indulgence to take over.
The first decade of the new millennium wasn’t particularly kind to Deftones – after their first three albums, they entered the doldrums somewhat (perhaps linked to the hefty backlash around Nu-Metal), with little interest in their next couple of albums and, frankly, one dud in the form of Saturday Night Wrist. At some point at the end of the decade, though, something clicked back into place, but in tragic circumstances. They’d all-but-completed an album called Eros when bassist Chi Cheng was hospitalised after a car accident (he never fully recovered, and died in 2013), took stock and ditched the album and wrote another, and the result was Diamond Eyes, for me perhaps their finest album (my wife still maintains White Pony is better, but we can agree that this album is simply brilliant). Not a single moment was wasted, the album sequenced without any gaps as songs bleed into each other, and even better, every single song here is stellar. The rhythms kick hard, the guitars provide choppy textures, and Chino Moreno is back at his enigmatic lyrical best. The album was instrumental in a re-evaluation of the band, as it was finally realised that this band was far more than just a nu-metal band – their influences and sound were far too varied and interesting to be pigeonholed as such, and a decade on is now rightly viewed as metal/alt-rock pioneers who were some way ahead of their time.
/The Race for Space
This outstanding album really came into its own last summer, as the fiftieth anniversary of the Moon Landings was celebrated (and if you want the full story of that, the equally brilliant 13 Minutes to the Moon should be your next call), and indeed it was recreated thrillingly at Prom 10 last summer. But rewind a bit – PSB was simply a promising, smart band prior to this. Their debut album had shown skill and knowledgable touch with samples, as they dug into BFI archives for the titular films to use as vocals within their songs (the band generally don’t use vocals in the normal sense), and while it was a celebration of the concept of public information films, that was really as far as the concept went.
That all changed here, with the abridged story of the Space Race of the late fifties and sixties told in forty or so concise minutes, from Sputnik through to Apollo 17, and the result was an album that waxed and waned in emotion as the Space Race reached epic highs and devastating lows. The two really outstanding, rousing moments interestingly came from opposite sides of the Race and the Cold War – the celebratory, funky Gagarin, and the thrilling, joyous tribute to the Gene Kranz-led Mission Control for Apollo 11 that is Go!, but taken as a whole, this was by far the greatest concept album of the decade.
/The Medication Generation
/Glitch Mode Recordings
This Chicago industrial band’s debut album Transhuman topped the previous edition of this list a decade ago, and frankly, The Medication Generation isn’t far behind it. An album partly – although not entirely – about the US addiction to medication in one form or another (the effects of which are now being understood, and the effects have been devastating), it is both furiously angry and sympathetic to the victims thereof, sometimes in the same song. The brutal, roaring power of Dose Responsive sums it up, as Sean Payne notes that he’s part of an entire generation raised on pills of one kind of another to solve any number of “issues”, as a deluge of samples tells the wider story.
A revised and perhaps more concise version of the heavily-Cubanate influenced, dancefloor destroyer Alt.Machine also appears here, as it examines humans becoming unthinking machines because of medication, and similar realms are explored too on the devastating The Same/Programmed pairing. But it wasn’t all unsubtle power – Sean Payne also revealed his prowess with slower, more reflective material, too, the gorgeous Monochrome Skies, in particular, providing an unexpected lightness of touch. This felt, too, like the moment Cyanotic crossed over from a promising new band to being an industrial powerhouse. Still an essential release now.
/Compensation For The Sound Of Silence
Confession time – this was actually released in late 2009 but is being featured here as I included it in my best of 2010 listing in the first place. I was obsessed with this album for some time (and indeed still go back to it fairly regularly even now). The last release from Richard Duggan under this name, before he moved onto more experimental electronic music and techno, it has the feel of an intelligent futurepop album – but it was released years after that particular boom. Like Seabound before them (and to a lesser extent Seeming that followed), this was cerebral, deeply psychological music that featured a lot of self-examination, with a curious, mellowed out feel. But critically, the songs were amazing. They might not be dancefloor-aimed songs, but they didn’t need to be, as this was music to absorb and let it surround you. It remains an album that I hold close, as it has got me through bad times, and made me examine myself. Where I found out the worst that I’d become, and how to fix it. I’m still working on it.
/Anything That Gets You Through The Night
The third project featuring Frank Spinath (Seabound, Ghost & Writer) in this list, this duo was actually the creation of Mario Schumacher long before Spinath got involved, but really, it is all about the way that they clearly bounced off each other creatively. Prior to this album, Edge of Dawn had been an interesting diversion from Seabound, with less cryptic lyrics and themes, and perhaps more direct songs, too, but this album was where the potential was truly realised. This was an album about the destructive nature of lust and desire, and the entire album absolutely crackles with both as it fizzes through. Reagan Jones of Iris joins Spinath for the glorious opener Beyond the Gate, but elsewhere, Spinath is the star of the show as he spins some intriguing yarns.
The punishing, vivid imagery of Lucid Dreams is reputedly based on a true story, the dancefloor abandon and potential double-meanings of Stage Fright is the spinning, shining star at the heart of the album, while the musically-schizophrenic Valid World neatly switches between styles as the protagonist deals with severe mood-swings, hope and failure. Musically precise, brilliantly stylised, a decade on from release and I still love this album so, so much.
/All The Way Down
The only artist to ever top the /amodelofcontrol.com albums of the year list twice (with this, and Rag Doll Blues before it), this came agonisingly close to topping this list too. An album that dealt with a difficult subject, with a direction not often followed, and with a musical scope that made this an awe-inspiring, sobering listen. This is an album about death. Not necessarily about the actual act of death, more about how we deal with death, how we might face it approaching us, and what might happen when we do. As a result, it is an album full of uncertainty. But it is also one of extraordinary beauty, empathy and grace, as the music is at points so intricate, so cleverly created, that it becomes some form of an industrial-orchestral suite, couching Michael Arthur Holloway’s words and thoughts in a delicate web. In fact, an album of such brilliance and scope that at least one of the greatest songs he’s written – the punishing power of Spitting Seeds – was relegated to the limited-edition second CD of this release. In a decade where my wife and I have had to deal with death an awful lot (one of the perils of growing older), this has been one of the soothing soundtracks along the way.
/England Keep My Bones
I mentioned previously what I saw as the greatest concept album of this decade, and I guess this could be seen as one too, but I think really, it’s more an album that is based around a wider subject and idea, rather than being a concept. Frank Turner was less making a political statement here (as some unfairly felt he was), and more of a deeply personal one, examining himself and his place in the world as an Englishman, taking inspiration from ancient past and his own life to write exceptional, heartfelt songs that on the various occasions I’ve seen him play them live, clearly also mean a lot to his fans too. There were songs of defiance, of failure, of memory, of love and loss. There were songs of myth and legend, of the question of belief, and that feeling of coming home. In other words, somewhat universal themes that mean something to everyone, but the specific wording used was very English.
This was a celebration of the good things about the country Turner saw at the time (and have so irrevocably changed in the near-decade since) and has been an album held close to my heart since. It has got me through the darkest of times, it has made me feel better about myself, I have sung along with every single song on it at one of his shows, with tears running down my face at points (and if I ever experience a better moment than being part of a crowd of 2,000 singing Eulogy note-perfect with Turner, I’ll be very happy indeed). I too am a Wessex Boy (proudly born in Salisbury), and it was the soundtrack to my visit “home” to that city for the first time in a decade, as I walked back to the station from the funeral wake for my grandmother. I knew the way back, of course, through the medieval city, but Turner provided the drive as I strode through. Music can and does mean everything – some just connects with you more than others. This was one of those.
/SOL: A Self-Banishment Ritual
Alex Reed has many talents. A professor of music, the writer of Assimilate: A Critical History Of Industrial Music (pretty much the definitive look at the roots and growth of the genre), and a musician. His previous work was in thoushaltnot, but little in that could have prepared us for what was to come in Seeming. Debut Madness + Extinction (perhaps an album with even more resonance in the times we find ourselves in April 2020, as I write this) was a solid release with a number of dazzling songs, but SOL: A Self-Banishment Ritual was a release of towering intensity, belief and scope. I wrote an awful lot about it on /But Listen/156 – where it gained only the third 10/10 ranking I’ve ever given in twenty-four years of writing about music – but in short, this is an album of reassessing and working on bettering yourself, of finding ways to improve and move on.
This works both as a message, and as something of a mantra that Reed used to push his own music to unimaginable heights, as he took in elements of soul, funk, balladry, European modernist music, industrial, and noise – not to mention dream-inspired interventions from Coil and actual collaborative noise from Merzbow – to create thirteen songs that hang together perfectly as a narrative and flow, but equally all work just as well in a singular way. Some have lamented in recent years that industrial music has sent itself down a number of evolutionary cul-de-sacs, that have stunted further growth, and forced a continual nostalgia trip. This album is a loud rebuttal of that idea. We can still move forward and do something new. It just needs someone with the skill and foresight of Alex Reed to do it. An album I’ll be cherishing, listening to and rediscovering anew for years to come, the decision on the /amodelofcontrol album of the decade wasn’t even close, in the end.