Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the eighth 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me.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.
Across a strong decade and resurgence for Deftones – not to mention the wider music press belatedly realising how much more there was to that band than Nu-Metal – Chino Moreno also found time to explore his other musical interests with this project. Electronics were to the fore here, for sultry grooves and to soundtrack Moreno’s ever-cryptic lyrics. The pick of the album, though, was the bass-funk and soaring melodic force of †elepa†hy, which had perhaps one of the best choruses Moreno has ever written and helped to reinforce just how great a songwriter he is.
/The Crystal Method
So-called “Big Beat” might not be in fashion anymore, but some of the proponents of the electronic styles still pop up occasionally with dancefloor monsters. The return of Vegas-natives The Crystal Method – an unusual, US-based contributor to the style, certainly in the nineties – in 2014 was certainly such a case, particularly with the thumping lead single, that was loud, brash and a killer track. Acid squelches and short vocal samples abounded amid a hulking drum pattern, that was all momentum and drawn-out breakdowns to thrilling effect.
/Night of Hunters
A deep, clever concept that seemed to inspire Tori Amos in ways unseen for some time, this album had a story to tell, but also drew on a wealth of classical music (each song was based or inspired by a different piece). The staggering opening track nodded toward a Charles-Valentin Alkan piece (Song of the Madwoman on the Sea-Shore, Prelude Op. 31, No. 8), but took that relatively low-key piece into dramatic, windswept new realms, an urgency threading through Amos’s work that fed into the defensive narrative. Strings swirl like a tempest around the stormy piano, and Amos is almost breathless as the words tumble out. Her best song in fifteen years at least at that point, I’m fairly sure she’s not been this awe-inspiring since, either…
/Every Open Eye
One of the most impressive breakthroughs in the past decade has been Glasgow synthpop band CHVRCHES, whose sparkling, sharp-edged pop songs have crossed over to the mainstream in a big way. Debut album The Bones Of What You Believe remains their best album, but it could be argued that they potentially had better singles on the follow-up Every Open Eye. One such was the mighty hit of Clearest Blue, which starts off as a pensive pulse of a track, but gradually, and smartly, the band ratchet up the pressure until it is bubbling away nicely, before absolutely exploding into a joyous rave-up that is one hell of an unexpected change-up, and live is like lighting a fire under the dancefloor as the crowd goes nuts.
For me the thundering, ecstatic highlight of an exceptional album, this album explored the myth of resurrection in different cultures, and seemed apt as the group seemed to be reborn here. The mighty charge of the lead single, mind, was proof enough of the latter. Based on the idea of Babylonian creation myth, Mika Godrijk all-but rises from the flames himself as the song begins the trip from calm introduction to hedonistic, pounding dancefloor mayhem. Unsurprisingly a phenomenal live track, this was my route back into rediscovering my love for This Morn’ Omina all over again.
/TKO Mindfuck (No Safety Remix)
This project between Jason Novak and Chris Connelly has been releasing a steady stream of excellent, skeezy industrial grooves across the decade, with three albums and a number of shorter releases to their name (most recently with the excellent Operation C.O.C.K.S.U.R.E. EP the other month). Back in their early days, though, they released an excellent single that also featured Front 242 vocalist Richard23, that was a lengthy, spacey groove that felt designed purely for the industrial dancefloors that all three members originally cut their teeth on. They might have become a little more direct – and the songs shorter – since this single, but this was an excellent pointer to what they were capable of as if we needed telling.
HEALTH weren’t doing nothing in the six years between albums up to DEATH MAGIC – in particular they did the soundtrack for the mega-selling Max Payne 3 game – but it certainly seemed to light a fire in the band again, and what came on the former album was a massive step up. The lead single, in particular, was a staggering track. Fully embracing industrial electronics alongside their trademark noise/beauty dichotomy, Stonefist evolves into a fist-pumping anthem, even though the post-chorus breakdown is one of drilling noise, and live it remains a three-minute thrill-ride (I’ve seen them live quite a bit in recent years, and this is always a highlight).
/To Burn Your World
/A Place To Stand EP
One band that tore down boundaries and made a point of making statements (both socially and politically) in their music was Youth Code, whose fierce, thrilling industrial-punk-hardcore had much to love about it. Their first album made a lot of waves, too, but it was perhaps the EP that came before the follow-up that was the point where things got really interesting. Produced by Joshua Eustis, their work with the duo seemed to tease out all of the power that maybe had been suppressed amid the sometimes muddy, in retrospect, production on the debut. Nowhere was this clearer than on the brutal To Burn Your World, where it changes up into a chorus that nods to classic nineties electro-industrial, with massive synth stabs and momentum like a runaway train, as Sara Taylor apparently suggests the prospect of terrible vengeance to come to those standing in the way of progressive political progress. Youth Code has been fascinating in their determination to evolve their sound and never, ever stand still, and should be applauded for doing so, particularly when they create songs as brilliant as this.
/Come On Go Off (Rotersand Remix)
The KMFDM of recent years – disappointingly poorly-timed and poorly-defended comments online aside – had until the past couple of years become a little predictable, calling back to their past frequently, the usual sloganeering and a sound that had been getting a bit stale (something that the latest album Paradise at least did something about). But if you were a DJ and looking for a dancefloor track, you’d be digging deep into their past, at least until this monster of a remix appeared on the horizon. Rotersand picked up on a track that hadn’t even been released up to this point, stuck a dramatic build and a hulking great dancefloor-band beat underneath rampaging guitars and Sascha K. going nuts, and the result was dancefloor dynamite from the first time I dropped it (seriously – when it kicked in, the dancefloor went insane to a track they’d never heard). The “original” version, when it came the following year, felt rather insipid compared to this, needless to say. No matter – this is probably the best remix Rotersand have ever done, too.
/Hung Drawn and Quartered
This Brighton-based duo first came to our attention not long after we’d moved to London, as frequent collaborators and tour partners with Amanda Palmer, and their striking, vocal-lead style made for stark live shows and some jaw-dropping songs. Georgia Train and Ben Richards share the vocals on many songs, but Georgia’s voice is so extraordinary and powerful that it isn’t perhaps surprising that she dominates many songs. Such as this seething song – where she uses intriguing metaphors to cast away a previous lover that won’t leave her consciousness and watching this song live, much like the rest of her performances, really, was done in awed silence. They’ve recently returned to activity again, after a long period dormant and mystifyingly missing out on wider success when they seemed on the cusp of it for some time. Here’s hoping that this time they have better luck – with songs like this they certainly deserve it.
After the indulgence and diversion of the fun R.E.T.R.O, Mind.In.A.Box returned to their story arc with Revelations, that as the name suggested, began to unfold far more of the detail that ran through their albums. In some ways, not a lot had changed – this was still achingly beautiful, intricately constructed music, with a deep emotional thread about the concept of identity, loneliness and self. But the change here was that this was the first album released since they started tentative steps into being a live band – an arena where they refashioned their sound and style to suit it, with astonishing results – and it was noticeable that some songs, the glorious opener Remember being one, appeared designed for a live performance from the start. It swells like a boat on the water, as Stefan Poiss let his guard down for the first time and removed the treatments from his vocals, revealing Mind.in.a.box as absolutely human, and teeming with emotions that needed to be revealed. There aren’t many bands in industrial music and the related realms that honestly have little precedent, that isn’t just relying on other people’s ideas – Mind.in.a.box are one such band and if you’ve never heard them, my god, you’ve got a lot of catch up on and love.
/There Will Be Blood (feat. //TENSE//)
I was late to the party with The Pain Machinery – only really hearing their last few releases (and taking what turned out to be my last chance to see them live in London) – but what I did catch was steel-edged, punkish EBM that had an awful lot of menace and aggression. But it wasn’t macho bullshit, though, as that description might suggest. There was a surprisingly melodic edge, and a whole bunch of memorable songs, but the meeting of minds with //TENSE// on their last release was a fantastic, dancefloor-bound assault that figuratively drips with sweat from the speakers as it twists in a frenzy.
I mentioned the “amplified history” of Heilung in /Tuesday Ten/341 and in the talk I did at Nine Worlds that year about music and geekery, as their “interpretation” of history isn’t actually sticking with the truth, as far as we can tell – but that said, going on reports and the videos I’ve seen, it is a hell of a show. A trio of multi-national musicians with a background in metal and other styles (including one who is a trained Throat Singer) bring in a multitude of other performers to create ritualistic music that relies mainly on voice and percussion instruments and is enthralling. Friends have provided rapturous reports of their live show (I’ve not yet had the privilege), and it’s not hard to see why – this song in particular, for me, has a hypnotic sound that sounds like nothing else.
Goldfrapp have at points got caught between two contrasting styles – their energetic, punchy electro, and their interest in pastoral, barely-there folk, and sometimes not really satisfied with either. But their last album, Silver Eye, was their best album in some time, and did manage to balance both sides brilliantly, while also exploring new realms too. Possibly the best Goldfrapp song ever closed the album, as Alison Goldfrapp gained a snarl in her voice and delivery for the staggering Ocean, where everything in the mix has an edge. Reputed recorded in one take with Goldfrapp herself in a foul mood, that bitter emotion stormed through and resulted in the most interesting, captivating track to close off an album that deserves the “return to form” tag.
/Mistakes Were Made
HFF were an intriguing duo before they went on indefinite hiatus. Susan Subtract’s distinctive, harsh-edged vocals work brilliantly with Greg Vand’s stark electronics, and unlike their recently mentioned peers Youth Code dug deeper into the well of eighties industrial and EBM for their inspiration. Particularly Cabaret Voltaire, a band who’ve had a lot of love again this past decade as a result of a number of lavish reissues that have reminded of their immense influence on bands that followed them. The closing song on their second album, though, was where everything clicked into place brilliantly. A more measured, commanding performance than some of their other material in every way, the pace is slowed down, Subtract’s vocals are perhaps a little more mellowed out, and this song remains the one that I play to recommend this band, as it shows their skills and songcraft to perfection.
/He Is Not
/Why Aren’t You Laughing?
Dutch six-piece GOLD have been on my radar for a while, their dark, forbidding alternative rock being a sound I loved as soon as I heard it. This latest album seemed to push them to another level, both in terms of recognition but also in terms of songwriting. He Is Not is a powerful, propulsive track that makes great use of the three guitarists in the band for additional texture, but really, this song is all about vocalist Milena Eva. It is a song about dealing with the death of loved ones, and how you keep yourself going when others no longer can. Death comes for us all, of course, and we have to face it, even if it’s so hard to do so. This song turned out, not long after release, to be one of the songs I could turn to, to remind me that you have to keep pushing forward rather than wallowing in misery. A welcome reality check, perhaps.
/Rattle Them Bones
We first stumbled across the dark, murder-balladry of LOCKS as support to deux furieuses just three years ago, and have since become regular attendees of their shows in North London. As is often the way, too, first impressions count, and the first song of theirs I heard at that first night was early single Wishbone. A lurching, instantly memorable bluesy, jazzy rhythm locks itself into your memory first, before Locks Geary-Griffin tells a tale of darkness and hints at horrors just out of sight, something, it turned out, that is the band’s stock-in-trade. They tell of fantastical horrors but also use these as metaphors for the horrors of modern life, and by blurring the lines between the two, they make for enthralling listening every time.
/Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Arcade Fire aimed bigger during this past decade – and I was privileged to see one of their frankly astonishing gigs, in an appropriately large scale in Hyde Park, and I’ll never forget being part of the masses singing along to a spine-tingling Wake Up – and they perhaps didn’t always quite hit the ridiculous heights of the first couple of albums. But when they did, they were amazing. One such song was the highlight of the excellent The Suburbs, an album looking back at teenage escape and hope, and as it rose out of sister track Sprawl I (Flatland), voiced by Win Butler, Régine Chassagne takes over and provides a dizzying, electrifying vocal performance. Where rather than the dream of escape that much of the rest of the album takes on, she grabs life and the song by the horns and does something about it, and by the end of the staggering, beautiful song, you want to get up and go with her. Not only that, but Arcade Fire nudged into thrilling synthpop, while never losing their signature style, and perhaps here, they will never be better than this again. I mean, how do you top this?
Greg Puciato formed The Black Queen with Joshua Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv, NIN) and Steven Alexander (former tech for DEP and NIN), as Dillinger Escape Plan were preparing to disband, and the sound of his new group made a lot of sense when you considered some of the sonic diversions that DEP had taken in their later years. DEP wasn’t always chaotic, noisy hardcore, instead moving into melodic and electronic territory at points, and The Black Queen took that idea much, much further. Gone were any traces of the metallic fury of DEP, and instead, there was a sleek, electro-industrial-soul sound, with synths on some songs that reminded me of the smooth pop-soul that dominated the charts in the eighties. And I mean that as a compliment, as Greg Puciato’s singing voice here is rich and powerful. The pick of that first album, though, is the sleazy pulse of Secret Scream, that just howls of sweat-drenched, illicit nights and, frankly is fucking great.
/The Problem With Redheads
Sadly the name Them Are Us Too will be forever be associated with the shocking Ghost Ship warehouse fire, which claimed the life of the group’s Cash Askew, among 36 deaths. But they should also be remembered for their striking, dreamy music. One track on their debut stood out a mile for me, as it opened with woozy synths and a gorgeous, powerful vocal from Kennedy Ashlyn, and pushed forward for six glorious minutes, a song of yearning, sadness and regret. Ashlyn has struck out on her own since this group was so cruelly ended, as SRSQ (and her voice is just as astonishing live, as she proved last year touring with Drab Majesty), but this song thus far, remains the best example of her talent, as well as that of her former bandmate.