Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the sixth 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me.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.
Ben Wheatley’s slick take on Ballard’s classic book was, like the book, something to admire amid the cold emotions and gorgeous aesthetic, but the very nature of the story of High Rise made it a hard one to love (and, as it turned out, it felt like a story very in step with the times in this decade). Clint Mansell did an excellent score for the film, which also featured a few alternative punk tracks, but the most notable song was the first Portishead song in years – and they only eventually released it on YouTube after the MP Jo Cox was murdered, otherwise, it remains unavailable. They took ABBA’s classic hit and tore away almost everything except the words, and Beth Gibbons sounds wracked with grief as she sings the words, and once again gives them new meaning. I said it after I first heard this stark, heart-stopping cover, and I’ll say it again – this song will haunt my dreams.
/Sorry Dad I Was Late for the Riots
/The Plot Against Common Sense
Post-McLusky, Andrew Falkous continued his fascination with cutting, hilarious lyrical takedowns, self-awareness and ass-kicking rock under the name Future of the Left. The sonics changed subtlely, perhaps actually being a tiny bit more subtle at points, but it was still sharp as a tack. Particularly on this album, which took on subjects as varied as band merchandising, Hollywood’s obsession with remakes, science…and middle-class rebellion. The glorious Sorry Dad I Was Late For The Riots very much felt like a direct response to the riots of 2011, with a distinct feeling from Falkous, perhaps, that wealthy middle-class “kids” got themselves involved, co-opted other protests and did some damage themselves – and they certainly got some of the headlines, which is interesting, seeing as the riots were absolutely not about them…
Italian group Blume make great, bombastic synthpop. I first heard them when they were supporting Seabound on one of that group’s rare live appearances, and it was obvious from that show that they had a style to go along with the substance. But one song of theirs casts every other one they’ve released into the shadows – Western Rust. A big, quasi-symphonic song that does everything aiming for the sky, and succeeds in every way, Enrico’s deep, rich vocals matching the mood entirely as he considers the weighty subject of the (self-inflicted) creaking, waning influence of the western world, delivered in elegant metaphor.
I can’t remember where I first heard this song, but I adored it from first listen. 2:54 (the unusual name comes from “part of” a Melvins song, apparently) is Colette and Hannah Thurlow, and their sound is a harder-edged, dreamy shoegaze sound – but with the vocals upfront, rather than buried in the mix. Scarlet was one of their early singles, and it isn’t hard to see why it got such attention from the off. A sultry, bass-heavy rhythm leads it off before things change up into a sensuous, gorgeous chorus that digs claws in and won’t let go. For reasons I’ve never understood, this band never fully caught on, and remain one of the great lost bands of the period.
Not the first collaboration between these two artists, but it is certainly the best. Sure, there were dancefloor bangers on this EP (Do It Again and Sayit), but the lengthy opening track felt like a towering achievement. A stately, slow-paced song, with everything drenched in delay and reverb…with the exception of Robyn’s vocals. This latter point made an effective, intriguing concept whole – the music sounds like it is zipping past at a different speed to Robyn’s voice (as if life is passing her by, perhaps), as she ponders how she can make a mark in her life so that she can be remembered by those that follow her. Her astonishing solo work perhaps had already made sure of that by the time of the release of this song, but this felt like a point where she stopped and worked it out. The lazy, jazzy sounds that backed her on this song only amplified the brilliance of it.
I don’t know why, but it took until the end of 2018 (at BIMFest) before I finally saw Light Asylum (i.e. Shannon Funchess) live – and was blown away then and again at Infest last year, too. Somewhere between fierce post-punk and darkwave electronics, Funchess’ unbelievable vocal range and power is the element that genuinely sends LA songs skyward, and of various highlights both on record and live, the expression of pure rage that is the chorus of At Will stands out from the first time you hear it. A formidable sonic presence that genuinely needs to be heard by more.
/Everybody’s Coming To My House
I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t get sharp and get a ticket for the rapturously received shows (that have since made it to Broadway) for this album – meaning that Byrne remains one of the few acts left on my live “bucketlist”. The album was part of a wider project by Byrne called “Reasons to Be Cheerful” – an exercise in positivity – which rather seems to have been eclipsed by events, as these things often are. It is, of course, rather more difficult to remain positive when the world is as it is in 2020. But that doesn’t take away how joyous this song in particular is. Like the rest of the album, it points towards ways that we can make things better (as opposed to being an idealistic vision), and this song feels like a happy hug – Byrne apparently imagining being at the heart of a great social occasion at his house, where he’ll never be alone again because of friendship and camaraderie. Right now, seeing my friends again would be a start to that happiness.
/The Other Side
I’ve gone on record previously as noting that initially, I was really not impressed with Drab Majesty – an unexpected encounter live, that I really didn’t get at all, came before hearing the music. But then giving A Demonstration a closer listen later that year made me realise I had been missing out after all, and since then I’ve been intrigued by where they’re headed. Modern Mirror – an album inspired by Greek myth and, perhaps more importantly, how lessons from it apply in the modern world, particularly around self- and perceived-image – turned out to be an exceptional album with much to recommend. The Other Side, though, is a song of such beauty that I’m still struggling, some months on from first hearing it, to describe it’s brilliance. It shimmers with light and has such a heartfelt chorus that it nearly brought me to tears hearing it live last year.
/No Future Shock
/Nine Types of Light
Only TV on the Radio, over the past decade, could consider writing a fabulous, art-rock-funk-soul hybrid song with a dance-move chorus that moves it’s feet over the fact that the future was a bust. And this was back in 2011, when things were perhaps looking vaguely positive (fuck knows what they’d come up with in 2020, eh? That said, hopefully, there might be a new album sometime soon – it’s been a while). The band often have two sides, the more reflective songs, and then the ones that are joyous abandon, and this is absolutely one of the latter – easily one of their best songs, and as a way to deal with the horrors of real life, I can think of few better soundtracks than to sing “DO THE NO FUTURE! DO THE NO FUTURE!“…
/Pop That Pretty Thirty EP
JP Anderson’s long-standing Rabbit Junk project turned mainly toward a succession of shorter EPs across the decade, rather than full-length albums, and at points I did rather find it difficult to keep up with the sheer volume of material. It was also notable that Anderson was happy to explore other styles along the way, too, which didn’t always appeal, I must confess – but there were moments of utter brilliance. Such as this EP, where he also revisited long-time live favourite Crutch in a new recording, but the best track released by RJ over the decade remains the batshit brilliance of IDONTGIVEAFUCK. A jump-up, rampage of a song, Anderson and Nadia (from Ganser, taking on the usual Sum Grrl vocal for this track), want to go out and have fun, and real life is encroaching, so they fight back the only way they know how, by singing a shit-kicking song that kicks through the door itself. Rebellion against getting old and responsible never sounded so much fun.
/Waste of Flesh EP
Formed by a former member of Katscan, the elements of humour and psychotic madness that characterised that band’s work was systematically erased here, by layers of grime and darkness that at points, yes, nodded towards Godflesh in particular. But one early track took things in a different way and resulted in a slamming, nasty dancefloor track. Recovery Position has thumping drums, downtuned, dirty basslines, and ominous synths that add the layers of dirt required to make this such a menacing piece of work. To their credit, Concrete Lung – even when relocated to Australia from London – have continued to evolve their sound and explore new avenues, so this track remained something of a one-off. But it is perhaps all the better for it – they’ve never repeated themselves, and thus I’m always willing to try what comes next, as I never quite know where they might take me. But this song remains important as the track that drew me in first, a decade ago.
The rampaging live shows that heralded the return of Cubanate initially concentrated on their “classic” material from the nineties – and were everything that we’d ever wanted, we thought. But Marc and Phil made it clear that they weren’t just looking backwards, and during 2019 they returned with their first new material, aside from one song in the meantime, for two decades. What was notable was that they didn’t really mess with what had made them great in the first place, but there was a searing, laser-guided focus to this EP that made it really impressive. Split Second careers out of the speakers on a bulldozing, dense rhythm pattern, with a fuzz of spiky guitars filling the gaps and Marc Heal’s trademark roar on top. A fabulous return that only added to their legacy.
The work of ΔAIMON was one based on foreboding from the off. Their initial EP AMEN was black as pitch and utterly thrilling (even making a Swans cover work spectacularly, something few other artists have done). So Flatliner was a jolt to the system, as there felt like there was something of a colour palette being used as opposed to the dark shadows of AMEN, and at least part of the credit for that goes to the increased presence of Nancy on vocals. Her elegant vocals on Black Cross provide an unexpected melodic beauty to this otherwise glowering track, that crawls along the floor with a dirty rhythm base, with ominous, distorted vocals from Brant lurking behind. This was their wider breakthrough and was also perhaps the point where Witch House really became something much more open-minded.
What more can I say about Ganser (I’ve written about them a lot). Their savage, slashing take on post-punk is more experimental than most (and most recently, into 2020, has seen them take further steps into noise-rock, frankly, to great effect), making you work at times to get to the riches in their sounds and words, but at other points, they are bracingly direct. Such as on PSY OPS, with guitar that slashes like a knife, the drums have a gloriously heavy low-end thump, the bassline seems to accelerate, and Nadia’s vocals are urgent, declarative, and thrilling. If you’ve not listened until now, even after all my exhortations to do up to now, consider this your instruction to listen to one of the most creative bands in the sphere right now.
/The Blinding Dark
Over the past decade, Covenant have no longer needed to prove themselves. Having long-since got their core fanbase, they’ve been able to experiment and escape the shackles of being that band that did Dead Stars two decades ago. That has meant a few missteps, admittedly – not everything on their three albums in this decade has worked – but it has also meant some brilliant songs have surfaced. The gloom of world Politik and events, in general, has had a hand in this, especially on the excellent The Blinding Dark, where the band’s despair over the actions of certain parts of humanity cast a deep shadow over it. The key song from it turned out to be Morning Star, where Eskil Simonsson turned and faced the dark, and let in the light through a glorious, soaring song that carried a grim determination to do better. We still need that feeling, the hope that it brought four years on, as the light was further away than we thought it could ever be.
/Body and Blood
There aren’t many rap acts that make a point of not using the n-word (but they still use bitch, mind, among other potentially offensive words), or have an accomplished rapper who is also a highly regarded actor (Daveed Diggs won a Grammy and a Tony for his work in the smash hit Hamilton)…or sample noise provocateurs Whitehouse. They came to my attention, though, with the thundering, floor-shaking industrial bass of Body and Blood, a predatory observational piece that is full of nervous energy and brutal kicks, and still sounds like no-one else. It kicks like an industrial factory set to music, and Diggs races through a veritable novel of raps about a woman of power, that he appears to be in awe of.
/Cries of Insanity
The much-loved US synthpop group Iris have come a long way since their debut Disconnect two decades ago, having evolved their sound but never losing their knack with huge choruses and accessible songs – you know, like synthpop is meant to work. I never quite understood why Radiant didn’t seem to click with a number of my friends, though. Sure, it was a slower-paced album, with less in the way of dancefloor bangers, but their songcraft was certainly undimmed, and I wasn’t short of songs to consider featuring here. But over time, I’ve grown to love this song more than any other on the album. Not a dancefloor banger by any standards – it is a slower-paced song – but it genuinely soars into a wonderful, lush chorus that made me fall in love with what Iris do all over again.
/Worst Case Scenario Vol.1
Cyanotic surged through the decade with a number of solid releases, always building and re-building their tech-industrial-metal sound along the way – and with some interesting diversions too. But when they stuck to their guns and created powerful dancefloor-led, futuristic jams, they were at their best. Like the elastic grooves of this track from their two-part release Worst Case Scenario that uses guitar riffs like strafing weaponry, synth hooks as power-ups, and also makes excellent use of Big Trouble in Little China samples. Cyanotic – the kings of the Tech Noir dancefloor.
/New Dark Ages
/A World Lit Only By Fire
The Godflesh reformation, after quite a few years, initially saw them playing older material, but the new material, when it came, easily stood aside the material that made their name in the eighties and nineties, being of crushing heaviness and vicious intensity. Particularly the amazing opener to A World Light Only By Fire, which fades into a hi-hat that is alone for some time (and it continues through the entire song in the background), before a huge riff and trademark dirty bassline rip through the speakers, grab you by the lapels and hold you there, against the speakers, for four minutes. Godflesh was never easy listening, nor were they ever meant to be, but as soon as the song kicks in, you know exactly what to expect, and it was, and is, brilliant.
/Hell Broke Luce
/Bad As Me
What has turned out to be the latest Tom Waits album was also his first for seven years at that point – perhaps advancing age, and surprising success as an actor again, has meant that he’s not really needed to record again since. Still, if you like what Waits does, Bad As Me was a lot of fun. At points desperately bleak, mind, but other points were wild and raucous, especially the title track and this wonderful song. One of his angriest, most reactionary songs in a long time, it also seemed to be his first direct reference to contemporary politics that I can remember, as he casts his eye over the decisions made by US Governments and their armed forces over the previous decade and finds himself disgusted with those decisions, the violence and the death toll. The chaotic sound of the song reflects, needless to say, the chaos of war and violence.