Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the fifth part of the best tracks 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 songs 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 eight months to complete.
In this list of 200, there were artists from nineteen countries across four continents, released on 122 different labels (and ten 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me. This is a top 200 because, well, I’ve listened to a lot of music over the past decade. My /Tuesday Ten/Tracks of the Month posts (usually nine or ten per year) have covered no less than 673 artists and 1089 tracks. So as you might imagine, whittling this down to just 200 has been tough enough.
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.
/Take A Long Hard Look
/No One Will Ever Know
Their second album, when it finally arrived, seventeen years after Spray, felt a little crushed by the weight of expectation – particularly as it became clear that the band had been moving in a little bit more of a rock direction (as opposed to industrial-rock) for some of it. But there were still diamonds amid what was still an ok album, and Take A Long Hard Look was very much the pick of the bunch. Very much running with the template of their debut, it goes quiet and reserved, it goes very, very loud, and rocks like a bastard as it rattles past at a hundred miles an hour.
/The Infernal Paramour
/The Negative Space
16Volt returned without fanfare in 2016, after a period where they had apparently ended as a project (with the poorly-received Black December project in the meantime). The thing was, this new 16Volt album wasn’t bad (and their live show at Cold Waves VI was exceptional, if rather short, as I finally ticked off a band I’d wanted to see live for years), and the most interesting thing was that while the powerful machine rock was still great, one of the slower songs on the album was the best thing on it. The Infernal Paramour was a rolling, bass-heavy track that concentrated on melody rather than power, with multi-tracked vocals that pushed the emotion up the dial, and it became an affecting, quite wonderful song as a result.
/Major Tom (Coming Home)
/Major Tom EP
The so-called glory days of Futurepop – of which there’s been a lot of nostalgia about recently, seeing as this time twenty years ago was when that scene became the dominant force in the industrial scene for a few years – wasn’t always great to many bands, and one that made moves to get away from it fastest was perhaps Stefan Groth and Apoptygma Berzerk. Welcome To Earth was a monster hit, stuffed to the gills with skyscraping, joyous dancefloor anthems, but it’s often forgotten that much of the rest of the album was downbeat, experimental electronics – something that Harmonizer doubled down on. The abrupt left-turn into electro-rock lost a great many fans – even if the songs were often great, and live it seemed that Groth was only playing the old songs beloved of fans just to appease them. So when he returned to synth-led pop again, there were some real gems. Groth has always been great with reinterpreting others’ songs, as this glorious cover of an obscure eighties one-hit wonder proved, too. It sounds huge, perhaps even better than the original, and most importantly, it was the point where we realised that Groth had finally accepted his lot, and was making songs for himself and others again.
I must admit that I wasn’t expecting new Faith No More material when they reformed – why mess with such a legacy? – and there was that tinge of disappointment when the album did come that it was, well…ok? Not all of it stuck, I’ve not gone back to it like I still do with Angel Dust or Album of the Year, for example, but it certainly had worthwhile, play-on-repeat moments. One such was the growling charge of lead single Superhero, that tore into terrible leaders with relish, amid a stomping, rollicking drum beat, dramatic piano flourishes and Mike Patton sounding the most unhinged in ages. Needless to say, this fabulous single towered over the rest of the album for me, and also, in retrospect, could have been predicting our future with the world “leaders” we now have…
/The Reason They Hate Me
/You Won’t Get What You Want
A band that I’d not really come across prior to this brutal comeback late in the decade, apparently they began as a grindcore band, but are now very much noise rock, with a host of other elements (not least electronics) tossed into the mix and then spat back out. This track swaggers, points the finger at you, and really couldn’t give a fuck what you think, and while pointing that finger, ups the ante further and just feels like it is getting heavier. One thing is does remind me of is Jesus Lizard, but an even angrier version that has kept it’s shirt on, and is ready to blow. Consider it a warning, and a recommendation too.
Chicago duo HIDE were one of the more striking bands that I was privileged to see live during the decade – first a much-talked about show opening one day of Cold Waves in Chicago, then later in London at the Scala. Their powerful, abrasive industrial music had a strong feminist angle, with a roar of fighting, righteous anger racing through every song (and rightly so). The experimental, jagged music was most likely the bit that challenged listeners more (at least I hope it would), as this was far from easy listening. Wildfire sounded like a machine clanking into life, with guitar samples like buzzsaws cutting out of the speakers, and Heather Gabel calmly snarling her words over the cacophony.
Finnish industrial group Cardinal Noire appeared out of nowhere in 2015 with an impressive debut album that while it owed a fair bit to their influences – particularly the chaotic malevolence of Skinny Puppy – was an excellent release that certainly made quite a splash. The highlight of the album was the rampaging nastiness of Black Sustenance – hammered out beats and layer-after-layer of synths, samples and effects create a wild, disorientating four minutes that on headphones genuinely makes you feel really weird. This is seriously clever work, making a song as complex as this even remotely accessible, and this helped to make CN a band of note from the off.
My quarter-of-a-century-long love of Belgian band dEUS has brought a number of other bands from the region into my orbit, particularly as bands have joined them on tour, and Dutch band De Staat are one such band. That said, I saw them earlier in their career, and they’ve since become an even more interesting band, playing with their sound and, most notably, with video, with some amazing results. The cyclic, repeating chaos of Kitty Kitty is their best song yet, which seems to loop and return to previous elements in dizzying fashion, and the video is a tour de force of simple manipulation to create an eye-popping orchestra of just the band members, endlessly repeated, before they start moving into even more clever tricks – much like the song, in fact. Alternative rock still has some surprises in store, even some years after we thought all the good ideas had been considered. (Also worth seeing – their equally incredible video for Witch Doctor).
/Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel
Some comeback, this. After a few years away – and frontman Nergal fighting leukaemia in the meantime – Behemoth returned with this track, the forboding lead track from their magnum opus, an album that I’ll be very surprised if they ever better. While the song does thrash away eventually in a flaying mid-section, it begins with a slow, triumphal stomp, an amazing display of gradual build and release that eventually explodes to involve choirs flying in from the stars along with the band themselves playing at the peak of their powers. It’s not black metal, it’s not death metal, but it is amazingly good metal.
/Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future
I’ve not totally been on board with all of Underworld’s recent work, as they’ve drifted into experimental realms that for me, haven’t always clicked – although that said, the DRIFT Series was a fascinating experiment and seemed to inspire them to some of their best music in ages – but one track in the last decade, I keep going back to, and it’s this highlight from the Barbara, Barbara, We Face a Shining Future album. If Rah sees Karl Hyde return to his scattershot fragments of lyrics, random observations and snatches of conversation pulled together into a glorious stream of consciousness that floats and swings across a slower-paced rhythm that we’re often used to with Underworld, and in seven thrilling minutes, they felt alive and exciting again.
/Pale on Pale
It’s weird to think that all of Chelsea Wolfe’s career in the public eye has been in the past decade (her first album, The Grime and The Glow, was released in 2010). She came to my attention on this quite brilliant album, and the doomy, folkish feel here permeated with utter dread. There was also a distance to it, as if Wolfe couldn’t or wouldn’t let us in fully, and this album highlight quickly became a song that was on repeat. The sky feels like it darkens when I listen to it, as if the world has tilted somewhat and bad tidings are on the horizon, and the guitars and drums crash like thunderclaps at points, in case you didn’t get the message earlier. Wolfe has carved out a niche as a singular, unusual talent, and this song was the signpost for what was to come.
/Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go
/And Nothing Hurt
The now thirty-year (!) career for Jason Pierce’s second band has been one of ups and downs, that’s for sure. Obviously, the extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space will loom large over anything else he ever does – how could it not – but after health problems in recent years, it was a joyous event to find that his latest, eighth album under the Spiritualized name, and the first in six years, wasn’t a particularly morose album at all. In fact, it was at points celebrating the small joys in life, amid the now usual, wide-expanses of sound that he and his musical acolytes create. There were strings, there were choirs, there was utter beauty, The best moment, though – and the best Spiritualized song in years and years – is this song, a paean to driving to see your lover, full of little details that you might tell someone in directions for the first time, and it swells into a gorgeous, vocal-driven movement that reminded me exactly why I’ve loved this band since I first heard them back in the early nineties. Pierce was musing over ending Spiritualized after this album, I sincerely hope he doesn’t.
/When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The latest teen to smash through into the mainstream turned out to have a very different outlook musically to what many of us might have expected. An extraordinary single, this, that through just a tiny handful of elements was transformed into an inescapable, nagging earworm – and even used a sample of a Sydney pedestrian crossing signal as a key part of it. Eilish’s delivery was another important part, though, as she trashes a boy with wit and sarcasm, and makes the best use of “duh” in a song I’ve ever heard.
/Demons / Seeing Stars EP
Empathy Test released a lot of music in the latter half of the decade – a string of EPs as well as a pair of debut albums – and there were a number of brilliant songs within that flood of releases. But Demons stands above them all. It sticks to their template fairly closely – mellowed-out, slow-paced synthpop with a deep, powerful emotional core, but for some reason, Isaac Howlett never sounded quite as powerful and as riven with emotion as he does on this song – that chorus destroys me every time.
/My Heart for Deliverance
/Honor Found In Decay
These metal titans have continued to plow a unique furrow in the past decade, continuing to release occasional, high-quality albums and also touring when their work schedules allow (they all long since took regular jobs, a shrewd move in the present-day musical landscape). One song from their past-decade output, though, stands above the rest. The longest song from their past two albums, this twelve-minute epic is pretty much the best summation of Neurosis these days – it is as much atmospheric doom metal as it is dark, downbeat blues. The few words sung suggest a lifetime of pain, while the extended, instrumental portions of the song are enthralling musicianship, the whole band locked into a hypnotic, slow-paced groove.
/Piece by Piece
Anna Calvi made a hell of a splash when she released her debut album – virtuoso guitar playing, her impressive voice, her distinct image, and the fact that she had fashioned a sonic style, too, that sounded distinctly different. It was a brash sound, too, and the initial songs from the second album suggested that this was something she was going to continue on it. Then I heard Piece by Piece – where the everything was dialed down, and the nuance of it amazed. She didn’t need to push to the limit, and instead by pulling back, she became even better, and at points in this song, her voice is barely above a whisper.
I didn’t love this album as much as I perhaps should have at the time, and it took until her brilliant live set at All Points East the following spring to properly appreciate it. In the meantime, though, this song had become such an earworm that it was charging rent in my head. An electro-rock mantra, and another song dealing with the American problem of prescribing medication for just about anything to make a problem go away, it balances the fine line between being a sunny pop song with a catchy tune, and an indescribably dark, bleak underbelly. The latter is something St. Vincent does so well, but perhaps never better than here.
I first stumbled across this band at Infest in 2003, and their album Advanced Burial Technology of the time is worth revisiting. But after some time away, they returned with a vegeance in the early part of this decade, with a fistful of new songs and a string of EPs. Leading the charge of these new songs was FYA, a track that was a quantum leap from the songs that had come before. This was furious, guitar-led industrial rock that came armed to the teeth and ready to fight for what they believed in.
While I made Signals my track of the year for 2016, it was a toss-up between that and Ablaze. Both are songs that fizzle with love for the late Benjamin Curtis, and both are highlights from an exceptional album that was an extraordinary send-off for a now-ended group. Alejandra Deheza completed this album after Curtis’ death, and Ablaze was the lead track on it, and it fades in like Deheza needed to take a deep, deep breath before continuing. The song then charges forward, with a clarity that SVIIB had rarely had before, instead usually preferring to bury their songs in shoegazey layers. The change works amazingly, as the song literally burns with love, her voice looped as backing behind her plaintive vocals. There was, perhaps, no purer song of love this decade.
/The Quiet Silently Wait
In some respects, Sheffield synthpop duo Promenade Cinema are best experienced listening to their albums in full, such is their continuity and careful attention to detail that makes both of their albums hang together so well. That said, some of their songs have been obvious standouts for some time, and to meet my one-song-per-band rule for this list, it was a tough call as to which I should feature. It could have been the punchy debut single Spotlight, but I ended up plumping for the dramatic sweep of The Quiet Silently Wait. A film noir scene in song form, as Emma pictures herself in the evening rain lit only by streetlights, the song gradually ratchets up the tension until the release of the spectacular chorus, never mind the later, howled, carried note that caps of a simply brilliant, new synthpop classic.