Onto week three of Countdown: 2017 on amodelofcontrol.com, and this week I’m looking at the best albums of the year. Despite the move towards, it seems, streaming services and a more disjointed approach to listening, I still find that the albums of the year “award” remains the more important one, and it’s why it comes after the tracks listing.
2016: KANGA – KANGA
2015: Dead When I Found Her – All The Way Down
2014: 3 TEETH – 3 TEETH
2013: Front Line Assembly – Echogenetic
2012: Dead When I Found Her – Rag Doll Blues
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
2017 was an oddly back-loaded year. I was beginning to wonder, by the half-way point of the year, whether there was really going to be much to celebrate in terms of albums at the end of it, then they all began arriving in a flood from the summer onwards, and indeed some of these releases are still very new indeed. This torrent of good music that eventually arrived over the year explains why there are fifty, rather than the usual forty, entries in this list – and even then I still couldn’t include everything.
Yes, amodelofcontrol.com broadly covers industrial music, by the way, but as I’ve said many times before, industrial is a broad, broad church – and it seems to get wider by the year. There are influences of the style in so much music nowadays, in fact even in mainstream, mega-selling pop music nowadays.
But as well as that, I also listen to other music, and thus the spread here is perhaps a bit wider than you might otherwise expect. You know what, though? Try some of this music. Especially the stuff you don’t recognise, or don’t know. Go for it – I love hearing new music that someone else has enthused about, trying to understand what’s so awesome about it. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it will take days or weeks to click, and hopefully something here will do that to you.
Time to cue the music. You can listen along on Spotify, Youtube or Deezer. Links to the right.
Next week: Gigs
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Well beyond a decade since the acrimonious dissolution of Mansun – top of the list of bands that hell will freeze over before they reform – Paul Draper finally returned with a full album (and live dates) this year, and you know what? It was pretty damned good. Draper’s voice is so distinctive that it was always going sound a bit like Mansun, really, but musically this goes in different directions, with idiosyncratic rhythms and song-structures at points, but there is nothing as head-spinningly complex as was on Six, for example. Here everything is logical, and there are more than a couple of thinly-disguised swipes at his past, too, as might be expected.
A band that, yes, owe quite a bit to Godflesh, Concrete Lung have plugged away for some years now, first based in London and now in Australia. The move to warmer climes hasn’t affected their modus operandi, mind – this is still dark, hateful music that digs into shadowy corners for inspiration and unleashes all kinds of demons as a result. The drum machines hammer away like machine-gun fire at some point, and the guitars are layered like thick tar. Amid all this is the odd nod to more punkish influences, too, and on tracks like Spinning In The Grave, a surprisingly catchy chorus, too.
It’s remarkably ten years since Dean Garcia began his SPC ECO project with his daughter Rose Berlin providing the vocals, and the thematic and sonic links back to his old band Curve have always been there, but perhaps never quite as obviously as this. As he noted in an interview with this site on Talk Show Host: 038, the return of guitars – or, at points, walls of them – is the big shift, but more importantly these are the best songs Garcia has put his name to in an age (and Waking Up Again sounds for all the world like Toni Halliday is on vocals). A dreamy, woozy feel permeates the album, as if it is always just shifting out of direct focus, and song after song impresses. Sure, if you’re not interested in shoegazy sounds, this won’t appeal, but wasn’t it ever thus?
Sleep Well Beast
While my wife has been a fan of The National for a while, I’d never sat down and listened to them, aside from Bloodbuzz Ohio. Clearly, going on this album, I’ve been missing out. Gloomy, highly articulate and literate indie-rock, this is music concerned with the now, how we survive in the gloom and hopelessness of the modern world. Very much an album shaped by the now, too, with various references to political events (particularly in the scorchingly cynical thrashabout of Turtleneck), and while a fair amount of the album is downbeat balladry, when it picks up the pace it is exhilarating. Day I Die burns with life, paradoxically, while The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness is the song that drew me in first off – an ominous worldview, soaring chorus and guitars like flashes of claws. Now, to dig back into their past…
There was, it has to be said, a tinge of disappointment with this album after the exceptional debut (album of the year here a few years back: LINK). Their time on tour in arenas with Tool (among others) has clearly had an effect on their sound, being so-much more arena-ready than before, and perhaps also less studio-bound. So this is an out-and-out industrial metal album, with the emphasis at points very much on the metal. There are a number of exceptional tracks (the bulldozing Atrophy, released last year of course, is head-and-shoulders above the rest), but in retrospect it suffers from being a bit one-paced and also settling neatly into one sound, and it is notable that the best tracks are those that differ from the norm – the aforementioned Atrophy, the synth-led grooves of Oblivion Coil. That said, 3 TEETH remain the best hope right now of industrial of any stripe making the leap into the alternative mainstream, and it could be argued that their profile is now so high that they’ve already made the jump. Whether they can hold onto the ledge is something that will be answered with their third album, and I for one will still be listening.
Tear It Down
3 Minute Records
It took me longer than it should have done to catch up with dexy’s work, and I was pleasantly surprised with it, as it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. His voice sounds different to what I might have thought – but his thin, delicate vocals work well with his alt-rock/americana hybrid sound, that, as I found out when I saw him live recently, is just at home as a solo performer as it is with the full sound of a band around him. Sure, it is full of nods to a musical past that is more of a thing that I look back on than expect to hear in 2017, but I couldn’t care less about that when the songcraft here is so good.
The ever-increasing number of intriguing industrial artists from the US is proving to be a problem with keeping up. I can’t possibly listen to all of it, which is a shame, as there is an awful lot of inventive stuff going on under the radar. Slighter is one of those, having released a handful of well-received singles and collaborations in recent times, and a few albums before that, but this release is the one to pick up on. Precise programming and a sense of space – it’s difficult to define, but it kinda feels like there are parts of the mix left alone for your brain to fill in the gaps, if that makes sense – result in a more measured album than might be expected, with a slower pace for the most part, and it’s one to devote time to. It will be time well spent, I assure you.
I’m Not Your Man
Another one of those artists who wouldn’t have even remotely been in my orbit this year if I hadn’t been listening to 6Music. The singles gave away what to expect – wonderfully catchy, sharp indie-pop with a smart-undercurrent of sexual politics and some absolutely devastating put-downs (hello, Boyfriend!) – a world away from the nu-folk that I’d been fearing I might hear. Everything here is crafted for impact, too, and it’s so, so clever, as shown by the glorious, sing-a-long chorus of Time’s Been Reckless that disguises the scorching dig at the casually cutting comments we inadvertently make to our friends and lovers; or the pretty melodies of My Lover Cindy that leaves bare the cruelty of short-term flings. I wasn’t expecting to like this, but I love it.
Basic Unit Productions
I’ve been following this artist for a while now with intrigue, and their latest album (or mini-album, at eight songs), seems them moving toward a distinctive style. This is austere, jagged-edged synthpop that owes, particularly in the vocals, quite a debt to Depeche Mode, that’s for sure. But you can’t get away with that kind of obvious, neon-lit reference without skill and style – and most importantly songwriting. So it’s a good thing that there are belting songs on here like Things I would Do or Forgive Me, the former of which wouldn’t sound out of place on 101 (seriously, it’s that good), while the latter is a track of hard-hitting drama with a chorus that sneaks up on you out of the shadows.
Distance By Design
A familiar name in US industrial – Rexx Arkana – returned this year with the debut full-length album under his new project name Coldkill, and the result was quite the change from his previous work. In particular a world away from his work with FGFC820, the harsh industrial sounds of that band jettisoned for a sleek, near futurepop sound that actually suits Arkana very well. What’s even more interesting is that they deliberately used eighties-era equipment to create it, and so the minimal instrumentation simply gives greater prominence to the songcraft, and on that front they excel. Any album with In Here and I’m Yours – both would have been dancefloor dynamite once upon a time – would have been great, but the fact that the rest of the album is solid too means this is a very listenable album indeed.
The Golden Age of Nothing
Three Witches Recordings
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – it is a refreshing change to hear a Goth band from the UK deviating from the usual influences and taking up a different sound. OK, so there is still an influence from the past here – but it is that of the various post-punk and nominally Goth bands that were wound up in Berlin in the eighties, a decadent, dark sound that has quite the atmosphere. Here songs are drenched in reverb, often proceed at a slow, crawling tempo, with basslines that could mine for precious metals and a distinct melodic sound that right now has them sounding like no-one else in their scene.
This was another album that I really was hoping for more from than I got. Their last album Definite Structures was #2 in Countdown: 2015: Albums, an exceptional synth-EBM-funk album that had a great many “now” moments amid the odd bits of obvious Cabaret Voltaire worship, and some genuinely startling songs that fucked with convention and the anticipated style. So as solid a release as this follow-up is, it was a little disappointing to find the band resting on their laurels, with the feeling that much of this was already quite familiar. Yes, so that’s still a step above what many artists do ever, but they set their own high standards…
And another…there was just something here that didn’t quite work as well as previous albums. Chelsea Wolfe remains an extraordinary, captivating presence live, but her ever-increasing incursions into doomy metal seem to be sucking some of the life away from her songs, at least for me. The opening salvo of songs – co-incidentally the first songs released from this album – hit as hard as ever, with a striking intensity that has always been at the heart of her best work, but much of this album is at one tempo and style, which means that the thrill doesn’t last like it has on previous releases. I still like it, just not as much as before.
Perhaps far more of a collective – or, more accurately, a band – than before, Scott Fox and his comrades clearly have a relentless work ethic that sees a steady stream of releases, and nearly an album a year all this decade. The latest release, Hesitation, sees that more settled line-up consolidate things, and the result is perhaps a more homogenous album than most of their releases. That said, the tribal elements that make up so much of their sound live are perhaps side-lined a little – or at least are far more subtle in the mix – with the emphasis on the best songs being on providing absolutely hammering dancefloor beats. Make no mistake, this is a club-bound album that is maybe less cerebral than before, but no less interesting.
Few artists in the UK indie-scene have really dug into the issues around immigration and race in recent times – perhaps mindful of the political climate and press that would easily demonise them – but Nadine Shah released her latest album this year about exactly this. It is a furious album at points, addressing her own identity as a “second generation immigrant” and the arrogance shown towards refugees as if they have chosen to escape their homes rather than being displaced by war, politics or starvation. A well-judged political statement would be nothing without the music being impressive too, of course, and the taut post-punk influences on show here provide the bedrock for the anger to seep through every note.
The furious reaction from “kvlt” idiots a few years ago that a woman would dare to perform Black Metal – and that she was very good – immediately made Myrkur high-profile, and I only wish it was just for her music. That said, more recently she’s not helped herself with some troubling comments on religion and immigration, once again raising questions on yet another artist over whether I should support them or not (I will leave the analysis to others). Which is a shame, as her latest album is quite something. At points it is searing, white-hot Black Metal (most notably on the staggering Måneblôt), and at others it is almost pastoral folk – but what makes this so, so different is her vast vocal range, able to go from elegant, folksy crooning to throat-shredding screams (often in the same song). In effect, this is another branch to Black Metal that has already spawned so many in recent years, and it’s an encouraging one – it would be just lovely, for once, to be able to talk about it without having concerns over underlying politics, whether they feature in the songs or not.
This Morn’ Omina
It’s been a long time – a staggering six years or so – since L’Unification Des Forces Opposantes got one of only three 10/10 marks I’ve ever given in twenty-one years of my music writing (see also But Listen: 115) – and, needless to say, walked away with album of the year that year from this site too. In that time the group haven’t been idle – touring occasionally, appearing as remixers, but finally this year they released their follow-up album, and also made a notable move away from their longtime label of ant-zen, instead working with Dependent Records. Not a lot has changed, really – this is still ritual-informed tribal industrial, that hits quite awesome heights at points and is once again a sprawling double-album. Something about it – perhaps the flow of the second half, especially – isn’t quite as amazing as that last album, but tracks like Tir Na Nog (in Irish Mythology, the land of everlasting youth), which has a jaw-dropping rush of energy streaking through it, make this all worthwhile.
Wake in Fright
This album grabbed my attention early in the year thanks to a recommendation from a friend. One of the number of artists right now who are on the fringes of industrial, melding it with other styles, Uniform have an ugly, confrontational sound that brings together industrial/power-electronics, noise-rock and industrial-metal – and the result is at points an unholy racket that will certainly offend the neighbours. It also has weaponised use of feedback that can make it a seriously uncomfortable listen for the unitiated, but it is really fucking clear that this is what they want it to be. This is ugly music for ugly times, where the status quo needs to be questioned and addressed, and the overriding feeling you get from this album is one of disgust for the world that those writing the music live in. It’s hard not to empathise.
Regular readers may note a reduction in the amount of metal being covered on amodelofcontrol.com – simply because I’m not really feeling much of what’s new, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s because most of what can be said now has been. After all, has death metal, for example, really evolved at all in the last three decades? Interestingly, though over fence into hardcore there seems to be the stirrings of some interesting material. Youth Code have managed to fuse the spirit and feel of hardcore to their industrial-EBM backbone, of course, and they went out on tour earlier this year with Code Orange, who themselves are doing some cool things with their hardcore. Electronically assisted hardcore, in fact.
While all of the viciously heavy elements of metallic hardcore are present and correct – savage riffs, breakneck pace, neck-snapping breakdowns, white-hot fury, etc – what is interesting is what they are wrapping around it. An undercurrent of electronic drones and synths links the songs, and is occasionally exposed mid-song, but also the electronics are clearly adding that bit more force to the noise. This kicks really fucking hard, and over twenty years on from the experimentation by Refused along similar (but not the same) lines, finally we have another band really pushing the envelope.
Public Service Broadcasting
Play It Again Sam
A darker, less optimistic album than before, but no less important. This album is something of a eulogy to the human spirit, and like their previous works, has a coherent theme. The theme this time is around coal mining in South Wales, but particularly the change wrought over a single generation, from the seventies through to the millenium. From the time where the mining industry was thought to be there forever, to the miner’s strike in the eighties and through to now, where no pits remain. It is quite a bleak but touching story told here, too, from the hope of the past, to the despair and defiance of the strike, to the desolation wrought to the local economy – but most of all this is about the people involved.
Those who fought for a way of life, those women who took up the fight to stand beside their husbands, brothers or friends, and those who’ve done their best to get the region back on it’s feet since – and, too, it is also an insight into how a region can be knocked back so far that it will vote against it’s own interests – as South Wales did in voting for Brexit, despite the millions and millions of European investment in the area… Musically, it doesn’t quite have the immediacy of The Race for Space, perhaps, nor the life-affirming pop songs, either, but it is still a solid and fascinating album.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Ok, so it’s not quite as brilliant as the last couple of post-hiatus albums have been, but it still knocks the spots off many other bands. GY!BE’s extraordinary ability with a large, freeform band and a fierce spirit that creates mini-symphonies within the band of nine continues to astound, frankly, as what they do still doesn’t really fit in anywhere else. This is, too, in relative terms, a more mellow album from the collective – there is none of the pummelling fury that they are capable of (the most recent example of that being the extraordinary power of Mladic a few years ago), that was reserved for the press releases that came with the album this time – but there is a lot of motorik rhythms and heart-stopping peaks, just in a more measured way than before. And the finale to Bosses Hang is just plain fucking beautiful.
A late arrival in the list, but an essential one. Thirty-three minutes of pummelling Swedish EBM that eschews any subtlety whatsoever, instead going for the singular aim of getting you on the dancefloor and windmilling for your life. Remarkably, they remain anonymous – and their amusingly broken German lyrics simply add to the charm. Obviously, if punk-edged EBM – with all that entails – doesn’t appeal, this will do nothing for you, but as I Die: You Die noted, if you have any interest in EBM at all, this is essential listening.
When I first came across this artist last year, supporting The Black Queen in Hackney, I was really not impressed. I think my eyebrow was arched for the entire set, which appeared to alternate between mime artiste and Cure-worship. So colour me very surprised indeed when I finally pick up this album some eighteen months later, to find contained within one of the best goth albums in an age. Yeah, so all the eighties goth tropes are here – chiming guitars, moody basslines, oh-so-dramatic vocals – but it’s what is done with these elements that make this so great. It is dramatic, over-the-top in all the right ways, and pretty much flounces out of the speakers at you. Goth aten’t dead.
I’ve known a number of the members of this band for some time – and seen them perform in various other bands over the years, the north London indie scene is something of an incestuous place at times – but here, they all seem a natural fit together and are crafting vastly better songs than in any of their previous bands. This isn’t just the dramatic singles that made such a splash – although Resolution remains the best song they’ve released so far – but the whole album is worth your time, a chiming, emotional hit of post-punk influenced indie-rock, with influences noticeable but not overbearing. The beating heart of the band, though, is Jo Bevan, whose extraordinary voice anchors every song and is the star of the show.
Color of Nothing
I was rather astounded to realise just how long Collide have been part of the scene this year. Now an active group for around two decades, they’ve avoided trends as such as simply continued with their own style to great effect, as this new album proves. Their best album in some years, this keeps the quasi-ethereal/industrial/darkwave sound that they perfected long-since, but here it seems to have rather more bite than it has of late. With dense instrumentation, great songs and a heavier take on their sound that sees guitars used as texture as much as the synths to add the extra heft, this is a fascinating album well worth luxuriating in, and those two decades into their career, Collide remain an endlessly enjoyable band.
Venus In Aries
Beyond The Veil
A couple of years on from the release of an initial EP (featured on Tuesday Ten: 246), Venus In Aries finally released a full album of sorts this summer, and it was a strong step forward. A brooding, dark set of songs, there is an interesting set of influences going on here – as much influenced by old-school EBM and electro-industrial than it is artists like Curve and Garbage, it is also entirely unafraid to bare it’s teeth on occasions too. Album highlight is the dual-language, hip-hop bounce of My Dear Parasite, but the two ballads that book-end the album are also exceptional, emotional songs and it is clear that there are likely to be some interesting stories behind the songs, too. Hopefully I’ll get Venus In Aries to talk to me on my Talk Show Host series in 2018 – in the meantime, check out this album as an impressive addition to the Glitch Mode catalogue.
Never subtle, Ice-T’s long-running metal project Bodycount seemed to have gained a new lease of life recently, and this year he released a new album that seemed to be all the heavier, all the angier…and part of that was down to Ice-T’s furious reactions to political and societal changes in the United States in recent times. Part of this is the election of perhaps the most divisive President ever in the country, but also down to the ever-increasing far-right views and activity on display. As a result, this album bristles with defiance against this state of affairs – and also the poverty and gang-violence afflicting inner-cities in the country – but also allows itself moments of humour and smarts that mean this is not a po-faced album, by any means. That, and Ice-T allows himself a personal moment in a cover of the mighty Reign in Blood, which he introduces in a spoken word segment as the reason he got into metal. Needless to say, he and his band absolutely nail the cover, as they nail everything else here too.
An album that took me some time to get into, but then, Frank Spinath never was one for immediacy. His first solo album – produced in conjunction with sound-artiste extraordinaire Hecq – is not one for the dancefloor, but instead is best enjoyed on headphones, where the exquisite soundscapes come to life, dancing across your ears. Considerably slower-paced than some of his other material, it is also much bleaker in tone than even the darkest moments that Seabound reached, even including an old Seabound song Murder that was long-since shelved by the parent band (it was originally a demo before their first album came out – it’s that old), and hearing it here, it’s easy to see why. The common thread through Spinath’s work, though, remains – reflections on the darkest thoughts and desires of humanity remain the central theme, but here, rather than remaining in the head, it seems to be investigating the aftermath of acting on them. Needless to say, hope is in short supply. As I said, this took time to appreciate, but it is well worth persevering with.
Every Country’s Sun
In parts this was Mogwai squaring the circle, returning to a more guitar-based sound after some years of electronic experimentation, and it’s clear that the sound suits them better. Like their greatest material, this has moments of elegant contemplation counterbalanced by pummelling sonic violence, and the basslines in particular glower in the background, offering all kinds of threats. I’m still not convinced about the vocals and synthwave-meets-postrock of Party In the Dark, but to me that’s an aberration and the rest of the album is the band I’ve spent two decades following.
Also, additional points for yet more evidence that Mogwai come up with some of the best songtitles going (aka 47, Don’t Believe the Fife, Coolverine to name but a few).
T x R x P have never exactly been an accessible act, and this album just rams this home. Ritualistic music is formed by way of tribal drums, growling static and vocals that sound as if they are summoning something particularly unpleasant. But this is not simply boring, droning sounds. This is a music of dark, forboding energy, where hope is extinguished and forces are summoned, and when it picks up the pace (such as on the exceptional Serpent Seed), it reaches an impressive, trance-like form of repetition that at a louder volume sounds utterly amazing.
For some years, there has been this wistful hope among a great number of people I know that a second Fever Ray album might appear. Unsurprisingly, when it finally did, eight years after the first, it arrived without any prior announcement (aside from odd hints and a one-off single a week before, which had no reference to an album whatsoever). Much like the band Karin Dreijer was part of for so long (The Knife, of course), this release owes little at points to what came before. Sure, the vocals are still pitch-shifted and treated within an inch of their lives, but musically this is a brighter, more direct release as opposed to the suffocating gloom that the first Fever Ray album was shrouded in. And rather than inward-looking concerns, this album is one about sex, politics and sexual politics, however obliquely, and from the torrent of vocals across the songs, she has an awful lot to say. It also continues to demonstrate how Karin Dreijer remains one of the most unique and fascinating musical artists active today.
Initially when this was released, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was on repeat for most of the weekend, and various songs got their hooks in quick. But then…it kinda slipped away, and I’ve not listened to it so much since. It’s absolutely St. Vincent’s aim for the pop angle, and to a point it works (and performs a relatively common trick – blazing poppy, catchy songs with a vastly darker undercurrent), with glorious songs that reel you in, such as the fabulous Los Ageless, and Pills. There is even, remarkably, a song that wouldn’t sound of place on an industrial dancefloor (the sweat-drenched rhythms of Sugarboy), but dig a bit deeper, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot there. Yeah, it’s an album about heartbreak and dealing with the aftermath…but more than anything else, it’s difficult to relate to it, with the exception of Young Lover and the devastating Happy Birthday, Johnny – more of those and this really would have been something amazing. That said, it might still make St. Vincent the star that she clearly should be, regardless…
Two things I noted in But Listen: 153 about this album have stuck with me. One is that this is a near-unclassifiable, genre-hopping album, and the other is that this is a massively front-loaded album. But front-loading with songs this great is fine by me – somewhere between industrial-synthpop-trip-hop, that front portion of the album is loaded with phenomenal pop songs, each one with a chorus bigger than the last, catchier melodies and a feeling of sunlight filtering through black clouds, until you get to album centrepiece Chymical Wedding – a song with spiralling synths and intertwined vocals that just makes me want to keep it on repeat for the rest of the day. Ok, so it dips a bit in the second half of the album, but those first six songs are absolutely worth it alone.
One of the more intriguing acts within the industrial world, that’s for sure, Comaduster made quite a splash with his debut and I’m fairly sure that this new release is a more accomplished record. Coming complete with a complex, hard sci-fi concept that has pages of reading notes to explain it (now that’s what I call a concept album, or in short, bar raised), musically this is a still not-common clash of bass music (or, dubstep-influenced, if you will) and sublime melody. But it’s not just all about vertiginous “drops” – although they certainly feature – it is more fascinating for the extraordinary level of sonic detail contained within. All kinds of effects and treatments litter the mix, stretching and flexing Real Cardinal’s vocals, and offering up what seem like alien sounds sweeping in and out of the mix. In fact there is so much here that I’ve no doubt that different listeners will get very different responses and experiences from listening to it, but there is one thing that is now beyond dispute – Real is now unquestionably one of the most accomplished sonic sculpturists out there, as this is music as eye-popping art.
While Blindness effectively split last year, they did promise a potential further EP, and that arrived this year. Notably better produced than the album Wrapped In Plastic was, this was also something of a tying up of loose ends, pretty much releasing the remaining songs that in some cases had been part of their live set for years. Most notable was lead track Born Liar, a seething, boiling pit of industrial-rock rage that was a notable omission from that album and is easily one of their best songs. Elsewhere, there is delicate, piano-led balladry, trip-hop-meets-shoegaze, and the volcanic sweary rage of the epic, closing Give Out. Another reminder of what might have been – Blindness were such a good band and deserved better than they got. But I’m glad they left behind a great quality body of work.
After a few albums where creatively, they were doing little more than treading water, remarkably their return this year saw them burst back into life. Not co-incidentally, I suspect, a return to a harder-edged electro sound certainly helped, but most of all what made this so good were the songs. Goldfrapp albums have never been particularly long, but even by their standards this felt lean, as if anything surplus had been ruthlessly culled, leaving them with ten snappy songs without a dull or weak moment. Systemagic is the best of the pop songs here, and appropriately enough seemed to take up residence on the radio for months, but even when the pace does dip for the inevitable ballad, those are great too (Faux Suede Drifter, aside from the excellent title, is a swooning, lush joy), and the closing Ocean (see last week) finishes an excellent album on a jaw-dropping high.
I’d hesitate to ever call Godflesh subtle, but from the first couple of tracks alone, it is obvious that there is a level of nuance here over-and-above the scorched-earth brutality of the comeback A World Lit Only By Fire from a few years back. That album felt a little one-dimensional at parts – the staggering opener New Dark Age aside, which to my ears is one of the greatest Godflesh tracks ever – but here every element of what Godflesh do so well is used for maximum effect. Subtle breakbeats and quasi-hip-hop rhythms make their appearance again, basslines are wielded like bludgeoning weaponry, and some tracks see guitars used for texture, rather than just as cutting tools. See, subtlety can have immense power, as Godflesh prove on their strongest album in some time.
Dark Days + Canapés
Play It Again Sam
I wasn’t especially keen on Ghostpoet live last year – maybe it just wasn’t the right environment on a dreary summer evening in Hyde Park, that said even Massive Attack weren’t fantastic that night either – but the new album this year just clicked immediately. There is something of a laid-back, Tricky feel to his latest work, with a languid rapping style that gently drifts into a melodic croon at points – and bizarrely perhaps, a Scott Walker nod in the kitchen-sink-esque details that appear at points amid an album that is full of suburban life, and makes that mundanity interesting, actually fascinating.
In The Nursery
Often a forgotten voice in the development of the more experimental side of industrial music, ITN returned with an album around a fascinating theme – that of the year of the Humberstone brothers’ birth. A year of massive upheaval (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1961), of hope and despair, the album is an enthralling look at some of the events and emotions inspired from the year, and moves from martial rhythmic drama to gorgeous, french-vocal ballads and quite a few bits inbetween. The influence of their delicate soundtrack work is clearly on show, too, and to my ears this is their best album in at least a decade.
We Only Love You When You’re Dead
Encephalon have been a fascinating proposition since I first heard them over a decade ago, providing a thoroughly modern, sci-fi influenced electro-industrial sound with very much a commitment to writing songs, rather than just bludgeoning industrial. That songcraft is really what sets them apart, with heavy use of vocal effects to advance stories within songs, to almost provide different voices in them, and a glorious ability with impact within songs (here, just check the drop in Lunacy, and the mighty punch that the chorus arrives with during Limb from Limb). In addition, the time since Psychogenesis has been used well, as they have clearly pared down some of the more out-there experimentation on that album for much more focussed, excellent album that is possibly my favourite release by them yet.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
The Punishment of Luxury
White Noise Ltd
Winner of the “most garish CD sleeve of 2017”, with a multicoloured design on black (and it looks great, continuing their long-held theme of avant-garde references in their artwork), and happily the musical content was something of a joy, too. What’s remarkable is that the band haven’t exactly changed their approach since their reformation, but there is very much a feel of upgraded tools. But beyond the tech upgrade, the same commitment to clever, detailed arrangements and equally smart lyrical subjects remains, but none of that would mean much if they weren’t delivered amid a set of glorious pop songs, which this has from start-to-finish. Not an album, I must confess, that I was expecting to be including here, but there is no doubt that it deserves its place – one of the best synthpop albums of recent years.
A short (just eight tracks) but blindingly good return by Cyanotic, who with a noted brief of looking back at their sci-fi and industrial influences (just check the title of the release), took something of a back to basics approach that takes no prisoners. There is notably less of the more mellow, instrumental work they’ve been exploring at length in recent years, instead going for a punchy, dancefloor-friendly kick and hitting the bullseye pretty much every time. Hyperaware is one of their most anthemic tracks in years, Clear A Path makes surprisingly fresh use of Falling Down samples, and the closing drum’n’bass-industrial maelstrome of Salvage The Excess is flat-out the heaviest, most aggressive track the band have ever released.
Man, has this album divided opinion. I guess that with the almost universal love for their first album Fearless remaining undimmed, any deviation from that style was going to raise eyebrows, but their move in a resolutely “rock” direction here has without doubt ruffled a few feathers. Sure, a few surprisingly retro influences crop up – I was not expecting downtuned, Alice In Chains-esque guitars on some songs, for example – but dig under the surface and what made Legend great in the first place is still here. There is still the taste for the epic and dramatic (and some very long songs) , and Krummi’s vocals still soar over the top with an awe-inspiring sense of melody. It might be different, but I still love it.
Pulse Code Misery
Notice was served of the promise of this band with the exceptional single EVOKE, and their debut album released this year delivered even more. Yes, so they are part of the Glitch Mode stable, and the DNA of that label’s trademark sound is certainly there, but what is interesting is where RELIC have taken that sound. So the bass is heavy, there are hints of processed guitars, and a distinct nod to industrial ghosts of old (and new), but RELIC have more of an emphasis on melody and song, and the result is top-to-tail stream of exceptional songs and one of the best industrial releases of 2017.
Exile In The Outer Ring
So I’ve realised as I write this, I’ve ended up placing EMA at exactly the same point in this year’s countdown as her previous album The Future’s Void made on Countdown: 2014: Albums. How odd – but in some ways appropriate, as this is easily the equal of her last album. Once again digging into the underbelly of the modern world – last time out was about our human connections in the digital world, and how that shapes our lives for good and bad – this time, though, the broad angle is that of those left behind in the world, and who are getting angry about it. Yes, in other words, it is at least in part about the rise of Trump and far-right demagogues from an American perspective, and tumbling out of this album is a sense of rage. Rage at unwelcome change in the world, rage at not keeping up economically or socially, rage at discrimination and hate. But also, this is Erika M. Anderson fighting back, shown best of all by the searing, screaming fury of 33 Nihilistic and Female, and also the staggering, anthemic industrial beatdown of Fire Water Air LSD, perhaps the one escapist moment from a world apparently surrounded and shrouded in hate. EMA, one of the most astute social commentators of our time?
With all the furore from some quarters over the return of LCD Soundsystem, it was missed by some just how brilliant James Murphy and co’s return actually was. An excellently crafted, and paced, dance-rock album that simply builds on what they had done before – after all, if it ain’t broke, it sure as hell doesn’t need fixing – and beneath the grooves and songs that make you want to punch the air with joy, there were insightful, smart lyrics. Where James Murphy managed to articulate the fear of getting old, of the political-generational divide and also the state of the world in music and politics, in ways we didn’t even know we needed. An exceptional, enlivening return that just happened to have four of the best songs of the year (the one-two punch at the heart of the album of Tonite and Call the Police, the ass-shaking Other Voices, and the rage of Emotional Haircut, since you’re asking) all in one place.
Safe From Harm / Losing Touch
In an unusual move, Empathy Test decided to release two distinct albums at the same time (as a result of a very well-funded crowdfunding campaign earlier in the year that made the target within 24 hours and then exceeded it by a wide, wide margin) for their debut, and as a result, I’m effectively treating them as one double album.
I’ve been following this young band for a while, who’ve gained a lot of fans for their emotional, laid-back synthpop sound that sounds very different to most other bands out there. Over the few years I’ve been watching and listening to them, they’ve gained enormously in confidence (something best shown by their now slick and always-brilliant live shows), and perhaps that is shown by the twin-album decision.
What’s truly remarkable about them is that both albums work wonderfully. It could perhaps be said that Safe From Harm has the more reflective songs, while Losing Touch is full of their best singles (and B-sides), but both have new songs that are easily the equal of what has come before – and both familiar and new have a habit of including moments that prickle the hairs on your neck (best bits? Just as Throwing Stones changes key into the first chorus, the whole of the extraordinary musing on death that is Here Is The Place, the quite brilliant Siamese, the best of the new songs. I could go on). In effect, the inclusion of most of their songs released before as well as some new songs allows anyone new to the band to catch up, but the new songs make purchasing the pair worth it alone.
Quite possibly the most promising British band in electronic music right now.
Another killer retro-EBM act signed to DKA Records, and this Australian duo released this storming eight-track missive in the spring. To a point on-trend – the darker corners of 80s electronic music are so much du jour right now, not to mention the resurgence of interest in industrial music in techno circles right now – these guys take things further than just trend-chasing by the intriguing way their songs are built. Huge synth hooks hit like bell chimes across sleek, relentless rhythms, and vocals are treated and twisted so that they are indistinct, but still an absolutely vital part of the sound. How I wish for a club – I don’t know, like E N D U R A N C E, perhaps – that still existed where I could dance to this until the early hours.
Somewhere along the line, the promise of Zola Jesus’ work didn’t quite break through. The move to Mute for her last album Taiga was meant to be a stepping stone, and the (in a relative sense!) more accessible sound of that album should have burst her into wider acceptance. But for reasons I’ve never understood, it didn’t happen. In the aftermath, she went back to the mid-west, dealt with all kinds of personal trauma, and the result was this astonishing album, thirty-nine minutes absolutely bursting with all of the emotion that she’s been dealing with. Despite this album being about, broadly, dealing with the prospect and reality of death, it is a remarkably positive album in some respects, at points pleading with those nearing death to fight back or pull through, and it is also an album steeped in love. A frankly staggering album that, really, was the only realistic competition for the number one spot this year – this pair of albums were miles ahead of everything else.
Speaking of which…
SOL: A Self-Banishment Ritual
Could it really have been anything else? This year was one where I had broadly decided on the top spot when I published But Listen: 156 back in September, and SOL received only the third full marks review (10/10, in other words) I’ve given in twenty-one years of writing about music.
Alex Reed has for a while put us on notice of his wide-ranging talent, from his industrial music to his writing about the genre, and his knowledge in music generally, but this album is an extraordinary step-up. Ignoring genre boundaries for a fascinating exploration into how music can be part of a way for regeneration, rebirth and renewal of the self, this album is frequently mind-boggling in scope. I don’t know how some of this works, but nothing feels out of place, everything remotely unexpected works joyously, and I’ve been humming some of these songs for months.
How good is this album, really? I want to fucking shout from the rooftops just how brilliant, how inspiring this is.
Finally, as I wrap up this week’s post, Seeming become the first artist to have received both the album of the year and track of year accolades from amodelofcontrol.com.