Onto week two of /Countdown/2019 on amodelofcontrol.com, and this week I’m looking at the best tracks of the year. These might be the singles, they might be album tracks, they might be one-offs. But all of them are songs I love in one way or another, and they aren’t all necessarily songs that fall within the usual remit of this website – I’ve long since ceased worrying about boundaries.
/2016/School of Seven Bells/Signals
/2013/Seabound/Nothing But Love
/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
As is usual – and like the albums list next week – this has been in development for a couple of months, and has taken a lot of work, a lot of listening, and a lot of thinking about the music I’ve listened to this year. The recent changes in the way music is consumed has really taken effect this year, with lots of short EPs or single track releases, often replacing what might in the past have been albums. Even albums are often shorter, but that’s something for next week. The takeaway, though, is that the tracks and album lists perhaps diverge in their content more than ever this year.
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 and Youtube. Links to the right.
Next week: Albums
The dark, industrial-tinged rock of Toronto-based Odonis Odonis has been intriguing me for a few years now, as their approach has seemed to be morphing recently into a new form. This slow-paced, foreboding – and thrillingly heavy – track is a good example of where they seem to be going, as they move toward a much harder-edged sound, but with unexpected bright spots, with choral samples and a surprisingly melodic chorus. Unlikely to be troubling a dancefloor near you, but that’s not the point. This is music for late-night listening.
The impressive brevity of the latest Refused album doesn’t appear to have been, like other groups, led by concerns over music consumption habits – the short-sharp-shock approach simply suited the music here. After the apparently big-spending, big-studio, big-producer approach of the slightly-lukewarm and confused Freedom, the band went back to basics in Sweden for this new album, and it shows. This album is furious, a return to their left-wing, fiercely political roots, and the album is appropriately savage hardcore/punk, of the kind that the band made their name with in the future. This track was the first we heard from the album, a stomping, fist-pumping anthem that remind us that the band are “blood-red until I’m fucking dead”, in case there was any concern about their political leanings. Refused are a force for good musically and politically.
/Heaven & Hell & Fire
The last few Rotting Christ albums have been extraordinary explorations into religious rituals around the world – an interesting subject for a band so clear on their refutation of religion. I guess their interest is around the ritual itself, particularly where music is involved, rather than what they believe, but having apparently exhausted that seam, they’ve now moved onto heresy, and what might happen when that is exposed. The result was a dark, apocalyptic-sounding album, but maybe one for me that wasn’t quite as impressive as the ones before. That said, it did have some impressive moments, particularly the Orthodox chanting that adds extra rhythmic heft to the soaring guitars and pounding metal of Heaven & Hell & Fire. Rotting Christ, though, remains one of the most impressive bands in extreme metal, cutting their own path both sonically and thematically – without resorting to obvious cliché – and with a constant curiosity that has their music asking questions of their subjects. I’ll salute them for that, even if I didn’t perhaps appreciate this album as much as I might have expected overall.
/Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard
/Yn Ol i Annwn
/Yn Ol i Annwn
Yn Ol I Annwn is apparently Welsh for Return To The Underworld, but it seems that these Welsh space-doomers have bigger, more mind-bending ideas than just that. Sure, they have skull-crushing riffs and slow-paced grooves that advance like an angry rhino, but it’s what else they add to their sound that makes them so interesting. The swirling synths help to add texture, but the really critical bit are Jessica Ball’s vocals, which add something entirely different and take what is so often a macho genre into very different sonic realms. The title track is the pick for me, a melodic wonder that rolls and pitches nicely, with a surprisingly hummable chorus (I’ll still with humming, as opposed to trying to pronounce any of a language that is alien to me), and a sense that this is a band for whom the stars are a realistic aim. I mean, mentally they are there already.
/Welcome to the Blackout
/Vision 2020 Vision
Thirty-nine years into their career – and twenty-seven years since they introduced guitars to their sound, which was perhaps the most dramatic change this band have made – Die Krupps released their eleventh studio album, and honestly, they aren’t breaking with any traditions at this stage. So if you’ve heard their recent material, this album won’t surprise you – punishing, anthemic EBM with jagged guitar riffs are the order of the day. What is an improvement on recent albums are the hooks, with rather more memorable songs than for a while. The best track on the album, though, is the dynamic, punchy lead single where Jürgen Engler visualises societal breakdown, and an outbreak of chaos and disorder amid awesome riffage and a bouncing, hook-laden rhythm. Like the rest of the album, too, it’s not an especially positive one, with the lyrical concepts based around potential outcomes from the current gloomy political climate.
I don’t know about this London electro-rock band other than this single, but I really should get onto it – and, apparently, see them live, too. This song is fucking great, though, a remorseless groove sidles through the track, with the chorus being little more than the titular refrain being repeated over and over, but you know what? I’m happy with this. This is simply great music that leaves me intrigued about what else this band can do.
/State of Play
I may not go clubbing particularly often anymore – I really have to be in the right mood these days – but if I did, I may well be aiming for nights that will play me brutal industrial techno like this. It’s a genre that I dip in and out of, to be honest – much like earlier techno that I’ve long had an interest in, but only listen to occasionally. But when it’s this well created, and leans on the door of industrial noise too, with that depth of samples in the mix and nasty, distorted sounds too, it sounds like a deep, terrifying void has opened from the speakers – and I’m this close to jumping in and partying all night.
/New Model Army
I’m by no means a member of the New Model Army “family” – I’ve only seen them live the once, and most of my familiarity with their material is from their work in the mid-to-late eighties if I’m honest – but I do keep an ear out for their more recent material, and this latest material is their best in a while. A great number of people clearly agreed, as the parent album for this song reached the highest chart position the band have ever had in the UK (some feat after forty years), and for me, this track was the best on it. A slow burn of a track, where Justin Sullivan reflects on how he got to now, on mistakes and choices made, and how we live with those as we continue to move forward, making amends and a better future as we go. More than likely an oblique comment on the devastatingly broken politics of now, Sullivan has a point, and makes it forcefully on this excellent, moving song.
/Nature of Wires
A group who’d long been in my view, but somehow I’d not heard properly until I saw their excellent set at BEAT:CANCER in November. This reinforced that I should follow hunches about bands earlier, but hey, I can’t catch up with everything. This song, though, is great. Modern synthpop with nods to classic “rave” (those synths!), massive hooks, and a general feeling that this band is very good indeed at what they do. Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do…
/Caution to the Wind
Four or five years ago, Bitter Ruin genuinely looked to be on the cusp of success. Their successfully crowd-funded debut album – after a string of excellent EPs – Waves started to make it towards mainstream radio and coverage generally, some famous names were touting them…and then it all went quiet. It was never exactly clear what happened, but Georgia dipped her toe into the water of solo work, and then in early 2019, they returned out of nowhere with a new song. Caution to the Wind picks up where they left off – dual-vocals as ever, sparse instrumentation and that barbed undertow that is so key to their songs. More new music is promised, and I’m on tenterhooks for it.
/Novo Sonic System
Remember those brutal tracks from Aleph (six years ago!) that continue to slay dancefloors even now? Apparently, so does Mike Lévy at last, as after a lukewarm major-label debut, the EP that followed finally delivered all the bangers we were hoping for in the first place. The EP is relatively short and sweet but is worth it alone for Dance X, four minutes of pounding bass and electronics that do little more than send signals to your feet that it’s time to move, and to the rest of the body that it’s going to get a workout whether it likes it or not.
/The Joy Thieves
/This Will Kill That
Apparently, around thirty people were involved in this collective release this year, with members of a whole load of industrial/rock luminaries of the past couple of decades involved, and the most amazing thing is perhaps that a cohesive release was the result of it. But then, industrial collectives aren’t exactly a new thing, and like those before them, this grouping acquits themselves well. There is very much an industrial rock vibe to this, and Chemical Dreams gets the nod here in particular, for the way it neatly takes me back to the sounds that got me interested in this corner of the musical world in the first place. Everything has been fucked with for the final sound, with electronic wizardry and distortion twisting what would otherwise be a standard rock band into something fucked up and wonderful.
/And I Fall
/Line of Sight
Null Device often feels like they’re skulking around the edge of the party as if they felt like they weren’t worthy of the attention. Newsflash – they absolutely are, and the new album sees a sharper, more forceful edge to their sound, at least as far as I hear it, and the pick of the album is this wonderful track, where everything is turned up to at least ten, with a forceful drum kick and great vocal harmonies in the chorus that makes for one of my favourite tracks of theirs so far.
/The Foreign Resort
Perhaps in 2020, I should record the genre of the artist from every promo e-mail that I receive, as I suspect – if it’s like 2019 – probably half of them will be in the broad realms of post-punk. One of that many this year was Danish band The Foreign Resort, who signed to Artoffact Records and released an enjoyable album, that while owing quite a debt to The Cure, did manage to push a few ideas of their own. The best track on the album, though, was the fast tempos, distorted bass and yearning vocals of Obsessing, which reached pretty much the perfect balance between the old-school and new-school in the genre, something too many bands in this realm don’t manage. I’ve no problem with recycling older styles, the problem comes when bands are simply slaves to their influences. Happily, this band have found their own way to make their mark.
/Off the Grid
Four years after first breaking through, REIN has (at the time of writing) played her first London show, although my wait to see her live goes on for two more weeks, where I’ll see her live at BIMFest in Belgium. There has been a steady stream of singles, the odd EP, and finally, soon, her debut album. But in the meantime, her aggressive, politically-charged EBM-electro has reached Off the Grid, a thundering monster of a track that is all about the leads that evoke a few classic Belgian artists, that’s for sure. But this is music for the dancefloor, and slay them it shall. An artist with a lot of promise, frankly – women in EBM are not perhaps as prominent as they should be – and a full album, at last, will be very welcome.
It feels like it’s been an age since Strange Cargo – indeed it’s been eight years – but then, the exquisite detail of Nico J’s work as Acretongue can’t be easy work to create. What is interesting about this song in particular, though, is how forceful and up-front it is – his previous material lurked in the background, and made you work for the payoff. Here, the hooks leap out of the mix like tongues of fire, the beats are stronger, and those vocal melodies are glorious. I can’t help but feel that many have slept on Acretongue’s material, and let me tell you – you’re missing out.
/November (Boulevard des Lices)
Another artist who has never really gained the wider audience his extraordinary work has deserved is the chanson Philip Jeays. His work spans over two decades now – and some songs date back quite a bit further than that. Interestingly for his first album in a couple of years, he had two related songs that continued the stories from his songs around his time as a young man in Arles – appropriately called November and December. It has long been obvious – from his songs and from his notes on them on his website – that while his time in Arles lit a fire of inspiration that continues to fuel him to this day, it was also a difficult time that challenged him in many ways. So it’s perhaps not especially surprising to find him in a reflective mood on November in particular, a sweeping ballad that drips with sadness and regret. Jeays is a fucking treasure, frankly, and more should be appreciating his body of work – consider this my latest attempt to spread the word further.
Trying to get the word out as a new band seems to be more difficult than ever – with the dearth of printed music press now, and the fragmentation of what remains, how do you spread the word about your new music? I’ve found – as a casual writer, I guess, that just happens to have a web presence that’s been around for a while – that having an e-mail address specifically for this has paid dividends. It does also mean that – even with my fairly wide tastes – I get a lot of promo e-mails that aren’t targetted at all, and frankly are highly unlikely to be covered on this site, but amid all that are a number of artists that I’ve genuinely discovered and been very impressed with.
One of those was Dread Risks, an American artist who, going on the material I’ve heard so far, are willing to go to some dark places. Bass, drums, and pitch-shifted (downwards) vocals proliferate, creating a dark and uncomfortable atmosphere that, sure, owes something to aggrotech, but genuinely does something new with a genre I long tired of. Malevolent, nasty stuff, and all the better for it.
Empathy Test’s star continues to rise – after a lengthy US tour this year and a string of European dates, they finally headlined a venue in London they’ve supported many others in over the past few years (the main room of the O2 Academy Islington) just recently to bring the curtain down on a few months of touring, although sadly I had to miss the show due to family commitments. They did manage to release a few more songs this year, too, with the promise of a new album in 2020, and this track was the best of them. Based around an interesting, off-kilter beat and gorgeous, swirling synths, Isaac’s vocals really come into their own in the striking chorus. The main takeaway, though, is how the group continue to find new ways to develop their romantic synthpop. Is the sky the limit in 2020?
A very welcome return this year was from Witch House luminaries ∆AIMON, whose first material in some years was a new EP. The lead track reminded us immediately what we’d been missing too – their trademark distorted, crackling rhythms, found sounds as part of the core, and the twilight vocals that make for a shadowy, threatening presence. Brant and Nancy Showers haven’t been idle during their absence, that’s for sure (various other projects have taken precedence), but it feels important to have them back as their main project. It is an influential project – even if it took a little while for others to pick up on what they were doing – and hearing them push forward again while keeping their trademark sound intact is very much A Good Thing.
The EBM revival over the past decade – which has ebbed and flowed, and gone in surprising directions at points – has brought to wider attention some great new artists, not all of whom are particularly interested in simply rehashing the past. One of these such artists is Kontravoid, whose main connection to EBM “proper” is to use the clean beats, synth leads and most importantly the energy of classic EBM. This track has so much energy it could fuel cars as it charges forward, and I only wish ENDURANCE still existed, so that I could hear this at ear-bleeding volume on an appropriately sweaty dancefloor.
I was rather surprised to realise that it’s now approaching two decades since I first heard SITD, and eight albums in, their knack with a killer chorus and a thumping beat remains undimmed. Sure, they’ve not especially changed their style over that time – mid-paced electro-industrial for the most part, with sharp-edged, heavy-duty production and gigantic, factory-sized hooks – but then, why fuck with a formula that works so well? Perhaps they remain as good as they do because they resisted getting sucked into the aggrotech trend in particular – something that dated very fast, and I for one rather tired of yet more songs drenched in blood and growling like goblins about serial killers – and stuck to their own guns. This song, then – the opener to another solid album – leaves you in no doubt what’s going to happen as the song begins to build, but with a glorious, sing-a-long chorus such as this, I’ll forgive them quite a lot.
There was no way in the world that after a thirteen-year wait, Tool could possibly live up to expectations with the new album. That said, Tool has such a singular style that of course, the album was going to end up sounding like…Tool. And so it does, and it’s a solid album. It makes no concessions to current trends, aside from perhaps greater use of electronics than on any previous Tool album, has multiple songs that go way beyond ten minutes, and the last track proper 7EMPEST sees them make an explicit comment on present-day politics – and is by far the best track on the album as it unleashes all of the pent-up fury over the previous seventy-minutes or so. A sixteen-minute epic that cycles through furious, guitar-led rage, more measured sequences, and some of the best drum work on a Tool track yet. It was certainly worth the wait just for this track.
/Working (You Are)
While Mallinder has been notably active again in recent years – mostly in Wrangler and the related Creep Show project with John Grant – it was a surprise to find that this track was from his first solo album in over three decades. It’s a hugely enjoyable track, too – loose-limbed techno-funk that has a nagging familiarity and groove to it, while the only lyrics are elements of the titular refrain. Not that it needs more vocals, really – this is a dancefloor groove that is taken left turns into experimentalism without ever being boring. In that sense, Mallinder is very much picking up where he left off with Cabaret Voltaire, then – fearlessly taking sound forward rather than simply sticking with the same styles. One of the great industrial music innovators and pioneers, continuing to prove this after many years of work.
/Body of Light
/Time to Kill
/Time to Kill
I adored the 2016 debut Let Me Go, but something with Time To Kill as an album didn’t quite sit with me. Perhaps it was the fact that it just doesn’t have the same level of songcraft as the first, but also it was, perhaps, that nothing on it came close to the brilliance of the lead single and title track. Thumping kicks and stabbing synths, sampled voices abound, and Alex Jarson’s vocals are better than ever, as he gives everything into that thrilling chorus. Body of Light are at their best when they deliver impassioned, quasi-romantic synthpop, and this song towers over everything they’ve done by doing it in a more direct fashion.
/A Pleasure to Burn
An occasional project for Athan Maroulis over the past decade – since the first album and EP, there’s been a handful of new EPs and remixes, and this new EP – and particularly the title track – is an excellent addition to the canon. Maroulis delivers his usual, smooth and soulful vocals, and the electronics behind this one provide an unexpectedly complex backing, one that seems to take in the influences of New Romantic, synthpop and soul – all at once in the chorus – and once again sets him apart as a singular auteur in the wider industrial music realm. His interests have always been vastly wider than any of his peers, and his songs in NOIR reflect this well and continue to be a showcase for some of the best songcraft in the scene.
/Where We Sleep
/Experiments In The Dark EP
A few years on from the demise of Blindness – a group that were no strangers to these lists – Beth Rettig from the band returned to releasing new music, on a quasi-solo project (with others assisting along the way) that while nodding back to her previous band, definitely sees her finding a new path. There is a bluesy sound to the new music, with guitars that evoke the wide-open spaces of the mid-west USA in particular, backed with programmed drums and Beth’s distinctive vocals maybe not quite as prominent as they were before. Talking to her before this was released, there was the feeling that she wasn’t exactly sure what people were going to make of it, but I don’t think she had anything to worry about. This – and the rest of the EP it came from – is great, a powerful song that sounds wiser, perhaps, and more contemplative, than before.
/All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
/Fieldworks Exkursion EP
Covenant’s latest release this year was an EP that seemed to take them into entirely new pastures. Five tracks built around field recordings revealed a Kraftwerk-esque taste for simplicity and sparseness on some tracks and elsewhere built up into complex, layered soundscapes. This track – easily the most impressive on the EP – is based around a complex rhythm and Eskil’s usual, dramatic vocals, with droning synths and samples that at least in part see the band looking to their past as much as their future for inspiration. Covenant remain an enigma – still one of the biggest names in industrial/electro these days, but still as curious as to where they can take their sound. While the results don’t always work out, when they do they are quite, quite brilliant.
/The Arch House
This Sheffield band’s debut album was my album of the year last year – and the album has held up, too – but I was curious to see how they were going to follow it, and this track (released on Hallowe’en) gave us an idea. Lush, detailed synthpop is still the order of the day, but intriguingly there has been a stylistic shift. This has symphonic elements, not to mention a much, much darker subject matter, from what I can tell – dealing with mental health and internal anguish in a roundabout way, and a dramatic, striking chorus that sees Emma’s voice soar. Judging on this and the subsequent airing of a couple more new songs at Beat Cancer in London in November 2020 will see another excellent album to come from them. I can’t wait.
/Nobody Smokes Anymore
/Texas Piano Man
One of my surprise finds of 2019 came as support to Eels – itself a gig I wasn’t expecting to attend until the day before, thanks to the generosity of a friend – in the form of one of the most entertaining solo sets I’ve seen in some time. Robert Ellis kinda brands himself as the “Texas Piano Man”, and his sardonic, alt-country had some moments of deeply moving emotion, but also some laugh-out-loud moments. The best of the latter also transpired to be the standout track on his latest album, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment on everyone around him apparently leading cleaner lives, and by extension not having anywhere near as much fun…
/A Visit from Foxcunt
Despite the political climate, there is that distinct feeling that many artists are shying away from making strong statements. So thank someone (probably not a deity, mind) for Foxcunt, who in their short career so far have made no bones about their political views (and indeed members of the band have been out canvassing pre-election), with direct, entertaining punk providing the base for their sloganeering. But even political punks need to be able to kick back, and this glorious song sees Ally despairing of competitive friends through the medium of karaoke.
Matt Fanale and Eric Oehler’s umpteenth side-project seems to be gaining serious traction, with each release flying up the Bandcamp charts and, I suspect, gaining an audience far wider than might be expected. Then again, is it any surprise with it being very much on-trend EBM? It has to be good to stand out in a crowded field (everyone has been trying this of late), and it helps that both parties involved have a deep knowledge of their influences. This lead track from the latest EP is by far the best track released by them yet, a strict-tempo rhythmic attack being a smart base for sloganeering vocals. Sure, it nods to both Borghesia and Nitzer Ebb, but I suspect that’s the point – this is a brilliant, dancefloor-bound track that pays homage to the origins of EBM while providing a very now sound.
/You Must Be New Here EP
I’ve been writing about Ganser for a few years now, and they continue their steady evolution into a singular sound that appears deliberately to be making a case to be different. As I’ve noted about other bands in this list (and before), bands in the post-punk realm are ten-a-penny, and many of them don’t appear to realise that standing out from the crowd is important. Ganser understood this from the start, and even on this latest EP, nothing is quite what it seems. Some elements seem backmasked, guitars are smothered in all kinds of effects, and vocals are delivered in a manner that seems not to be too bothered about how much you can take in. But amid the jagged edges, there are some great songs and some impressive arrangements here, and my favourite by a nose is the accusatory Act Natural, which seems to have a jabbing finger pointing at you out of the speakers, as the two-note piano works like a sneer to back up the vocals.
A band from a city whose housing crisis has been a long-time in the making (and seems to be a long way down the list of priorities for politicians both local and national), seem to be the obvious people to be writing a furious song about it. This was the striking lead track from the first Test Dept. album in over twenty years, a percussion-led storm that tears into the outsourcing of housing provision and support into the private sector, something that has only exacerbated a deficit of quality housing supply, made some people (including far too many MPs) rich and everyone else a lot poorer. The furious vocals combined with the punch of the rhythms make for a hard-hitting, timely track.
/This Is Radio Silence
/Fallen Men EP
An additional interview that I couldn’t eventually schedule this year was with Ben from This Is Radio Silence (former frontman of Earth Loop Recall, too) – and I missed their London live return, too, as it all got caught up in the chaotic few weeks after my father-in-law passed away (as understandably we had a lot to concentrate on that wasn’t music). The EP that accompanied that show, though, was quite brilliant. The group’s first release in five years, is an impressive, contemplative release that at its best is spaced-out electronic rock, and this lengthy track surges with energy and power, gradually ramping up the pace and sizzle with emotion through Ben’s heartfelt vocals.
/When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
It’s not often that I include pop artists in these lists, but frankly, I’ll include great music from wherever it comes, and this track is absolutely one of them. It sounds like absolutely nothing else released in the mainstream or underground right now, and perhaps might be the reason that it topped the charts and became such a phenomenon. Curiously produced – deliberately bass-heavy, with everything else only coming into focus over the first thirty seconds or so, and vocally almost devoid of hooks on first listen, the more you hear it the more the clever little details start to become clear (like that marvellous “duh!” that closes out the chorus), not to mention the brutal, slow-paced coda that closes out the song. It should be remembered that at the time of writing, Eilish is not even eighteen. With this restless creativity already, where on earth might she go from here?
/High on the Hog
/High on the Hog
After their exceptional debut album, the now geographically scattered twins that make up Multiple Man haven’t let up – this follow-up excellent EP was also an excellent release. Not, perhaps, with the power of the unexpected that New Metal provided – but still an awesomely powerful take on techno-leaning EBM, and one perhaps that isn’t quite as retro as that album was. What it is, too, is a tougher, harder release. The beats kick harder, and along with the synth leads dominate the track, the vocals buried deep as if you really have to work hard to understand them. Still, in a club, it would be all about that brutal rhythm, and that delivers in spades. Multiple Man continue to be one of the most exciting new EBM acts around – roll on more from them post haste.
The debut KANGA album back in 2016 was like a bolt from the blue. A brilliantly created industrial pop album with a distinctly dark edge, it was a hell of a sleeper hit (and indeed the album of the year on this site that year), and happily, she’s seen solid success since, with a succession of great shows and high-profile support slots, as the word spread. Her show with The Black Queen in London last year, though, displayed an artist ready to move on, with the new songs showing a different side of the artist. A darker, murkier mix is the order of the day, but even that doesn’t disguise the continuing pop roots of Burn, by far the best of the new songs. The feeling here is of an artist making her own mark, becoming more comfortable within themself and, as the song says, “burn it down and start again“, as the song feels a deliberate step into the black, and it is a sound that suits her well.
Sadly it didn’t see the reunion of the band, but Welsh label Mighty Atom worked with the members of the band to remaster four tracks that were part of the aborted sessions for the band’s third album (which never saw the light of day back in 2002). Interestingly, this took the band’s sound back to the savage grace of their debut album, rather than the perhaps overcooked second album – and indeed has a new version of old live highlight Pig, which perhaps is the one misstep here (the original B-side recording of it has rather more fire). The lead track Legion, though, is a cracker, and writhes and seethes along with Ishmael Lewis’s strikingly emotional vocals. A glimpse of what could have been from a band that should have had vastly more success than they did.
Rammstein caused an almighty fuss with their first new single in nearly a decade (the epic Deutschland), with the release of the song and accompanying video that garnered lots of comment and discussion, and going on the enormous Youtube viewing figures for it, it was perhaps one of the biggest alternative music events of the year. I couldn’t help but feel that the second single from the album, the glorious Radio, was even better. Radio was one of the ways that Ossis could get out, even mentally, of their relative prison that was East Germany, and this song – and the striking video – allude to this, backed with the most immediate, catchy R+ song in the best part of two decades.
It’s been quite a year for Boy Harsher. They’ve been a “buzz” band for a while, but there was this distinct feeling this year, as they began selling out venues far bigger than their peers and started to get mainstream coverage, that they have very much crossed over. They are perhaps a surprising group to do so – thumping industrial dance beats with a distinct eighties electro influence and often indistinct vocals? That’s not really what I might have expected to be a success. But the singles from the excellent Careful – and particularly this astounding song – give a clue as to the reasons for it. This song has an astonishing build, it seems to grow in stature and get more and more ecstatic throughout (particularly that kick-up just after the three-minute mark), and the breathless, delicate vocal delivery fits it perfectly. That it has a gorgeously shot video that is also an important statement is just the icing on the cake.
/The Other Side
Probably the best chorus of 2019 came from this glorious song, from an album that was a whole lot more immediate to my ears than their previous. Drab Majesty certainly couldn’t be necessarily called slaves to their past, as while they mine the past for their sounds (particularly “classic” goth and post-punk), there is something very now about what they do, and that is perhaps that they don’t feel like they necessarily fit in any particular genre classification. There is, though, a commitment to extraordinary songcraft, as the deep conceptual heart of this album shows (a modern-day reinterpretation of Ovid’s Narcissus, in short), but most importantly in this song, it is the staggering melodies and emotional pull that it has, and even as a seven-minute song, it feels far too short.
/The Hanging Man
The return of Swans this year, in a new phase, felt like a reboot in many ways. For a start, with a couple of exceptions on another sprawling album, this was a return to the dark folk leanings of early nineties Swans (and later Angels of Light), and the sound suits this collective version of Swans well. But elements of the drawn-out mantras that characterised recent material remain, and the most striking, powerful of those is the epic The Hanging Man, which built around a steady rhythmic pulse, see Michael Gira alternating between calm(ish) near spoken word, and cathartic howls and shouts. Thanks to this, it has an eerie power that unnerves and thrills in equal measure. Who knew that Swans could remain so brilliant nearly forty years from their beginning?
/The Golden Age of Nothing
/The Fall Down
/Ten Thousand Hours
This isn’t the first song from this band to make the top ten Tracks – Black Wings, the first song I heard from the band, did too. But this is two more albums on, and this North-Eastern band are continuing their bitter tales of recrimination and lost love, and their dark gothic rock also continues to impress. In fact, this is by miles their best album yet (more on that next week), and the best song – amid strong company – is this thumping four minutes. Dominated by towering drums and squalling guitars, Graeme Wilkinson offers his unflinching depiction of continuing failure, with such intense delivery that it’s impossible not to understand that this is a life experience. But it isn’t downbeat – and this is important – this is relatable stuff. For all of you that have struggled, fought and seemingly got nowhere, he’s got your back, as he’s been there too, he just has the gift of writing exceptional songs about it.
A few things surprised me about this track, and the EP that it comes from. For a start, this was an artist I was entirely unaware of, despite being exactly the kind of sound I’ve been looking out for and consuming since the nineties (Cat Hall has been releasing music, on and off, under the Dissonance name since 1995 from what I can tell, although a long hiatus was only broken in 2016), and also it had a number of Chicago industrial luminaries assisting whose music I’ve been listening to for an age, too. So thank everything that this EP dropped into my inbox as a promo back in the Spring, and I’ve spun it regularly since.
Probably best referred to as Darkwave, it has a dreamy electronic-rock feel to it with Hall’s vocals reminding me at points of Maria Azavedo of the much-missed Battery, but the best track by far is the forceful, stutter-step rhythms and complex programming of Taste, one of those tracks where I was absolutely hooked from the first listen, rather in line with the subject of obsessive attraction that the song depicts, I guess…
/Witch of the Vale
/Trust The Pain
/Trust The Pain EP
The breakout stars of Infest this year – stealing the show from opening the Saturday is some feat – Witch of the Vale sound like no one else. Superficially taking notes from Witch House in their slow-paced, drowsy electronics, but their secret weapon is vocalist Erin’s extraordinary voice. The lead track from their EP this year is a staggering, elegant song that hints at a world of horror and despair, but never quite revealed – and the breathless chorus just caps off the brilliance. This is a young band who seem to have uncovered a unique sound drawing from Scottish folk and doomy electronics in equal measure, making the idea seem really exciting. Also of note – the excellent take on Lana Del Rey’s Gods and Monsters that is frankly better than the original.
/Let Them Burn
While there is a distinct feeling of positivity at points on the latest deux furieuses album, in that there is the possibility for change, there are also moments of seething, white-hot rage, and none are better than this brutal track. Clearly aimed at smug politicians that solve problems when votes are at stake (“Grow the money on the magic money tree“), while not dealing with the issues that caused the terrible Grenfell Tower fire, this brilliant song simply explodes into a raging chorus that suggests that Ros and Vas are utterly, utterly sick of the kind of bullshit politics we’ve been enduring for too long, that isn’t actually bringing change for anyone that needs it. The sad fact is that I’m not seeing it ending anytime soon, but we now have a soundtrack for when we pick up the torches and pitchforks.
/Teeth of the Sea
The initial material teased from the new Teeth of the Sea album WRAITH suggested a descent into even darker, edgier and more electronic realms, with stories of the creation of the album centred around apparently ghostly presences inspiring them. So far, so spooky, but what even the near-straightforward techno-influenced power of I’d Rather, Jack didn’t hint at was the astonishing brilliance of the closing track Gladiators Ready. I mean, gold stars for the title, but just wait ’til you hear this seven-minute monster. The incessant rhythm and circular basslines draw you in, before glistening power chords join the party to herald an orgy of storming beats and acid squiggles that spiral out of control like Josh Wink jamming with Blanck Mass, Yes and Front 242 all at once. The first time I heard it left my jaw on the floor (and my ears ringing for some time afterwards), and ten months and umpteen listens later, I’m not even remotely done with this yet.
/Pumped Up Kicks
In the thirteen occasions I’ve written /Countdown/Tracks since 2005, I’ve included covers just twice – and this is the third. There was much to like about the big step-up that was the third 3TEETH album Metawar, a slick, powerful metal album that was unafraid to continue with their industrial influences and also go for the jugular with catchy, cleverly political songs, but the most powerful, striking song was this. A surprising rework of the mostly acoustic Foster the People hit that went viral about eight years ago, it left the melody intact but turned it into a moody, industrial rock ballad. Sadly the subject of the song is just an urgent an issue as it was a decade ago – this is a song from the point of view of a troubled teenager about to shoot up their school – and the reemergence of the song is a neat way to provide yet another protest against the prevalence of guns in the US, and the ever-increasing tally of fatal school shootings, but also it is a shocking indictment that this conversation is still being had. But most of all, this is 3TEETH confirming that they can do emotion and gravitas in their songs, as well as raw fury and power. A genuinely moving cover, and one of those rare beasts these days – a cover vastly better and more affecting than the original.
Is this what the future sounds like? If so, it’s a pretty foreboding – and exciting – one, to tell you the truth. Bristol band Scalping appeared with a fistful of intriguing tracks earlier in the year, sounding as if they’d be paying attention to the industrial and experimental scenes, but weren’t especially keen on sounding just like them – so they went their own way. That way, by all accounts, sees them toss everything into a metaphorical blender, and then work and refashion what comes out into something that feels like humans had a hand in it, but let some form of AI do the rest. While there are clearly live instruments involved, the feeling is mechanised, everything running in perfect lockstep. And on this track, the latest from the band (released in late September), there is a sense of dread as the synths squelch away over a steadily building beat, and the immense physicality of the track is laid bare in the rippling muscular figures in the video. The payoff, though, comes in the last minute, as it suddenly steps up a gear to a monstrous, stomping beat that by all accounts is off the charts live (I’ve managed to miss them three or four times this year in London. I will be rectifying this), and sounds impressive enough on record.
This track took my breath away the first time I heard it. Thirty years after I began discovering music for myself, I still get a thrill hearing new things, new ideas I’ve not come across before, and Scalping get the top spot this year because of this. That, and this year’s /amodelofcontrol.com Track of the Year absolutely destroys. Fear the rise of Scalping.