Yet again, this list was a tough one. 2012 actually ended up being an impressive year for new music, as far as I was concerned, it just didn’t all come from the corners that I was expecting.
2011: Frank Turner – One Foot Before The Other
2010: In Strict Confidence – Silver Bullets
2009: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
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
That and, with the sheer amount of music I either bought or was sent this year, I could have easily made it 50 tracks featured in this list, all from different artists. However just doing a top 25 took long enough, so apologies to those that missed the list. Next week: Albums of the year.
Hit The Ground (Superman)
I, like a number of others I think, was left a bit nonplussed by The Big Pink’s second album, with a lot of what was so great about the debut seemingly forgotten for a number of middling tracks that really left little impression at all. It did, however, have at least one killer single in this, this skyscraping track with a piano-based rhythm that also borrowed heavily from Laurie Anderson’s one-and-only hit for it’s monstrous chorus. At least this time we didn’t hear it in every advert break, I guess…
Not Your Kind of People
After a lengthy hiatus – necessary, I think, as a result of the way the band really did seem somewhat disinterested by the lacklustre album Bleed Like Me – Garbage unexpectedly returned rejuvenated in 2012 with a solid new album and even better live show. Not for the first time, either, there was strength in depth in their material as some of the album tracks were far better than the singles – and this was a perfect example. A dense, heavy nod to their influences – MBV and Curve-esque sheets of guitars over a rumbling beat, and the most impassioned vocal from Shirley Manson in ages add up to the best song Garbage have released since Version 2.0.
Kill It In The Morning
No-One Will Ever Know
That this Scottish band wanted to move on with their sound was made abundantly clear with this song (the first released from their third album), where the densely-layers, shoegaze influenced sound of before was jettisoned for a stark, electronic bass pulse that burst into a heavy, post-punk-esque squall for five intense minutes. Lyrically the band hadn’t changed one bit – still tales of past regrets and betrayal, and the new sound perhaps suits the lyrical themes even better than before.
Festival Kinetik: Volume Five
The lacklustre sound of E-Craft’s last album is banished at last by this thundering industrial monster, a reminder that E-Craft can do this pounding industrial dancefloor stuff better than almost any of their peers. Still no sign of the promised new album yet, mind – here’s hoping that the rest of the forthcoming material is even half as good as this.
Show Me Everything
The Something Rain
I’ll confess that I’ve never quite followed Stuart Staples and his band’s output as closely as I perhaps should have done, but my entry point into the band was the pitch-dark soul of Simple Pleasure, and this album feels like a sister release to it at points, despite twelve or thirteen years separating them. The pick of the album, though, was this gloriously understated track, with a mumbled chorus highlighted by a female vocal that takes it to ecstatic realms. In fact, this track goes down the route so-called trip-hop did in the 90s – but with a classier vibe. There are the shambling beats, the vocals deep in the mix, and a languid, smoky feel that suggests the darker, pitiful corners of love and existence – a place Tindersticks seem to know all too well.
Electronic Saviors 2: Recurrence
Ego Likeness have been one of those bands I’ve had a passing interest in for ages – they’ve made it over the the UK once (supporting Ayria and Angelspit, as I recall), and were impressive live, but in the years since that show they’ve evolved and toughened their sound into a hugely enjoyable and listenable industrial-rock hybrid, and this song is their pinnacle so far, as far as I’m concerned – a belting chorus and crunching rhythm all entwined in religious imagery.
After at least one breathtaking gig in the past year or so (and a couple of others intermittently brilliant), expectations really were heightened for the new MIAB album – and happily, it delivered. This was the pick of the songs from the album, as far as I was concerned – as I noted making this 148: Tracks (Jan), making the vocals sound more human only made it even more affecting, as the song swells and builds into a knockout chorus, under which a delicate, brittle melody and skittering electronics bubble away.
My Dear EP
In these times where every single band going seems to split up and then return, those that have resisted the urge so far are perhaps becoming ever more precious. Spahn Ranch are one of those bands who appear destined never to reform, but I was overjoyed to discover this autumn that Athan Maroulis has returned to the scene that spawned SR with his new project NOIR (not counting his work with darkwave/gothic act Black Tape For A Blue Girl in the meantime). It has to be said, this isn’t a million miles from later-period SR, either – sparse, precise rhythm patterns underpin that voice, as rich and smooth as ever and carrying an elegant melody forward. Really looking forward to more material from this project next year.
The Lost EP
This act was an unknown to me prior to receiving this EP on promo – another quality industrial act from the US (and on the reliably good Vendetta label). There are a variety of styles used across the EP, but they are all thematically linked by a grimy, dirty industrial sound. This track is the grooviest, catchiest of the bunch, a punchy rhythm underpins a surprisingly melodic tune.
The more I listen to this band, the more I’m surprised that they’ve been around on the EBM scene for a couple of decades, but perhaps it lends a gritty authenticity to their old-school EBM recycled through up-to-date electronics and the odd flash of punk attitude. For me they are at their best with their most austere moments, like this track – Anders Karlsson delivering a hateful, snarling vocal over a stark, punishing electronic template. But the most impressive moment comes in the chorus, as he suddenly switches from barking his vocals to singing through gritted teeth. A close second, by the way, from this EP is a quite brilliant meeting of minds with //TENSE// on There Will Be Blood.
The Killing Type
Theatre Is Evil
Ok, so the album may have been a bit of a disappointment overall, but as I noted last week it still had a number of truly great tracks, of which this is one of them. Not all of the tracks that head towards the more “traditional” rock band format on this album (i.e. with guitars as well as drums and piano) really work, but this one – with a distinct, smooth-80s soft-rock feel to it at points – is a killer (pun intended) on every level, partly because AFP actually reigns things in a bit, at least to start with, giving the payoff that bit more “oomph” when it inevitably arrives.
Rag Doll Blues
Michael Holloway’s second album as DWIFH has made quite a splash in our scene this year, as it should – groundwork laid with his first album, this takes the impressive potential and does something with it. By, mainly, injecting a surprising pop sensibility to music that is otherwise dark, dense and, well, still kinda Puppy-esque. Of the poppy moments, this one is wonderful – a slow, precise beat carries vocodered vocals and light, airy synths…and that chorus is one heck of an earworm.
I Am Drugs
There’s Always One More Son of A Bitch
This was a confusing year from ADR. Initial suggestions around the release of this album seemed to point toward the end of the band, seemingly at a point where they had finally broken through to the wider scene. And then at the end of the year, there was the surprise announcement of an appearance at Resistanz 2013, so there is life in the band yet. This “final” album – a companion to Son Of A Bitch released last year – picked up where the other left off, and this was the closing song – a wild meshing of bassline, filthy electro and synthpop with lyrics apparently written from the perspective of said Drugs. Marvellous and confounding at the same time, and proof of just how far the band progressed in five albums.
One of the most welcome returns of 2012 was the return proper, however fleetingly, of Stromkern. One of the few bands that can claim truly to be as influenced by industrial and electronic music as hip-hop, the EP this came from really did show their hip-hop side well, particularly on this opening cut. A sparse, punchy beat, with a swirl of samples and electronics, is all that accompanies Ned Kirby’s lightning-quick vocal delivery for the most part, which gives the jagged guitars in the chorus all the more impact. The only down note was that the companion release that was alluded to never appeared.
Ticker Don’t Tock
The Rocket Sessions EP
The band’s live shows this year have built up anticipation nicely for new material, mainly as most of the new songs aired have been so extraordinary it has been a case of wanting to see them live more in the meantime just to hear them. Interestingly, possibly the most amazing of them all, Gentleman, was not included on this EP (it surely must be released sometime), but this song runs it a close second, and certainly is a good lead song. Like many of their songs, there is little instrumentation, instead concentrating on Ben and particularly Georgia’s quite unbelievable vocal dramatics (the range she covers in this song is beyond most people’s talents and abilities, I suspect), and those two voices carry a quite marvellous song.
Koi No Yokan
The first track revealed from Deftones’ latest album – their second without Chi Cheng, who remains in a coma and apparently highly unlikely to return to the band – picked up thematically where Diamond Eyes so thrillingly left off. Crunching riffs and a lurching rhythm lead us to soaring highs and a crunching breakdown so good they do it twice…and once again, this feels like an escape. A glorious escape from a gloomy reality, into Chino’s fantastical world of strange love and utterly amazing songs.
After their extraordinary first EP last year – which garnered a whole lot of attention from people (myself included) who may not have looked at all, were it not for the staggering cover of Swans contained within – there was an awful lot of buzz for this band, and quite how FLATLINER was going to measure up worried me a little, I needn’t have worried, of course – they pushed their sound into new realms, and the dual vocals really do help to change the moods. No matter who is singing, of course, there is a distinct undercurrent of dread and gloom, like turning the corner on a fogbound, deserted street, but some light is let in on this track, with an almost sweet vocal drifting through it. Also worth hearing – the Dead When I Found Her remix of this on the same release.
One of a couple of artists on this list that I know personally (yes, I know), but I’m proud of the fact that I only ever include music on merit, and Rebekah’s music certainly makes it on that front. A dramatic, multi-lingual presence, her live shows have got better and better over the year, and the songs have too. This was one of about four songs I considered from this album for this list, but having seen it finally performed live, this was the obvious choice – a snarling (but dreamy) waltz, just daring an unwelcome intruder into a relationship.
My Head Is An Animal
I honestly don’t think this would have caught me as much had I not first heard this in the band’s native Iceland. In one of my more bizarre and unexpected instances of being introduced to new music, our tour guide while heading along the Reykjanes Peninsula happened to put this song on, and I was instantly captivated. It is oh-so-quirky, but affecting, folky, indie-rock, with a lovely interplay of dual vocals that make the curious animal-centred story of the song really quite pretty. Also, perhaps one of the more unexpected chart-toppers in the US of late…
Every Single Night
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
I was a fan of Fiona Apple’s first album, all those years ago, but hadn’t really paid attention since until I chanced upon the first appearance of this track online…and swiftly wondered if I’d been missing out. A glorious, twinkling ballad with chain-gang blues-esque chorus melody that seems both at-odds and perfectly at home in the precise, measured slow orchestration and bitter lyrics behind it. The video is equally odd, featuring Fiona Apple and Octopii, snails and lots of light.
Ok, so it doesn’t quite have the knockout, surprise punch that Confessions had when I first heard it, but that can be put down to the fact that this has been a fixture in the band’s live sets ever since I first saw them. Opening with an incessant bass-led pulse, before the rest of the band crash in and pull the song forward, ever onward to a cracking chorus and then a bridge that pulls things to an ecstatic peak. Another step forward for a band who have promised great things with their live sets for some time, and hopefully in 2013 the immense potential here will finally be realised.
The Cursed Remain Cursed
One of the big surprises this year for me was the return of VoD – one of the best NY Hardcore bands of the late-nineties, whose appeal had frankly waned a bit in their latter days. The return was better than it had any right to be, a snarling, savage and anthemic beast that opened with this storming track – one of the best tracks VoD have ever released (and it was fantastic live, too). Hardcore is most certainly not dead, on this evidence.
A late entry to this years considerations for the best of the year, this song got it’s hooks into me from the start. A steadily building song that adds layer after layer, with a killer chorus, processed vocal samples and it reaches frankly fucking orgasmic highs once the chorus comes around a second time, and lifts off into a joyous middle-eight that feels like a victory lap. You want a reference point? This is the kind of stadium-filling electro-rock monster that Depeche Mode only wished they could write nowadays, and for once the hype I’ve been reading about this artist is absolutely and totally justified.
KILL IT WITH FIRE
ProBurn at their snarling, seething best. The album is brilliant, but this track is something else again. A scorching, turbocharged rhythm pounds through the track, resulting in the most immediate, dancefloor-oriented track this band have ever released. In addition, this is also the best balance between industrial and noise that the band have achieved – and once this begins to destroy dancefloors, as it surely will, expect to hear the chorus refrain a lot: “CONFORM. CONSUME. OBEY”, accompanied by various samples cleverly input from They Live. Is this also a nod to a furious political turn in the band’s often cryptic and bleak lyrics, or just expressing a seething hate of what the industrial scene has apparently become? Either apply, frankly.
The Money Store
It has been a funny year for the most thrilling hip-hop/rap group to emerge in a good few years. They started the year on a high, after the success of debut Ex-Military (one I only discovered at the end of 2011 thanks to Daisy and was instantly hooked), and ended up as the most bizarre and unexpected major label signing (to Epic) in some considerable time. Two albums in a year sounded optimistic, and while The Money Store was utterly brilliant, it was the band-led leaking of NO LOVE DEEP WEB in October – apparently after the label pushed release back into 2013 – that apparently caused them to be dropped. Maybe they were just the wrong label for the rigidity of a major label, anyway.
If you want evidence of just why I – and many others – find this band so thrilling, just listen to this song. A four-and-a-half minute maelstrom, packed with dense rapping, samples stacked on top of each other, but crucially a monstrous rhythm that should – and does – slay open-minded dancefloors, and a hook that could probably be heard from space. This is music that blurs the boundaries, not giving a shit whether rap, hip-hop, funk, industrial and rock (all five are included here, at least) is in the ascendancy. It is picking the best bits of it all and results in a jaw-dropping, exhilarating ride.