The additional downtime at the moment has had one or two benefits for me – more of a chance to get my head down and get a few outstanding posts completed. I’m painfully aware that aside from regular /Tuesday Ten posts (and /Tuesday Ten/402 will follow tomorrow), I’ve not been posting as much as I’d have liked. This is the beginning of that, as I start the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror.
Ten or so years ago, I did a series of posts counting down the best albums and tracks of the 2000s – and I also expanded it further to cover the 1990s and, eventually, the 1980s (albums only). As you might imagine, these posts take a long, long time to write, and also, because they are covering a whole lot of entries, get spread over a few posts. So that’s what’s going to happen here, too. The best albums of the 2010s will be first, over five posts in the coming weeks. Then – once I’ve finished writing it – the best tracks of the 2010s will follow, likely starting in May.
The 2010s were an interesting decade for our corner of alternative and electronic music. Some veteran genres got a hell of a resurgence, others have faded away. New styles have appeared, become the “in thing” for a bit, then gone again. Other styles just soldier on, as if they’ll never go out of fashion. Technology has perhaps democratised music more than ever before – anyone can self-release, can potentially become a star. But is there the revenue any more to live off it comfortably? This was also the decade where I began to travel so much more for music. I’ve been to Canada (once), to Belgium (seven times), to Chicago (three times), to Prague (once), to Düsseldorf (once), all to mainly see live music. I’ve made new friends, reconnected with old friends, and discovered new music along the way.
While I still try and keep the broad focus of the music covered here to the wider sphere of industrial music, 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 or Youtube. Links to the right, and as the rest of the posts are added, the navigation links below will go live.
The single most remarkable “supergroup” of recent times, a young(ish) art-rock band team up with art-rock legends that clearly inspired them, and the result was something greater than the sum of both at the time. Much like both bands – and most particularly Sparks – there’s a smart-arsed, clever wit running through the whole album. They take on subjects they have no business taking on, they break the fourth wall, they close out the album telling us to Piss Off. In short, it’s glorious, it’s clear they had an absolute blast making it, and I swear I catch another gag or wordplay in the lyrics every time I listen to it. This kind of collaboration should usually leave us all suspicious of their intentions – i.e. is this another cheap cash-in? – but this just had me applauding the first time I listened at the audacity and brilliance.
/The Punishment of Luxury
OMD has released three albums since their mid-2000s reformation, all of them in the past decade, but for me the others are bested by this excellent album. Apparently the title comes from a Segantini painting, and appropriately the band are taking on life in the modern world – both small things and bigger concepts – across the album. The title track is a punchy, bright knife into modern-day consumerism, while the glorious Isotype celebrates the titular pictorial method (and is a whole lot less dry than it sounds). Having influenced countless other bands with their intelligent approach to electronic pop, this album felt like a wresting back of the crown – synthpop trailblazers get recognition again (and a top ten album in the process, too).
/The Methuselah Tree
I remember first being mesmerised by the iVardensphere live show back in 2011, at that epic weekend – ok, week – in Montreal at Festival Kinetik, where their tribal-industrial fusion stood out even then, and their early albums show a project gradually finding its own identity. I’d suggest that everything truly clicked into place on this album, where Scott Fox’s vision was fully realised in dramatic fashion, with tribal workouts alongside martial instrumentals, vocal-led dancefloor-bangers alongside experimental, world-music influenced fusion.
What makes Scott Fox and his iVardensphere project really stand out, though, is that ability to look way beyond the usual confines of influences for his music, and the stylistic mash-ups on display here are the sign of a really skilled, tuned-in hand. Still an enthralling album seven years on, I maintain that this is the peak of what this project can do, good as what has followed since is.
/This Is The New Wave
With the reformation of Cubanate in the latter half of the decade, it felt a bit like Phil Barry’s excellent Be My Enemy project got rather overshadowed. But think of it another way – it could well be considered that Phil Barry’s early work under this name rather helped pave the way for the return of Cubanate. Indeed, this shouldn’t be just considered as Barry does Cubanate.
It perhaps takes less of a confrontational approach, and takes influences from other elements of electronic music (much more “rave” than breakbeats and techno, to think of it one way), but also politics make an entrance, too, something that Marc Heal’s lyrics often shied away from. The one thing in common, though, was how relentless the music could be. Break Your Body is a bruiser of an industrial charge, Helter Skelter is dizzying, Disintegration abandons pretext of subtlety and just hits full-on. Remarkably now ten years old, it is worth a return to.
/Nótt eftir nótt
One of the things that continues to intrigue me about Kælan Mikla is their sheer oddness to my ears. Sure, their music broadly falls into the realms of Goth and Post-punk, as seemingly every band does at the moment, but it’s the voices and the atmosphere that sets them apart. Their preference for singing entirely in their native Icelandic helps – it adds a mysticism by virtue of a near-alien tongue – but that aside they also have unusual melodies and registers too, and their latest album, very much their breakthrough album, is a marvel of brevity, just long enough to make me want more, but just short enough for it to fly past. One of the most striking, original bands out there at the moment, and live they are just as enthralling.
Something of the smoky torch singer surrounded Nadine Shah’s earlier work – or at least the holy trinity of Cave, Cohen and (PJ) Harvey – but her third album saw her take a more taut, outward-looking approach and the results were striking. A second-generation immigrant from the North-East, this album questioned her own place within the-then Brexit-bound United Kingdom, and not unlike a number of other artists (some of which are in this run-down as well), she was not especially impressed with what she saw. There are songs taking on the financial divide and second homes (the searing title track), online abuse (the glorious Evil), xenophobia (Out the Way), but this spiky, slashing album does finish on positive notes.
Mother Fighter pays tribute to Syrian women trying to survive, while Jolly Sailor nods back to her Wearside heritage in sweet fashion. Many albums dealing with Brexit felt like we did – that it was devoid of hope if you weren’t on the side of Brexit. But somehow, Nadine Shah channelled her anger into making something positive, to asking questions. It is a lesson perhaps many of us should heed.
Having retreated into jazz and goth (the latter working with Black Tape for a Blue Girl), it was a bit of a surprise, in some respects, to see Athan Maroulis return to his industrial past with the NOIR project. That said, it had little in common with the shifting sands of Spahn Ranch, aside perhaps from the warm balladry of last album Closure, and also the cover that was on that album. Interestingly, on /Talk Show Host/022, Maroulis had explained that the original intention was a covers album, that became a mix of covers and new material, and both sides are equally impressive here.
Swirling ambience shrouds some songs like a fog (most notably on the exceptional The Voyeurs, and on the wonderful closing take on Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home A Heartache), but when more energy is injected, the results are just as impressive. Timephase is a glorious, melodic industrial piece, while the urgent take on the much-covered Cure song A Forest is rather more worth your time than many other attempts at covering that band. Across all the songs, though, there is a cohesive, powerful emotional feel, and it’s one that pulls you in on repeat listens.
It’s really strange to think that Goldfrapp can now be considered veterans – they’ve not been around that long, surely? – but seeing as they were about to mark two decades since Felt Mountain this Spring (of course now postponed, like everything else), I guess they are. They’ve been almost chameleon-like over that time, shedding skin and styles as they felt like it, and more recently switching between quasi-kitsch electro and pastoral, shimmering folk. This album, though, felt like a bit of a reset, after a period where it might be considered that they had been treading water. This album fizzes with life in a way that they haven’t been since Supernature at least, with pumping electro cosying up nicely with some of their most gorgeous balladry yet, while the closing Ocean is Alison Goldfrapp’s finest vocal performance yet.
/Young God Records
The quality level of the resurrected Swans over the past decade has been extraordinary – not a single duff album, from one lengthy 1-CD comeback and then four double-CD releases since. The songs have got longer, and more experimental in some respects, and live they’ve been an astonishing force of nature throughout (and, needless to say, one of the loudest bands going). In some respects, the comeback album My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky was at least in part the Swans we knew and loved, as if it were the connecting thread back to what had come before, but there were hints of the motorik power to come. The Seer, which followed two years later, saw them rush headlong into the latter.
Songs were built around repetition, rhythm, and the usual lyrical themes of power and dominance, but what we perhaps hadn’t expected were thirty-minute tracks. The title track was that piece, an awe-inspiring, disciplined track that live, was an experience to say the least, while the closing The Apostate remains one of the peaks of Gira’s entire, lengthy career. Sure, Swans as a group took this further on future releases, but the very peak of this period of the band was to be found on this album.
I’ve long had an interest in hip-hop/rap – being fairly unusual in the rivethead scene in the UK for doing so, but over in the US the crossover is far more pronounced. But the past decade honestly hasn’t done that much for me in the style, with a handful of exceptions, and this was the most notable one. A duo formed of two luminaries in the genre (El-P and Killer Mike), their stature has grown as their political activism and smarts have become all the clearer over recent years.
But none of that would have been possible had it not been for their exceptional music. RTJ2 was the point where we all realised they really were onto something, a state-of-the-world address that took in personal politics, the treatment of women both generally and in rap music, police brutality, the US prison system (on album standout Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) that also features a career-best cameo from Zack de la Rocha) and more. But critically, too, it also had great music for them to rap over, a sense of humour and a burning desire to do better. Also worth a listen – the bizarre Meow the Jewels remix album that really does replace the beats with cat sounds.
/Tell Me How You Really Feel
I really wasn’t a particular fan of Barnett’s before the singles from this album began to dominate BBC 6 Music playlists for much of 2018, but something about these songs piqued my interest and by the time of her excellent appearance at All Points East that summer, I was a committed fan. Perhaps it’s something of the grungy throwback that her music invokes, a slacker sound but not the mentality, but also perhaps because it’s honest music in times that need it. Barnett really doesn’t appear to care particularly what you think of her, but more importantly is also more than aware that her voice is just one of many, and isn’t meant to be a clarion call for change, or politics, or whatever. But it is a strident voice dealing with her own issues, her own mental health and how others treat her, and she does it with a melodious wit that makes this a hugely enjoyable album.
For their first album in eight years, kidneythieves rather picked up where they left off, with punchy industrial rock – with a dreamy edge – the order of the day. Successful crowdfunding – back when this was still something of a novelty – confirmed that the band still had the fanbase ready and waiting for new material, and while it took a couple of listens, a decade on it is still a hugely enjoyable album that often took the easy route into anthemic, powerful songs.
Maybe this was the band restating their case and ensuring that they kept everyone on board, but it certainly wasn’t a problem. They certainly drifted a bit with The Mend that followed in 2016, and thanks to pre-planning, we managed to miss our likely one-and-only chance to see the band live in LA later that year (our honeymoon planning had a lot of travelling, and we had to leave for San Francisco the morning of the show…). Secret highlight, by the way – the bonus track Light Deceiver, that floats about a synth loop and is worth hunting down alone.
/Themes Of Carnal Empowerment Pt. 2: Deceit
Jamie Blacker has been releasing music under the ESA name for around fifteen years now, and what’s been remarkable has been how true he has remained to the initial vision, but also how consistently strong his music has been. Perhaps understandably from someone with an extreme metal background, the powerful industrial electronics that he creates under the ESA banner has a deep distrust or even distaste of humanity, and particularly around the failings of men in dealing with other people (and it is a particularly masculine view, too). Like the music, it is unflinching and powerful, too, and also holds great stead in atmosphere. Samples and recordings of other vocalists (often female) add much-needed light-and-shade where necessary, Blacker adds his own vocals at points, but mainly concentrates on thundering, crushing rhythms and movements that threaten to trample underfoot. That said, it was difficult to pick a particular album, such is the high quality, but the second of this related trio of albums released across the middle of the decade is the one I go back to the most, which suggests that it is the one I like best, so here it is.
/Data Mirage Tangram
/Two Gentlemen Records
Technically their second album of this decade – Everybody Knows came out back in 2010 – but they are so different stylistically that you could be forgiven for thinking that they come from different epochs. The Young Gods don’t work to the same rules as anyone else, though, and this restless band have often forged forward with every release anyway. Such as it was here, as after spending much of the decade looking back to their earliest material (on a sequence of live shows playing that material, I saw it three times in three different countries), and reuniting with original electronics/sampler wizard Cesare Pizzi, the new material that they created bore little relation to that earlier, more organic sound.
For the most part, the electronics were mellower, but guitars made more of a presence and the effect was an album like a soft, pillowy surface with occasional sharper points coming through. Tear Up The Red Sky explodes into skyscraping industrial rock, while lead single Figure Sans Nom has a proggy, starlit mystery, but the beating heart of the album – as is so often the case on their albums, is the longest track, the eleven-minute epic All My Skin Standing. That track occasionally bursts into a pummelling drum tattoo that live, combines with a dazzling light show to imprint scars on your brain and retina, and it’s absolutely thrilling. Still unique, still brilliant, this Swiss band have influenced and continue to influence far more music than you could ever imagine.
One of the more intriguing, unusual bands that we’ve come across in London in recent times – we literally discovered them on the bill at a gig we’d gone to in Islington – they’ve had a minor level of success since, including support from luminaries such as Steve Lamacq and a fair amount of airplay on BBC 6 Music. Something of a mix-up of irish folk, a punkier edge and bluesy murder balladry, their songs are full of metaphors around monsters, booze and catholic guilt, with the odd nod to Waits, Cave and Harvey, sure, but with enough of their own confidence to certainly sound unlike any other band that is active at the moment. The songs are hugely enjoyable, occasionally funny, often pretty damned bleak, not to mention even better enjoyed live.
They might have advanced – and quickly – to bigger and greater things, bigger tours, bigger labels, but there’s still something about this debut album I love. There was still a mystique, quite a few things we didn’t know about the band aside from the music, the videos and the imagery. The songs absolutely pummelled, too, from the stately, tribal power of NIHIL, to the industrial thrash of X-Day, the down-and-dirty grind of Dust to the Charlie Chaplin-sampling of Final Product, this album was full of future industrial anthems, but also found space to slow things down and offer introspection (and a breather, frankly, too). They emerged almost fully formed, mind, as if they’d got their emergence mapped out – and whatever they did certainly got them a lot of attention, but it was the music that piqued our interest in the first place, the fact that they had a cool imagine certainly made them memorable. Since then, they’ve gained a vastly bigger audience, toured the world, perhaps gone more metal, and while I still love them, and like the newer albums a lot, this debut still remains my favourite.
There really is something quite thrilling about watching friends gain some measure of success with their music. Desperate Journalist is one such case, whose taut, darker-edged indie rock has made it into the indie-mainstream, if you will, and has seen them tour Europe on a number of occasions. They’ve released three albums so far, and for their finest so far – as good as last album In Search of the Miraculous was – remains Grow Up. It has its roots in certain eighties British indie bands, sure, but their songcraft sees them give a new spin on familiar ideas, particularly in the dramatic surges that their songs are often capable of (the brilliant opening salvo of Hollow and particularly Resolution here are perfect cases in point). Their not-so-secret weapon, though, remains the impassioned vocals of Jo Bevan, as her work raises many of these songs to extraordinary heights.
/Wrapped In Plastic
/Saint Marie Records
The band I’ve seen more than any other across my time of seeing live bands – I saw them sixteen times live between 2011 and 2016, although other friends saw them way more than that. A scorchingly good live band that perhaps never quite fully transposed that power to their recordings, but the one album that they released still contains most of their best songs (the post-split The Monsoon EP contains most of the rest, aside from live favourite Glamourama). The band were indebted to Curve and Garbage in particular – layer-upon-layer of guitars and heavy basslines dominate – with Beth’s searing vocals and Debbie Smith’s guitar trickery leading the charge, but this was no mere tribute.
Beth’s lyrics delved into love, hate and failure, and live she would often conclude shows on the floor as if the mental and physical exertion was just too much. The songs here came from quite a time period, too, as the band had been playing a number of them for some years. Early single Confessions – and the B-sides that accompanied it – all featured, and that former single, all restless guitars and raging anger in the vocals, was a useful entry point to a band who had lots of offer, and perhaps never quite had the chance to fulfil their potential. Sure, in retrospect, the album was let down a little by the slightly muddy production that softened the punch a little, but the songs remain brilliant, and a reminder of how great they were. All members have moved on, now, and continue making music in different ways, likely better for this experience.
/A Line That Connects
Though they never really went away, it felt like something of a rebirth for this band over the past decade, even returning to their spiritual home of Projekt Records for their latest release In Flickers. The peak – and their best since Cold (I might even go so far as to suggest that it’s better) – was this glorious album, that to begin with continued with the slow-paced, gothic dirges that they are best known for, spiralling down into a world of bleak sadness and despair (best shown here by the spectacularly bleak beauty of Silver Leaf), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But on first listen, I was genuinely wrongfooted by the change of pace that arrives like a narrative twist, as The Rain unveils itself as the Gothic Dancefloor Anthem that we never expected or knew we needed in 2015, quickly followed by the melodic, yearning glory of Bright Like Stars. From then on, it’s like a victory lap. Who knew Lycia needed one? I was cheering it on all the same.
/Push The Sky Away
/Bad Seed Ltd
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have released at least two exceptional albums this past decade (I can’t comment on Ghosteen, as I’ve not been able to face it – my father-in-law passed just around the time of it being released), but for me Push The Sky Away is the better album. Very different to the predecessor Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, which was a rollicking, lascivious beast, this dials things back and contemplates life deeply. Sketching out subtle musical backing that would be continued and further scratched away on the subsequent Skeleton Tree, it also feels like Nick Cave examining the modern world around him for inspiration, rather than biblical history and folk legends that are his usual focus.
The most devastating songs here are the two lynchpins of the album, really, the gently swelling rage and despair of Jubilee Street, an impassioned character sketch of the seedier corners of Cave’s hometown of Brighton, and then the stream of consciousness of Higgs Boson Blues, where he wonders what’s next. Sadly there would be unimaginable horrors in Cave’s family life to come, but here, he seemed at peace with himself and what his band had done up to this point, and the results were wondrous.