Welcome to the amodelofcontrol.com review of 2017, which begins this week. Over this and the next three Tuesdays, I’ll be rounding up the best music of the year in various categories. In coming weeks there will be the best tracks, the best albums, and the best gigs.
But this week, as I’ve now done for a few years now, I’m going to look at a number of the re-issues and compilations released across the year. This gives me a chance to reflect on some old favourites in new forms, and rediscover some albums that I’d maybe forgotten about entirely, not to mention the odd compilation from a label that is worth your time.
I used to look at the releases that have disappointed me across the year. But I’ve tried to be less negative in recent times (although some things still need to be called out from time to time, that’s for sure). After all, our scene as it is, and the wider music scene in general, is under threat in many ways.
Making a livelihood from music is, of course, more difficult than ever, as revenues from music decrease amid the relative stampede towards streaming services, and even in the live environment, things are not so rosy, as venue after venue closes for one reason or another (particularly inner-city residential development suddenly sparking complaints about noise).
I run amodelofcontrol.com as what might be called a “labour of love”. I’ve written about music for twenty-one years, fourteen of those years under this website banner, and I continue to want to celebrate all that is great about this corner of the musical realm. So this site continues to exist – with no external funding and no paid-for advertising – and I will continue to do so as long as I want to do it, and as long as people want to read it.
So thanks for reading, contributing, offering comments, or being one of those people that makes the music I want to write about. And here’s to more in the future.
Sometimes a successful return is simply a matter of timing. After some years of total silence, Cubanate roared back in 2016 with a rip-roaring show at Cold Waves V, and then this year there have been many more shows – including a return to London – and this excellent retrospective. Fully remastered, and covering material from their first three albums, the songs get a new lease of life, straining at the leash and punching their way through the speakers. Yes, we all knew they were great songs – industrial anthems in a number of cases – but they never before sounded this damned good and powerful.
Another long-overdue reappraisal this year was for Curve, the one band who seem to have been ignored thus far in the shoegaze revival of recent years. Part of that, perhaps, was that they very quickly moved away from a pure shoegaze sound, being something of a missing link between that genre and industrial/industrial rock. Either way, their sound was massively influential – Garbage, kidneythieves and Collide, to name just three, would barely exist if Curve had not been there first – and the extensive re-issues of their first five years or so across a pair of two CD releases make a convincing case for a rethink. From the upfront female fury of their earlier singles to the more measured (but no less seething) and reflective sounds of later songs, Curve was genuinely a trailblazing band. Both releases, if you don’t already have them, are well worth picking up.
Perhaps a less fashionable band in the wider industrial scene than many (and they never really got the traction that they got in North America on this side of the Atlantic, that’s for sure), I was a casual fan for many years, until I saw them at Festival Kinetik 4.0 in 2011. They were the headliner that night, and it was remarkable just how crazy the crowd went for them. OK, so they had a patchy approach to quality control at times, with some albums (particularly Let’s Go Dark) really missing the mark, but when they got it right, they were one of the best bands within the aggrotech/harsh industrial sound. This extensive retrospective isn’t a straight-up “best of”, either. There are remixes, offcuts, and a cover as well as most of the tracks that I’d expect to be here. So it’s not a bad reminder of why I liked them, all told, and also a reminder that not all of the aggrotech scene was as bad as it is sometimes made out to be…
The touring show of this legendary German electronic act has in recent years become an absolute must-see, and happily, they’ve given their fans many chances to do so – we got lucky and saw it in Düsseldorf in 2013. The release this summer of a smart box-set of all eight albums (i.e. Autobahn and onwards) in their recent live forms makes me wonder whether this now multi-year tour might be coming to an end. Even if you haven’t seen the show, though, this release is well worth hearing, either for the technical upgrades that many songs get, updated references (hello, Radioaktivitat), or just because this is another opportunity to hear the evolution of probably the most influential and greatest electronic act of them all.
Finally playing the UK next April (at last!), Metroland has been an extraordinarily prolific act since their first album Mind The Gap about five years or so back. They’ve released two highly conceptual albums (the first about urban transport, the second about the Bauhaus design movement), an exceptional single in conjunction with the Thalys train operator, and most recently an album dedicated to their producer Passenger L, who passed away unexpectedly last year. So even though it’s only five years of work, there’s a lot to cover, and this kinda “best of so far” covers all of the releases (including the most recent single Cube), but sprawls it over four CDs – with a variety of remixes, 12″ versions and even demos and discarded tracks to provide a complete – and some might say exhaustive! – overview of their career to now, and there are some wonderful reworks of some familiar songs here.
Many albums that get “anniversary” releases don’t really warrant it. But some genuinely are important, and Automatic for the People is one of those. REM was, for a few brief years at the turn of the nineties, the biggest band in the world, and their purple patch goes from Document through to Automatic…, with perhaps only Shiny Happy People the blip in that five year-or-so period.
What’s even more amazing is that after the surge in energy that saw them through to Out of Time, Automatic… is such a dark, bleak album. A reflection of the time, maybe, with war and political doom the order of the day after the initial promise of 1989’s seismic changes (and how odd that we are seeing something similar a generation on), this was the album where REM finally realised they really could do things on their own terms, and an album that was initially thought to be a career-wrecker actually turned out to be one of those albums with almost universal appeal. That, and it features the glorious Man on the Moon, a song that can make me speechless with joy while crying buckets. Don’t ask me how.
Revered and reviled sometimes in equal measure, Radiohead – to my ears at least – are a vitally important band in our time, and OK Computer was simply the point where they accelerated into the distance beyond their peers. The Bends is a fantastic rock album (the opener Planet Telex remains my favourite Radiohead song of all, too), sure, but OK Computer nailed a feeling that no-one else managed. The late-nineties were an odd time, a looming dread around the millennium contrasted with the short period of optimism that certainly blossomed in the UK for a while. Radiohead understood this, and this album was an album about escape, about confronting your fears, and also musing about the big question of our age – just how much was technology going to change our lives?
The answer has actually turned out to be vastly more complicated than we could ever have imagined, of course, and looking back on this album now, it is utterly remarkable that absolutely none of it has dated. Even the searingly bitter and cynical “political” song Electioneering still holds true now, perhaps even more so. OK, so perhaps the remaster here is almost indiscernible (after all, for an album so perfectly produced in the first place, how do you improve on that?), but the additional material makes it worthwhile alone. Three exceptional unreleased songs especially, which point to a very different alternate future for Radiohead, and as good as they are, I think they made the right choice at the time.
This “cult” band – a band that many more should have heard of than did, in other words – unexpectedly reformed their “classic” line-up after more recent reactivation that was a new incarnation behind Chris Olley and James Flower. And, as good as Love and Peace and Sympathy was, it wasn’t the burning, raging fire that the original material was. So, in addition to two shows – one in Nottingham, one in London, I attended the Nottingham one – their creative peak The Closer You Get was re-issued and re-mastered alongside a reasonably comprehensive best-of.
The Closer You Get, even after sixteen years or so, is a powerful, intense listen. Simmering with barely-disguised rage and disgust at everything, even without listening to it the titles give you an idea of what to expect. Eat Junk Become Junk, Ten Places to Die, England and a Broken Radio… this was the sound of a band that wanted to expose the darkness and unpleasantness at the heart of the world they lived in, and seeing them play the whole thing at a brutally loud show in Nottingham last March seemed appropriately timed. The simmering hatred at the heart of our country and politics has – at last, perhaps – been exposed through the Brexit vote in particular, and suddenly, it became obvious what Chris Olley was raging at all the long. Sorry we didn’t catch up sooner.
For a band who success always seemed to elude – at least in terms of sales, rather than critical success – Greatest Hits seemed a rather ironic title for their career compilation. But even so, this is a strong compilation, with no wasted tracks and only a feeling that there could have been more if there had been space (Get A Real Tattoo, the greatest of their B-sides by a long chalk, would have been included if I had my way) – and if you’ve ever been curious about this band and not sure where to start, get this.
Even as Michael Gira pushed the second incarnation of Swans forward – until their effective end as a live band, at least – to the point of expunging anything “old” (even from the previous album!) from their live set at all, he has also overseen remastering and making available again a number of more overlooked Swans releases. Last year saw the long-hoped-for remaster of White Light From the Mouth of Infinity and Love of Life, a pair of albums that have much in common, and while The Burning World continues to be ignored, this year it was the turn of The Great Annihilator to get the remaster treatment.
It’s always been an odd album in the canon, really. The penultimate album of Swans’ first phase, it is probably the most straightforward Swans album of all – in that it is a collection of songs that are rarely experimental, or push limits of endurance and extremity, and even at points are into the realms of catchy alt-rock – but don’t let that fool you. Beneath the bright sheen of the production (that this remaster only makes all the more clear), though, the familiar darkness of Gira’s lyrics don’t take long to appear, the most devastating moment remaining Blood Promise, a lullaby of implied threat and revenge.
/Viva Dystopia 2017
/Glitch Mode Recordings
Glitch Mode’s semi-regular compilations can always be relied upon for a fix of top-quality new songs, new bands and remixes that have an unerring ability to be better than the originals. There was perhaps fewer of the new bands this time (the new ones here mainly with links to existing artists), but that isn’t so much of a problem with the quality being so high. No even remotely skippable tracks, instead a host of new favourites, as well as the realisation that RELIC’s mighty EVOKE is impossible to fuck up in remix terms.