Countdown: 2012: Albums

As I noted last week, 2012 really was a good year for music, as far as I was concerned, including a number of new discoveries.

Countdown: 2012

27-Nov: Disappointments
04-Dec: Best Tracks
11-Dec: Best Albums
24-Dec: Best Gigs

Playlists

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Countdown: Albums

2011: This Morn’ Omina – L’Unification Des Forces Opposantes
2010: Edge of Dawn – Anything That Gets You Through The Night
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

I got a lot of albums, of course, so this has been expanded this year to a top 30 to shoehorn in as much as possible, and even then there were still albums I had to miss out. There has been a evidence of new trends in industrial in particular this year, we shall see how this pans out.

As is always the way, there is a Spotify playlist for the majority of the list, and then next week I complete the round-up of 2012 with the gigs of the year.


Number_30mandro1d
Mandro1d
ROBOPHOBIA
self-released

The best recommendation for an album deliberately taking the piss is that it can be listened to alongside those being targetted, and not be immediately noticed, and this is the case here. Aiming fire at various parts of the industrial scene, it scores a bullseye with pretty much everything aimed at, and frankly at points makes a better job of “terr0r” industrial than most of the bands doing it seriously. Ok, so it isn’t quite the joyous, laugh-a-minute half-hour that the live show was, but as parody albums go, this is pretty much unbeatable.


Number_29raime
Raime
Quarter Turns Over A Living Line
Blackest Ever Black

One of the stranger releases I’ve heard this year, I was perhaps most surprised to discover these guys in a Guardian interview recently, and the interview had my interest piqued. So off I went to buy, and listening to it on good headphones I found an album a little different to that which I had expected. Not in a bad way, mind. The album is remarkably minimalist: featuring nothing more than drones, found sounds, interesting beats and quite exceptional amounts of bass. Lots of space is left in the mix, and if you don’t listen to it really loud (or on good headphones), I suspect it may not work for you at all. Not for everyone, this album – many might be looking for something rather more immediate.


Number_28deathof6x7
(The Death of) Six By Seven
(The Death of) Six By Seven
self-released

Chris Olley, since the latest demise of Six By Seven (reputedly returning with another new lineup in the new year), has concentrated instead on glowering, beatless songs. Olley’s voice, though, immediately renders the songs as related to Six By Seven, and the lyrics – downbeat, bleak and sometimes downright hateful – continue the link too. But these songs stand alone nicely, crawling through the wreckage of misery, but retaining a sharp sense of humour to the end.


Number_274PAN1T
Distorted Memory
Temple of the Black Star
self-released

A curious release, this, but one that made absolute sense once heard. I’d picked up Distorted Memory’s last album, which turned out to be not quite what I was expecting – having heard them on compilations, I was expecting cold, harsh industrial of the Hocico-esque end of things, but what actually transpired was an artist taking that basic idea and pulling in almost world-music instrumentation (or samples), and a vocal-style that was more akin to extreme metal than anything in the industrial scene. So with this open-minded approach, a remix album where different artists take on the same track, but then are pulled together to create one coherent whole (i.e. each track seamlessly flows into the next), works very well indeed. Those “world” influences are present from the start, as are various Witch House-y elements, but frankly this deserves to stand on it’s own merits as a fascinating piece of composition and also as an extremely imaginative way of approaching a remix project.


Number_26ludovicotech
Ludovico Technique
Some Things Are Beyond Therapy
Metropolis Records

I first came across this band last year through a promo, and was so taken with the striking sound of said release that I was left keenly awaiting their debut album. I wasn’t disappointed, either. The origin of the band’s name was not a pleasant-looking experience, and the band appear to aim to create a similar feeling of unease in their music, too. Heavily distorted, snarling vocals accompany punchy, stabbing synths and thundering beats, but unlike (many) other bands that have gone down this route, this band actually understand that there needs to be variety amongst the angst, and there is beauty amid the harsh sounds here.


Greyhound have been pretty much the last word in rhythmic noise extremity for some years, but have never really been the most listenable act – but then, I guess that was never really the point. Their sheer extremity, though, has put off many over the years, and previous releases to this have always for me been something of a trial to get through more than about half of in one sitting. But for this release, something somewhere changed. It is still brutally extreme, but the rhythms and beats have managed to fight their way out of the noise to take centre stage, and the result is a brilliant – and enjoyable – rhythmic noise album. I never thought I’d use the words ‘Greyhound’ and ‘enjoyable’ in the same sentence…


Number_24bentandbrokencover
Collide
Bent & Broken
Noiseplus Music

Easily on a par with their previous stellar remix collection Vortex, this double-CD looks at the last two albums, with Collide and various like-minded artists tearing the songs apart and in some cases starting again, retaining only a few base elements. Too many remix albums get tied-up in trying to chase current trends, getting the “cool” remixers in, which of course date almost immediately as trends move on by the time the remixes appear. None of that happens here, with remixers doing the work clearly having a love of the material in the first place. The end result is a wonderfully coherent album that, in my view, actually improves on the original material, and adds a few new songs besides.


Number_23death-grips-the-money-store-lp
Death Grips
The Money Store
Epic Records

This album was not just about Hacker (my track of the year 2012), but was one of the best rap albums I’ve heard in some years. “Mixtape”-cum-CD Ex-Military was awesome, once I finally cottoned on, however this album widened their horizons amazingly. In fact to such a degree that it became a breathless job just trying to keep up with them as they flitted from style-to-style, sample-to-sample, and blitzed through thirteen tracks in what feels like no time at all.


Number_22sabes_dieselcharm
Sabes
Diesel Charm
Ant-Zen

Rhythmic noise, of the kind that Ant-Zen used to have a full roster of artists doing, or so it seemed, seems to have fallen out of favour somewhat (even the clubs don’t really play a great deal of it, or perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places) – a point rammed home by the great (but didn’t quite make this list) post-rock meets electronics of Nao being one of the most talked-about releases on the label this year. This one got some attention, but otherwise seemed to be missed somewhat – a seething mass of power-noise electronics and twisted metal. If this sounds to you like Converter, you wouldn’t be far wrong – but with Scott Sturgis long having given up working as Converter, it is up to others to take up his baton and Sabes does a great job of applying to do so.


The return of the grindcore kings saw much rejoicing from my side of our house, at least – and for their first album in well over five years, they reeled in the more experimental sides of the last couple of albums, in the main, and instead concentrated on face-melting grind. For the unitiated, listening to the opening portion of this album loudly must be like the sound of facing an onrushing avalanche, and things happen here just as quickly (the first four songs are dispensed with in not far off three minutes, and certainly before you’ve had a chance to draw breath). Yeah, so there are a few songs that slow things down a little, but they are little more than breathers before the blistering aural assault begins again.


Continuing their lonely furrow into a darkwave-ish realm that few other bands seem to dare to tread, here ISC widen their palette again with sometimes mixed results, but despite the odd misstep they remain a band that I always look out for new material from. This album takes in Russian-influenced darkwave (Morpheus), all-out gothic rock (Tiefer), theatrical ballads (Forever and More, and this one was too much too cheesy for me), and then one truly outstanding, jaw-dropping moment in the mix of rock, dubstep-electronics (just check the breakdowns) and soaring female gothic vocals in Being Born. Nearly twenty-years into their career, they continue to confound, evolve and amaze. Not many other bands can claim that.


Number_19chelseawolfe_unknown
Chelsea Wolfe
Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs
Sargent House

Probably the shortest album in this listing this year, this is something of a stopgap, apparently, between last year’s glorious Apokalypsis and her third full-length album. Some stopgap, too – twenty-five minutes and nine songs of more gothic gloomery, but with the atmospheric effects and distortions all stripped away to reveal the dark and fragile heart underneath – and it reveals that Wolfe is perhaps even better a songwriter than I thought she was…and Applachia is easily the match of anything she has released previously, the mournful strings that dominate parts of the song just sublime. It does beg the question, too, as to what some of her better-known songs (like Mer) would sound like if they gained similar treatment…


Number_18of-monsters-and-men-560x560
Of Monsters And Men
My Head Is An Animal
Universal

Maybe the appeal of this album will waver in the end for me, but as one of the few albums I’ve ever discovered while on holiday (even a voracious music-buyer like me occasionally has some time off, and foreign holidays are often that time), this has been a charming album that I’m still discovering wonderful new moments in. This is quirky, joyous (folk-)pop music, with an appeal way beyond it’s Icelandic origins and an album full of anthemic choruses and uplifting, floating-on-air melodies.


I featured The Soft Moon’s debut album in my list last year, and I’m of the view that this second album is actually better than the first. There isn’t a huge amount different, really – this is still goth-(and dry ice shrouded-)post-punk, however the hooks have been sharpened, the production honed impressively, and the songs themselves are on another level. Not that we can decipher the vocals at all, but I’m now convinced that this is entirely the point.


Number_16godspeed_you_black_emperor_-_allelujah_dont_bend_ascend
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Constellation

Years away, and with a few member changes, don’t appear to have changed the scale of Godspeed’s reach one iota. Still working more like an orchestra than a band, with lengthy, multi-section movements rather than songs, and the sheer length of most of their tracks – including the main two here – allows them to build steadily, and to hit colossal heights with more of a punch. Opener Mladic is the perfect example of this, a slow, calm intro explodes into monstrous, metal-riffage and a mid-section that could well soundtrack the return of the Four Horsemen. They’ve been much-missed in recent years, and the recent resurgence in interest following their reunion will hopefully result in further new material to come.


Number_15author_punisher_ursus
Author & Punisher
Ursus Americanus
Seventh Rule

American Bear, the album title translates to, and combined with the title of the artist, it is all rather apt. Opening with one of the most crushing tracks I’ve ever heard, this album is an impressive meeting of minds of doomy, sludgy metal and harsh, noisy electronics. Some tracks head more one way than the other, but opener Terrorbird in particular manages to balance the two sides brilliantly, like some kind of guitar riffing monster emerging from deep below the earth, with the slow-motion beats (think early Swans with even more bass) the sound of humanity being crushed underfoot. And like Swans before them, I suspect the live experience (European dates are being considered for 2013, apparently) will be equally punishing.


Number_14V▲LH▲LL + M‡яc▲ll▲
Għøsŧs of Λnŧįquįŧұ
self-released

The so-called “Witch House” genre has splintered ever more over the past year, with no two acts in the “scene” really sounding all that alike, aside from usage of slowed-down beats, many of the artists have little in common sonically. Two that do, to a point, are V▲LH▲LL and M‡яc▲ll▲, whose joint release (four songs from each artist) was one of the more distinctive releases this year. I’ve heard V▲LH▲LL described as having a nautically-themed sound, and this perhaps isn’t far off – but not by way of sea shanties, but instead the way the sound washes up against the speakers, suggesting storms gathering on the horizon even if they never quite hit. M‡яc▲ll▲ have a more forbidding tone, with vocals emerging from the morass of slow-moving sounds and a feeling that the night that they are soundtracking is going to be a long and difficult one. Despite their differences, though, the two sides mesh together well and a great album results.


Losing one of the (twin) singers from the band was initially considered to be a very bad thing, as their voices intertwined such on previous releases that their sound would be affected. Remarkably, this album finds the now-duo sounding perhaps better than ever, as they wound a loose concept of ghosts around dreamy, multi-layered songs, that suddenly snap into focus at points to hit astonishing, electronically-assisted highs (the charging, glorious Lafaye, for one, and the stark, chiming Scavenger, for another).


Number_12neurosis_honor
Neurosis
Honor Found In Decay
Neurot Recordings

There is a bleak, pitch-dark heart to be found at the core of Neurosis’ best work, and this – their first album in five years – album makes this as clear as ever. Little light is allowed to penetrate this hour of heavy, blues-influenced music, that I really do hesitate to call doom metal, or post-metal, or whatever. If we must add labels, I think it is long clear now that Neurosis need a genre of their own to appropriately describe them, as no-one even comes close to sounding like them anymore, and no-one else in metal (in any part of the scene) makes music as majestic and as absorbing as this.


Number_11desertshore
X-TG
Desertshore/The Final Report
Industrial Records

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As final projects go, without the context this is a weird one. A Genesis P-Orridge-lacking Throbbing Gristle set out to record a full-album take on Nico’s Desertshore, but Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson dies before it is completed – so Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti decide to complete the album as a tribute to him, with the assistance of various guest vocalists, some more surprising than others. The results are quite simply astonishing. Antony Hegarty’s contribution to the opening track is beautifully ghostly, Blixa is, well Blixa, and even the use of Sasha Grey (pr0n star turned industrial (ish) artist) makes perfect sense as you listen. But as the minimal, prowling backing begins to ratchet up the tension, Cosey herself gets the star turn in the magnificent album centrepiece All That Is My Own, a stalking rhythm becomes enveloped by a squall of noise and what appears to be heavily processed guitars before dropping away and fading into nothing just as the tension becomes too much. Incredibly, the second CD – a collation of the final TG sessions and concepts, it would appear, is just as enthralling. If this is the end of Throbbing Gristle as we know it – which I suspect it is, what a way to go.


Number_10killitwithfire
Prometheus Burning
KILL IT WITH FIRE
WTII Records

ProBurn’s fourth album distils their strongest elements – their storm surge of power noise, their obvious love of old-school industrial, and Nikki Telladictorian’s distinctive vocals – and results in their best all-round album since their striking debut. There are hard-hitting dancefloor anthems, crunching rhythms and more reflective, darker, almost ambient moments – in short the balance this band appear to have been striving for for a while now, and the results are very impressive indeed.


Number_09enduser_needles
Enduser / Needle Sharing / The Teknoist
Enduser Shares Needles With The Teknoist
Ad-Noiseam

A sequel of sorts to the (now ten years old!) Panacea Shares Needles With Tarmvred, Needle Sharing this time brought in two newer breakcore styles for another meeting of minds that perhaps even beats the original release. The beats are brutal, the pace kept high, but a sense of humour courses through the whole release in the form of the brilliant song-titles and clever use of sampling (there is even Alan Partridge (!) in the first Teknoist track), and unlike many breakcore releases I’ve heard, it is sequenced in such a way that the whole release is a utter joy to get through.


A year ago I was barely aware of Rebekah Delgado, but after seeing her live back in the spring I was instantly hooked on her smoky, late-night tales of love, sex, betrayal and redemption. Ok, so hardly new subject matter for a singer, but it is done with such style (and wit) that this is an album well-worth catching up with. There is a real sense of the theatrical and the dramatic here, as if mere “pop” music is simply not enough to aim for, and those lofty aims serve it well with moments sensual, rude, and downright pretty in their arrangements.


Number_07idlerwheel
Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Epic Records

Still as confessional lyrically as ever, this is pretty much the only similarity between the Fiona Apple of now and the Fiona Apple of the mid-90s when she first made quite a splash. Yeah, so the lyrics are still beautifully observed barbs, but she has clearly grown up and is now considering different issues to before, and musically she has evolved too. Here everything is “acoustic” (which I think actually means no electronics or samples), with quirky arrangements and unusual vocal melodies filling every available space, and some interesting use of everyday items as percussion, too. But all those quirks wouldn’t be anything without the glorious songs contained within, and this album has absolutely no filler.


Number_06deftones-koi-no-yokan
Deftones
Koi No Yokan
Reprise

Deftones’ late period (the band have been going for nearly twenty years, now!) resurgence continues to amazing effect with their second brilliant album in a row. Like Diamond Eyes, this is (in the main) snappy songs, whip-cracking riffs, awesome use of dynamics to transform song after song on a dime, but more than anything once again Chino Moreno’s vocal range and delivery is at the heart of everything they do. Sweeping from a roar or scream to crooning in a heartbeat, but crucially he also knows when to reign it in for maximum impact. This band are swiftly becoming one of the greatest rock bands of our age.


Five albums in, and MIAB continue their in their own world, literally – with their fifth album seeing them return to the stories and the world conjured up through their first three albums, and the results this time were as gripping as before. But as always with this band, don’t expect instant gratification, as that isn’t their style. These are songs that you need to immerse in, to listen to in detail, and to appreciate the intricate electronic soundscapes that shimmer behind the impassioned vocals. But the difference this time is that their experiences as a live band (where their sound is reworked to astonishing, heart-rending effect, of course) have allowed a slither of organic influence to seep in, to make the band sound that little bit more human – shown most amazingly by opener Remember, a track that was debuted live first and has been wowing us for a while. Clearly the story is not done yet, so more material when they are ready would be wonderful (as would more live shows. I could never get tired of seeing them).


Number_04continues
Continues
Continues
Mattress Recordings

After years of spitting out tales of hate and fury in junk-punk-industrial legends Babyland, who knew Dan Gatto had his romantic side to reveal? The results were quite astounding – ten songs of sweeping, romanticised synthpop that while stark in construction and production had the sharp edges smoothed away to showcase just how great the songcraft here is. A most unexpected and brilliant debut.


The last album to qualify for this list, and a second Icelandic entry for this year, too. LEGEND is a duo apparently led by Krummi, lead singer of Icelandic hardcore nutcases Mínus, and the difference between the two projects could not be more stark. While Mínus was full of scuzzy noise and white-hot fury, this is a lush, brilliantly-produced album of gothic grandeur. There are soaring, heavenly choruses, hooks appear from the most unexpected corners, and there is a sense of sweet resignation and regret that seeps through the whole thing.

Most of all, though – this is finally an album that looks to take the idea of a Gothic album into the future. Too many “Gothic” bands, for me, are stuck in the past, ploughing the same old furrow, with the same old sounds being used. This shakes up that ideal, taking the building blocks everyone else has been stuck with, but at long last fashioning something new and fresh.


Michael Gira’s Swans have hardly ever been the easiest band to listen to – being one of those bands that, frankly, you either love or hate (and my girlfriend and I are resolutely on opposite sides of the divide on this one). But with this astounding, lengthy album, they have never been more demanding, either. This is an album constructed as a whole unit, demanding repeated, end-to-end listening, something not easy to do when the album is a hefty two hours in duration. That time spent listening is well spent, mind. A heady mix of post-rock passages, found sounds and pummelling, roaring rock noise, this is all of the individual elements that have made so glorious over the years coalesced into one extraordinary whole.


It took me the best part of a month to complete my lengthy review of this published in November, and as I suspected this album has simply got better and better on each listen. A gloriously eclectic, nominally electro-industrial album that while owing a heavy debt, like the debut, to Skinny Puppy, makes intelligent use of that and other influences and forges, like LEGEND, something fresh and new. Despite an apparently gloomy subject matter and theme, this is a hugely listenable album, with many, many layers to discover and indeed I’m still finding something else each time I listen to it. This is elegantly sculpted music, with as much time put into the sonic effects and how they interact and layer on top of each other, as there is to the exquisite songcraft on display here.

Perhaps the best nod to this album I’ve seen, though, is just how the appeal of this album keeps on spreading by word of mouth – every week I see more and more of my friends raving about this, and a number of them have little or no connection to the industrial scene. Either way, this is an astounding album, easily the best of 2012 that I’ve heard.

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