So, before I rush headlong into my top ten tracks of 2009 (albums next week, gigs the week after), a quick mention of a few acts that have wowed me, bored me, surprised me or otherwise this year. Some of these may be in the other lists, others won’t be.
So let’s start with the good stuff. Perhaps more than in recent years I actually got into new music this year. So what is there to note? The post-metal thrill of And So I Watch You from Afar, for starters – not as serious as many of their peers, and they are awesome live, too. Well worth picking up the album. Also: Urceus Exit (the North American Seabound, perhaps? Similarly intelligent and effusive lyrical themes coupled with sleek electro-industrial-pop), The Big Pink (where shoegaze met pop and a smattering of industrial electronics to make an intriguing band), Necrotek (old-school industrial infused impressively with sheer hate), HEALTH (noisy-rock, electronics, some truly staggering technical ability, etc), and The Twilight Sad (shoegaze meets indie-pop, and they get along famously).
There were some surprises, too, this year – like the unexpected comebacks of Sunna and Imminent, both of which were great for very different reasons. And then there were the brilliant returns of Alice In Chains and The Prodigy, neither of which were mere exercises in nostalgia, much to my relief. A sign perhaps that I didn’t have my ear to the ground as much as I should was the fact that I was totally surprised to find The PCP Principle signing to Hands, and releasing a fantastic album. Also of note for this year was finding I liked Mesh after all…
Not every release was great this year, though, and a few really did disappointment me. In particular the new 16volt wasn’t as great, for me, as many others made out – more, er, organic than FullBlackHabit, there were some fleeting moments of brilliance on American Porn Songs but nowhere near enough. The new Behemoth album suffered, like 16v, from the shadow of it’s predecessor for me, too, while IAMX‘s third album, Kingdom of Welcome Addiction, was something of a damp squib. In fact, the sound of a long, ecstatic party that had come to an end, it was again a patchy and frustrating album.
2008: Mind.in.a.box – What Used To Be (Short Storm)
2007: Prometheus Burning – Battery Drain
2006: No tracks of the year list
2005: Grendel – Soilbleed / Rotersand – Exterminate Annihilate Destroy
2004: No tracks of the year list
In other disappointments, not having time to do all the great music I’ve heard this year justice was a big minus. This will be sorted soon, I promise. Although not having my time wasted by expensive, overly long and poorly compiled compilations – Endzeit Bunkertracks Act IV being a particularly guilty party here. If this was a snapshot of the future of the electro/industrial/whatever scene, it’s fucked. Also worth noting, as I finally leave the city for good this week, is that Sheffield is left with little more than HMV, Record Collector and the supermarkets to purchase music from, with the closure of Jack’s Records last summer.
Two final things: in this year’s guilty pleasures, there is only really the one – the oh-so-kitsch and fun Little Boots – no idea why, I just love her stuff. There is a longer list of irritations, as you might expect. Headed by two of the “great white hopes” this year: Florence and the Machine – whiny, irritating Alison Goldfrapp wannabe. Oh, and that godawful cover of You’ve Got The Love really gets my goat, too. Next. La Roux – if I want eighties synthpop, I’ll listen to the real thing, rather than infuriating, over-produced facsimilies.
And as 19 million watch the winner of X-Factor, there is the continuing death of music television. How much longer before someone does a music video channel online? Properly, I don’t mean like Youtube. Something interactive, with a decent resolution and a better selection. It’s possible, I’m sure, my cynical mind suspects that the labels would never allow it, sadly. Also fucking me off is the continuing upward spiral of gig ticket prices, and of course their “booking fees”. This would appear, despite it being a blatant case of ripping the punters off, to have no political will behind it to sort the situation, either. Me no understand…
In these mp3-based times, this isn’t necessarily a collection of singles, more the best individual tracks I’ve heard this year (and were released in the last twelve months since last year’s list).
Alle Lust Will Ewigkeit
Aimed squarely at the dancefloor, Nachtmahr’s heavily sexualised and military imagery has grated a little to me, but musically they deliver the goods time and again – Thomas Rainer seems to simply want people to dance, and that’s what his latest project do very well. Needless to say there are some belting tracks to slay dancefloors with, and this one is my favourite by miles. Beats turned up to eleven? Check. Harsh-sounding samples simply to give a couple of seconds breather? Check. Doesn’t waste a second? Check. An object lesson in how to do dancefloor industrial (and I hear the live show is good fun, too).
American Porn Songs
Yeah, so I didn’t like all the album, but the opening track – and also the first promo track I got – is still utterly fantastic. In fact, one of the best 16v songs ever released, in my opinion. A slower, bruising rock track that opens up into a bright, buzzing chorus from out of nowhere, and also a reminder that 16v are, at their best, a lot more accessible than some might make out.
Relax And Ride It – Be My Enemy Remix
Beating A Dead Horse: -The Relax And Ride It Single
The most immediate song on ADR’s superb third album, it was no surprise to see it remixed by various people and it was quickly a dancefloor hit, too. While Memmaker‘s remix was a more straightforward dancefloor take, this one was fantastic fun. Be My Enemy, if you missed my previous mentions, is Phil Barry (ex-Cubanate), and if this remix was a way to get some attention to his new project, then job done. He turns the track into galloping industrial rock that is the perfect pace for the dancefloor, while keeping the best bits of the original intact too.
Through The Devil Softly
Hope Sandoval is likely to get a lot of coverage in the music press soon with her collaboration on Massive Attack’s forthcoming album having a likely-to-be controversial video (and the ongoing possibility of a new Mazzy Star album after fourteen years), but she deserves rather more for her long-awaited return with this album. Or, at least, this song, in my eyes, as I can’t stop playing it. It’s gorgeous, her warm, bluesy vocals taking centre stage as they should, with a sparse accompaniment. A song for dark nights staying in with your lover.
Prozac Nation – Retro Radio Radutron Mix By The Rabid Whole
Smartbomb 2.3: The Underground Mixes
An astoundingly inventive remix by a seemingly up-and-coming Canadian industrial rock band, rather than just sticking a faster beat under the original (as far too many remixes do), The Rabid Whole‘s idea was to keep the vocals as they were, but bury them in radio static, with lots of “old” radio samples, with the track coming in and out of clarity like an old shortwave radio transmission – and the titled aim of a “retro” mix is complete. A great idea, and it gets full marks for execution, too – a fresh and unusual take on the remix norm that would get tiresome if endlessly repeated, but a blast in this instance.
KMFDM’s best album in years – appropriately marking their twenty-fifth birthday, too – had a whole host of storming tracks (in fact, I can’t think of any filler at all other than the closer), but it was this, their first foray into using Russian in their lyrics, that was the unassailable peak. A pounding, anthemic industrial-metal track that harked back to the classic nineties KMFDM, but without merely relying on the past to make it great. A reminder that you can look forward too and still sound fantastic.
I’m still not exactly sure how I’m supposed to describe this – industrial shoegaze, perhaps – but whatever, it was something of a red-herring for the rest of the album, which while more focussed than their debut, was still miles from the mainstream. This track, though, underpinned by a hulking, quasi-industrial beat and some impressive guitar treatments, sounded like nothing else upon release and still doesn’t now. The video is, er, interesting, too.
Bring Me Victory EP
I could, and probably will, go on and on about this song for ever more, but this cover is so good it deserves it’s place here. A faithful re-reading of the majestic Swans ode to the crushing inevitability of failing time and again in life, MDB were pretty much the only band I could think of who could do justice to the sheer emotional weight of this track, and so it proves – Aarons vocals are perfect for it, and musically little is changed other than the band joining in later in the track. One version of this will play at my funeral.
Do You Feel The Same
I love it when a band finally shows the promise they’ve had all the long. A band I’d previously thought were an interesting industrial act, but too close perhaps in style to Skinny Puppy, their first taster of new material in a while was this, which was put at the front of Septic VIII, and with good reason – they’ve finally gained something of their own sound, and it’s strikingly brilliant. The SP-influence is still there, but with melodic vocals, a thumping, powerful production and a killer chorus. When the only complaint is that the song is too short, you know it’s good.
I wasn’t really all that bothered about this New York band previously – sure, they’d made a couple of good singles but I wasn’t really caught by them, until I heard this. Eschewing the guitar-rock for a synth-based rock instead, it takes it’s time to get it’s claws in, but once the chorus ramps up, before the track literally explodes into life for the second verse…Honestly, this is fucking glorious, the sound of a band at the peak of their powers and in full knowledge that they have a song of pure pop genius on their hands.