A good year for music, so here’s twenty albums I think were great this year.
2009: Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue
2008: Aesthetic Perfection – A Violent Emotion
2007: Battles – Mirrored
2006: In Strict Confidence – Exile Paradise
2005: Cyanotic – Transhuman
2004: Rotersand – Truth Is Fanatic
As per the best tracks list last week, not everything I might have included made it into the list, but I have to stop somewhere. So here goes.
Dunno what’s got me interested in any music notionally “goth” again – perhaps it’s my return to London – but this year has uncovered a couple of gems, one of which is Zola Jesus, who it appears that true to form I caught onto a little late. It’s utterly exquisite, blissed out music that uniquely amongst most remotely mainstream music that acquires the tag, perhaps actually is something resembling goth. It’s also not a million miles away from Fever Ray in it’s cold, aloof feel, but without the deliberate wierdness and erasing of most human touches. Instead it is kinda warm, and unexpectedly accessible.
I was never a huge fan of previous AL releases – but perhaps it was just that I was looking for the wrong things out of the music. But adding a “live band”, and opening up the sound a bit, has resulted in a striking, sultry electronic rock album that is, to put it mildly, a very sexual album. But it’s not that overt – it’s all about the atmospheres created, and the fact that this album just begs to be listened to late at night, in the dark. It’s not a daytime album, that’s for sure. Shikee stands apart from other female – and male – industrial artists, and long may this continue.
Ok, so it’s not quite as astounding as Flawed was, but Stephen James Knight has delivered yet another brutal assault on the senses. It’s not quite power noise, not quite drum’n’bass, not quite breakcore, but instead is a hulking hybrid of the three that barely lets up on the rhythmic attack for all of it’s hour-long duration. I’d love to see people try and dance to this. Misfire? Nah, he’s bang on target.
I’d hazard that there won’t be any bands similar to Heimataerde any time soon. Their medieval-themed industrial is a striking, unusual hybrid, but one that has now survived four albums and still doesn’t sound tired. In fact, for the new album, the unusual pipe melodies are toned down a little, and there is a more expansive sound than before – and this all results in a more coherent album than before (although there is still nothing quite as astonishing as Deus Lo Vult from Gotteskrieger). I still suspect this might be experienced best live, though – and I really ought to get ’round to translating the story for this album, too…
Dancefloor industrial, heavy as fuck, just the way I like it. And let’s be frank, I’d have loved this whether it was Phil Barry from Cubanate or not, it was just easier to pick up on with the namecheck. Angry, heavy, political – Helter Skelter and Start The Revolution frankly seem rather prescient in these protest-heavy times – they are everything too much in the industrial scene hasn’t been in recent years, instead far too much having been based around sex, violence and sex-and-violence. With new Cubanate material on the way at last, it’s questionable though whether more BME material will appear – I’d certainly not complain if it did, though.
As I noted last week in my live review, the return of The Young Gods always feels like an event. By only releasing an album every three or four years, and by being so influential, they’ve earned this status. And once again, they’ve released an album that sounds like no-one else. Considerably more mellowed out that the last album – although that’s not to say there aren’t moments where they rock very hard indeed – here they are masters of subtlety, with songs that creep up on you (Blooming has a very apt title, that’s for sure). Not for the first time, the now-not-so-Young Gods have made an album that takes some time to appreciate fully.
Bill Leeb injects a little more humanity, without compromising on the heavy-duty industrial electronics, and the result is the best FLA album in absolutely ages – yes, better than Artificial Soldier. A better-balanced album – including both a collection of their most thumping dancefloor-industrial tracks in years, and also more thoughtful moments, too – the crunching, unusually personal Angriff, and the lengthy soundscape of Downfall. I’m even happy to overlook the good, but utterly out of place Al Jourgensen-featuring Stupidity…
Neon Bible was, umm, not that great, really, so it’s heartening to know that Funeral wasn’t a one- off. This time the album theme took us into reflections of a more innocent time, of those times growing up, and one that suited both the wistful, reflective side of the band and also the rabble-rousing, anthemic side. It’s going to need yet more listens to it to fully appreciate some of it, but this is proof that Arcade Fire are definitely a band with no peers. It’s also an album with perhaps the most unexpected new direction in a while from any band – the staggering, skycraping glory of the synthpoppy Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), that I somehow omitted from last week’s list.
The other goth gem from this year. Yes, members of the band are friends of mine, but this is no exercise in nepotism. It’s simply the first great gothic rock album I’ve heard in some years that has actually kept me listening. Yes, it sounds a bit like many goth bands of the past, but the warm, deep vocals and some simply brilliantly written songs (ones that you can hum or sing along with by the first chorus, and that stick in the head) take it beyond being just another goth album, and into something new in the scene that is worth hearing.
After a few years since the last Architect release, Daniel Myer’s return to the project this year has yielded startling results. By far the best Architect release yet, it’s a lengthy, diverse IDM album that is unafraid to reach into almost every corner of darker dance music going, providing both fantastic moments of beat-fuelled power, and also elegant ambience – and is a hugely satisfying listen from start to finish.
It became really rather clear with their last album that SAM were future industrial dancefloor kings, and that future arrived with a jolt with this album. Little or no time is wasted on such niceties as a buildup, instead the album is bulldozing industrial power pretty much from start to finish. By some distance the most requested in my DJ sets this year, I’d think, at least this album gives me no shortage of choice in giving the dancefloor what it wants. Sometimes it’s nice to have a brainless album to dance to, and this delivers that in spades.
Who’d ever have thought that the finest Black Metal band of this past decade would be Swedish? Not that there has been much competition, mind. The last ten years have been broadly pretty poor for the genre, with no end of wannabes and lots of bands that sound very much like their predecessors. So thank $DEITY for Watain. Sworn To The Dark was brilliant, but this is something else. A whirlwind of pitch-dark metal, it doesn’t rely purely on blastbeats and guitars like angry bees buzzing in a tin, instead it builds atmospheres and actual songs – while tearing your face off with brutal riffs and neck snapping thrash-like workouts. And more than anything else, they actually sound, and look, evil, rather than looking like a bunch of kids who got to play with the makeup cupboard. I’d say I’d like more black metal like this, but it would only mean everyone would copy these guys instead. So let’s put it another way – this band is pretty much the only reason I can think of for Black Metal remaining a relevant force.
Of all the comebacks this year – of which this was probably the one I was most excited about from the moment it was announced – this was the one that I really had the fear over. Michael Gira made a great noise about the fact that this was not a revisiting of the past, instead a new Swans moving forwards. And remarkably, it was. Ok, so it nodded at the past, with grinding, heavy songs, a couple of which perhaps could have fitted seamlessly into older albums, not to mention some acoustic ballads that at points were just as heavy, but in terms of feel. Only eight songs, but not a wasted moment. I’m hoping this isn’t it for the revitalised band, I can tell you.
Eight years since Zer0space, and it was like they had never left. And in the case of kidneythieves, this is definitely a good thing – after just two albums it always felt like unfinished business when they disappeared. Clearly a band with more appeal than just in the industrial scene – their industrial-rock-hybrid is far too catchy and poppy to disappear into a small pond – somehow you get the feeling that given the right exposure, they’d be massive. Just listen to Freeky People in particular, and you’ll see why…
I still owe a review of this to Connexion Bizarre, and it *will* follow this week once I have a spare hour, but in short, this is an album born from adversity. Ingeniously funded via the Kickstarter model (a tactic used by other bands since, too) – and yes, I contributed – this was a return by the band, in the main, to the noisy industrial savagery of the first album and the style suits them far better. And clearly, there was a heck of a lot of sheer rage that had been built up that needed a release valve. And this album was it. Also of note is the second CD, their side project Four Pi Movement – a pure noise album that is so brutally extreme it’s almost impossible to listen to in one sitting. Now, if anyone can get them back over to the UK for another show, I’d love them forever.
An album of rampaging industrial power, samples, destruction and a whole lot of fun, taking in elements from all over the fucking place (metal tracks, brass bands, the Blues Brothers), this album dropped back at the start of the year and we’ve been picking up our jaws off the floor ever since. Nothing too serious, and brilliantly constructed and written, my only worry is how exactly he’s ever going to follow this.
Yes, I know this was released in late 2009. But I don’t care, as unforgivably I didn’t give this album the real recognition it deserved this time last year, and it’s time to put that wrong right. Perhaps it’s because it’s not an instant album. It took a number of listens for this to get under my skin, but since it has, it’s been a constant fixture on my playlists, although I’m not sure it’s ever made it into a DJ set. But then, it’s not really a club album. This is a highly intelligent electronic album, full of pretty melodies, clever arrangements and more than anything a killer line in memorable songs. There isn’t a single bad song here, but some – the run from tracks three through to six in particular, and more than anything else the utterly astonishing beauty of Drifting – stand head and shoulders above the rest, and when you hear the laid-back, lengthy electronic-ambient songs from previous album Contra, you realise just how gigantic a step forward Richard Duggan took with this album.
A long time coming, this delivered everything it should have done, and probably a bit more besides. Production-wise in particular, a massive step up from Transhuman, and arguably with better songs, otherwise this is business as usual for Cyanotic. Heavy, metal-tinged industrial with an astoundingly dense production, but with a humanity within the mechanics that allows some light into the darkness, and a whole album of cracking tracks that like a number of other albums in this list, really has rewarded repeat listening.
I remarked on just how amazing this album is last week, but to re-iterate, I’ve come ’round to the view that this is probably the Deftones’ finest album of all – yes, better than White Pony – forty-one minutes with no flab, no waste, just eleven brilliant songs that are sequenced perfectly, and work so, so well as a whole album. This latter point is important, in this age of single-track downloads. I’m still a lover of a complete album, it must be said. But anyway, this album has everything. They hit the extremes (the screams of Rocket Skates, the bass-heavy darkness of You’ve Seen The Butcher, the gorgeous, crooning Beauty School…), and all those bits inbetween. After a few lean years, this was everything I’d ever hoped that this band could do again, and some. And in most other years, it’d be the top of this list, too.
But then, this was released the following month. It’s taken some months to finally settle on what was the best of this year, although in my eyes some time it’s been a straight fight between the top three. But the more I listened to this album, the more it revealed it’s extraordinary brilliance. If you must, call it futurepop, but what it really is…is simply a near-perfect distillation of electronic pop music with a darker edge, a coherent and detailed theme, and a considerable emotional punch. I mentioned in my review earlier this year just how jaw-droppingly good this album is, and if I must pick anything out, it’s the mid-album six-song run from Stage Fright onwards that is just so unbelievably good. Frank Spinath’s work always seemed a little underrated before this – but finally everyone seems to have caught on, particularly if the success of Stage Fright is anything to go by. The thing is, if it simply builds expectation for whatever comes next from him – be that a new album under the guise of Seabound, Edge of Dawn or something else – I’ve no doubt that he’ll meet that expectation, something I think I could say about very few others. Anyway, I’ve run out of superlatives for this album – just go and listen to it. I’m going to do so, again, now.