This first /Tracks of the Month roundup for 2020 is, unwittingly, all about returns. The majority of the artists here are returning after periods away, either having been on hiatus or simply not releasing an album for a considerable period of time. That might suggest that this is a retro-tastic piece, but far from it – much of this looks very much forward.
And thus as I march into my twenty-fourth year of writing about music, I’m sticking to my guns. I write about the music I love, regardless of genre – although there is often a tilt towards my first love, of industrial music – and I continue to do this on an independent basis, with no advertising carried and no outside funding. This, then, is the best tracks of December, according to /amodelofcontrol.com. The usual playlists are available on Spotify and Youtube or listen to the songs individually below.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Track of the Month
Stephen Mallinder has been very busy indeed since he returned to releasing music again a few years back, and he, along with Phill Winter and Benge, return as Wrangler early in 2020 with their third album, with a continued reliance on vintage electronics and synths that make a surprisingly modern sound. As the press release about this notes, though, there is a darker, almost nihilistic feel to this new single, both in the form of the black-and-white video, and also the massively pitchshifted vocals that sound like the end of the world is nigh. Actually, just a week into 2020, and you could be forgiven for thinking that it is.
/Dead and Gone
/Dead and Gone EP
Pretty much the first new release of 2020 is one that I’d maybe never have expected to see at all – even with their recent live shows that I was lucky enough to catch in Chicago. Yes, Stabbing Westward are back with their first new material since 2001, and while that last album was frankly rather lacklustre, this new EP is pretty good. Especially the blistering lead track, that has a ripping chorus that nods back to their earlier material, and has the general feel of a revitalised band.
This unusual band – experimental alt-rock with industrial elements – returned at the end of the year after a brief hiatus, and while they’ve moved labels, their abrasive sound and style remains intact. Vocalist Chris Bug has an unusually aggressive delivery, barking and yowling over deceptively complex arrangements that set drum machines, squalling guitars and bubbling synths against each other. Their name comes from the Jim Thompson novel, but there is a distinct feel of desert-based sci-fi in their music, rather than crime capers, their dry and dusty sound often wilfully obscuring meaning, and I’ve long had the feeling that the band are happy with this. An impressive return that’s well worth checking out. (Be warned, by the way – the video for this contains strobing images)
/the gravitational field of oblivion
An artist I’ve not covered in some years is Tyler Newman, whose previous project Battery Cage I was (and still am) quite the fan of. He’s teamed up more recently with Paul Savio again, and the result is this perhaps less aggressive project than Battery Cage ever was. For a start, it seems to mainly be electronic (no guitars), and while Newman’s distinctive voice still shines through, there isn’t quite the level of controlled aggression that so marked his work in Battery Cage. The lead single from this is a thoughtful elegy to things passed and past, perhaps Newman considering his own position in the world now, and the album that follows it continues to explore new frontiers for them.
/Tail Lights Fading
/Feathers & Skin
Jared Louche promised a number of releases to come when he broke his (recorded) musical silence with the Chemlab odds-and-sods album Tape Decay last year, and one of those was his work with the Dogtablet project (with Martin King, sometime member of Test Dept. and Pigface previously, and Roberto Soave, who worked with The Associates among others). The album that has come is an interesting one. It’s not Chemlab, that’s for sure, although Louche’s voice is so unmistakable, although he rather dominates the tracks he appears on. I like the mellow, metallic-based percussion of this track in particular, that allows Louche’s vocals to soar over the top. Well worth a listen, this…
/Into the Godless Void
/X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
It’s now twenty-two years since I first heard the sonic carnage of their self-titled debut – and particularly Richter Scale Madness – and was instantly hooked on this most different of bands. Nominally an early noise-rock band, their sound has perhaps changed with the rotating cast (although always with Conrad Keely and Jason Reece at the core), and in recent times they thrillingly looked back at their mainstream breakthrough Madonna with some characteristically chaotic shows. So what of the new? The title track is a sleek, anthemic beast, with to my ears eighties new wave touches and a chorus that’s now taken up residence in my head. In other words, this is great.
The last Body Count album was unexpectedly brilliant – recent US politics and the ever-present social issues having lit a fire under Ice-T, and the result was the most brutal, angry metal album in some time. The lead track from their new album appears to follow in the footsteps, at least musically, as this chugs and stomps like any good metal track should. Lyrically, though, Ice-T appears to have moved down the route of dehumanisation, as in those not seen to be “right” by the far-right Government are treated as lesser citizens, and he’s understandly furious, seemingly asking the question “if you stamp on people and belittle them in every way, why are you surprised when they fight back?”.
/Under the Scalpel Blade
Most bands don’t have comebacks like Carcass did – releasing an album (Surgical Steel) that easily the equal of their earlier heyday, and indeed in some respects may have been better. Some years on from that, they’ve returned with a new song that appears to be a precursor to another album, and it continues the hot streak. This is appropriately sharp-edged, snarling death metal that delivers in every way. Chunky riffs, heavy breakdowns, great vocal delivery, and hooks that glint with light and shadow. I loved Carcass back in the day, and I still love Carcass now.
/Your Broken Shore
/The Ghost of Orion
Doom overlords My Dying Bride are back, at last – after family traumas and yet more band member turnover – with their first album in five years, and the first track from it is an appropriately grandiose thing. Moments of stately contemplation combine with the chiming guitars that are their trademark, really, and rough swells of heavier riffage and Aaron’s growls – basically, this is the My Dying Bride that many of us have loved for many, many years. Stripped of experimentation and, shall we say, heading back to their roots, they sound reborn.
The curious, sparse electronics of Raime intrigued these ears a few years back, and a new EP continues their evolution and explorations of the space between sound. The lengthy pieces here have synth patterns and drum patterns that skitter over what feels like an endless black canvas, with no concept of what’s beneath, at least until humming bass surfaces from time to time like a monster from the deep. This comes across like intrepid space adventurers, who’ve found the new horizons everyone else is only dreaming of, except that what they’ve found and beamed back is immeasurably more terrifying than we ever thought.
/Please Don’t Fuck Up My World
A bonus eleventh track, and we’re back, thematically, where we started. Apparently released as a festive message (!), this piano-led ballad, complete with a child choir, takes direct aim at those who are apparently hell-bent on taking us to dark places. Russell Mael offers a plaintive, simple vocal, asking unnamed parties to do the refrain as it’s “all [he] has to live for”. He has a point, certainly in the first week of 2020, as we watch Trump and his cronies itching to start yet another war in the Middle East, Australia burning while it’s climate-denial Government buries it’s head in the sand, and our Prime Minister blithely continues his holiday with a self-imposed deadline around Brexit looming. Yes, folks, please don’t fuck up our world. Sadly, I’m not sure they care – or are listening.