Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the third part of the best albums of the 2010s.
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.
/My Head Is An Animal
I don’t do holiday romances – I’ve been happy with my main partner for fifteen years and married to her for four – but I do fall in love with music when on holiday on occasions. This was one of them, on a holiday in Iceland. We were on a day tour of Reykjanesskagi, the southwestern peninsula of the island (the area many tourists only see when they land at Keflavík Airport or stopping off at the Blue Lagoon), and our tour guide put on some “local music”. It turned out to be this album, from a then-new band who’d unexpectedly blown up in the US that spring (the single Little Talks has since sold the equivalent of five million sales units (physical and streaming) in the US, and the album sold well beyond a million) but hadn’t yet reached the UK. They were similarly popular for a short while in the UK later in the year, and the debut album, when I got to listen to it on my own time, was a joy. Slightly whimsical, heartfelt indie-folk, basically, it is elevated by the twin vocalists and joyous backing vocals, that result in songs that are fizzing with life and nature – and on occasions referencing some of the folk tales of their homeland. The problem, perhaps, was quite how they followed this – later albums never quite had the same magic – but this album remains one I treasure.
/KILL IT WITH FIRE
This Pittsburgh-based duo burned very brightly indeed for a short while and then, sadly, rather faded away. Their debut album Beyond Repair had such a white-hot intensity and power that it felt like a difficult release to top, and indeed the duo appeared to deliberately evolve their sound so as not to simply repeat where they’d been before – as well as dealing with a number of label failures and closures along the way, seemingly stymying their momentum every time. So it took them a while, still, to reach those heights again, and their final release, the more straightforward KILL IT WITH FIRE was it. At least partly nodding back to “old-school” electro-industrial, it felt like a well-balanced bridge between where they came from, and where they wanted to be, and in the guise of the snarling, John Carpenter nods of Interruptor in particular, a hell of a way to bow out as a group.
The post-metal of Russian Circles is hardly one of mellowed out reflection. Across all of their albums, the Chicago three-piece have evolved and refined a heavy, grinding instrumental sound, but one that retains a fizzing sense of energy and melody, not least thanks to the astoundingly powerful and precise drumming of Dave Turncrantz, who is often the star of the show. Their lack of vocals certainly doesn’t affect the atmosphere, with guitars here carving out melodies that you could well imagine a voice singing, but when the band truly let rip is when they are at their most impressive. Vorel, which rolls into life thanks to a monstrously heavy drum pattern, is one such example, and the towering peaks of Afrika another. Russian Circles have a rare ability to wring emotion from what is often a faceless genre, and amid a high-quality body of work, Guidance sneaks it as the best of the lot.
The first new album from Raymond Watts’ long-running project in over a decade turned out to be a hugely entertaining release. The effective resurrection of <PIG> felt like it was heralded by the excellent Compound Eye Sessions collaboration with Marc Heal of Cubanate (and indeed it rather kicked Cubanate back into life, too), but Raymond Watts hadn’t been idle in the meantime – among other things he creating music for legendary Alexander McQueen catwalk shows. This album, though, felt like a resurgence, full of sly wit, marvellously sacrilegious imagery and references, and most importantly, a fistful of roof-raising industrial rock anthems. One of the best resurrections since Jesus.
Frank Spinath has been involved in a number of side-projects beyond Seabound over the years, and one of the more intriguing has been Ghost & Writer, where he teamed up with Jean-Marc Lederman to create what felt like short-films or stories in the form of songs. The songs were often even more cryptic than in his other bands, but maybe freed from the psychological shackles of Seabound (where there is, of course, a very specific focus in his songwriting that works well – the psychological and mental effects of love and obsession), and so fantastical stories and themes abound, and some of them could work as plots for films. None of this would mean anything, though, were the songs not exquisite, and while I also love the follow-up Red Flags, I plumped for the first album as overall, it has the better songs. The pairing of Nightshift and Man On A Wire in the middle of the album, too, is eight minutes of some of the most thrilling music Spinath has ever been involved in.
/Those Nervous Surgeons
These British industrial veterans – made up of brothers Adrian K. and Derek Smith – returned after a long silence in the early part of the decade, first with a compilation and then an EP, and finally, a really impressive album, that continued the off-kilter, often deeply strange trip that they’d been on before. Parts of this release punch really hard – they have a specific way with their rhythms that seems to leave them with serrated edges, especially on the exceptional Rats In My Bed and on the searing, furious What Do You Want, where Adrian tears into every target possible politically. Elsewhere, the unsettling, near-psychedelic electro-industrial that they’ve explored over their career takes over, and the overall result is one of the more unsettling albums to come out this decade.
/Pendu Sound Recordings
Chelsea Wolfe has come to far greater prominence over the past decade, but I still love her second album more than any other. It was my entry into her work, a grindingly dark, bleak and mysterious release that brought together doomy atmospheres, the wide-open spaces of folk, and the odd nod to black metal (particularly in her vocal delivery and the way it was recorded). What was most intriguing about the album was the distance she kept from her listeners. Lyrics were (deliberately?) made obtuse and difficult to fully understand, many of the songs were chilly, sparse things that made me want to know more, to hear more. There isn’t a dull or wasted moment on the album, but the terrifying howl of the epic Pale on Pale – which has to be heard live to be believed – haunts my dreams to this day.
What turned out to be the swansong for Agent Side Grinder Mk. 1, in effect – three members left, and the remaining pair continued with a new vocalist and a notable shift in style, in the aftermath of this – was a hell of a way to bow out. An analog synth-drenched post-punk album that nudged into both industrial and waltzes (no, really: the closing Last Rites is absolutely phenomenal), this had a feeling of intense darkness and unhappiness around it, but never failed with excellent songcraft and a varied palate, such that this was an album that had a surprisingly wide appeal – not to mention being an outstanding live band. In hindsight, that variety on show here is perhaps evidence of that tensions in the band were already near breaking point, but the element that held it together was Kristoffer Grip’s striking, baritone voice, that added a gravitas that these songs perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have had.
/No Trend Records
It was clear from the start that Chicago band Ganser wasn’t exactly just another post-punk band. This excellent album simply cemented that view, as angular, quasi-noise-rock moments (the savage slashes of PSY OPS in particular) nudge up against mellowed out balladry, but there is definitely a distinct sound that the band have created that links through all of them. There is a particular sense of the band not wanting to reveal too much, vocals being drawn out or distorted to make the already cryptic lyrics harder to decipher like there’s a code that you need to crack to fully understand it. This is a band with a vision, with a plan, and they are executing it marvellously so far.
/It Will Come To You
Artoffact Records have done a great job in curating music for us over the past decade – and their wide spread of styles and great artists is why there are a number of their releases in this list. One such act that they’ve helped bring to prominence is Vancouver group ACTORS, who after a number of years of self-releasing a string of singles and EPs, got their debut album out through Artoffact in 2018. It was an immediate hit, too, with a number of prominent festival appearances both sides of the Atlantic helping boost their profile, but the most important part, as always, was the quality of the music. Electronically-enhanced post-punk is probably the best way to describe it, but they are also driven by Jason Corbett’s forceful, melodic vocals that elevate their songs beyond the mundane and gloomy into thrilling, effervescent beings. Still an album on heavy rotation, and in time will likely be seen as a landmark in modern post-punk.
/Desertshore/The Final Report
The remnants of Throbbing Gristle made one last broadcast after Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson died, and Genesis P. Orridge had left the group after their uneasy reformation, that always felt a tense affair (something confirmed in Cosey’s excellent recent book, among other places). Chris and Cosey completed the project with the assistance of quite the spread of guest vocalists (among others, Marc Almond, Sasha Grey, Blixa Bargeld and the vocalist now known as Anhoni), which was a complete cover of Nico’s Desertshore. Not your average cover album, then, and the oppressive electronics used confirmed that, but there was a clear feeling that this was something those involved had to do if nothing else to honour their dead friend and bandmate’s memory. Most notable moments come from Blixa (the spittingly nasty sounding Mütterlein), and Cosey herself (on the ominous, seething All That Is My Own), but as a way of putting a full stop on this most influential of groups’ legacy, this and the fragments that make up The Final Report are a fascinating listen for anyone who wants to see what happens when self-indulgence meets a group left with nothing to prove. The results were surprisingly brilliant.
/Four in the Morning
I never really knew Delgado’s work before this (she previously was in the band Ciccone, but I became a fast fan with the exceptional Don’t Sleep. A dark, smoky album that occasionally let in the light (such as on the glorious, cheeky Ménage à Moi that made it to regular airplay on 6Music, despite the obvious subject matter), but mainly her bluesy voice creates a familiar atmosphere, perhaps. There are nods to PJ Harvey, Cave, Cohen, sure, but the songs stand on their own feet nicely, and the biggest regret is that rather than follow up the album (after some pretty serious health issues), she decided to move on and do other things. It’s genuinely our loss, but at least we have this still-excellent album to luxuriate in and wonder what could have been.
Dubstar made a tentative return over the past decade, with one extraordinary live show in London (seriously, it was amazing), and a good few years later, their first album in eighteen years. This new material turned out to be brilliant – continuing their melancholy, heartfelt dream-pop from the nineties, but with a few subtle twists as technology has moved on. But really, we didn’t want them to change what made them great, and that was absolutely the case. Amid their sparkling, beautiful songs has always been a dark heart, much like in classic sixties pop where sunny demeanours hid secrets that shouldn’t be revealed in polite company, and the agony could only be hinted at. Sarah Blackwood did exactly that here, but the moments where she lifted the veil were all the more shocking for it. I Hold Your Heart‘s Northern Soul inflexions only made clearer the bleak tale of domestic abuse, Why Don’t You Kiss Me is a thrilling, direct statement of desire, and the swooning Love Comes Late was a nice reminder if any were needed, of just how brilliant this band were and still are. The final song, though, Mantra, is an astonishing, choral coda to the album, that stretches out like a modern-day Hey Jude. A desperately overlooked return, get back on this gloriously good band, stat.
/Dark Days + Canapés
Despite the blurring of the lines between genres becoming a trend in recent years – to the point that sometimes they are meaningless descriptors for some of us that write about music – there are some artists that seem to cause issues with trying to “place” them. Ghostpoet is one of them and is an artist who has gone on record as saying that he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. His fourth album bore this out, owing to sounds from trip-hop, soul, electronic, post-punk and perhaps even Goth at points being involved. What I can say is that this dark, moody album remains a gloriously bleak listen, an album examining the ebbs and flows of human contact with both tenderness and distance, and with a whole host of highlights along the way.
/Shaking The Habitual
The final album from The Knife was a two-CD, ninety-six-minute behemoth, that saw them torch much of what had come before while offering up new possibilities that ultimately were not taken further as they disbanded. It was, like the (in my mind astonishing) live shows that followed, something of a one-thing-or-the-other album, one where people either loved or hated it – but critically everyone was talking about it for a while. Opener A Tooth for an Eye was perhaps the chiming, bouncing electronics that we’d come to expect from The Knife, but tracks like Full of Fire and Raging Lung had a grimy, industrial power that kicked way harder than anything else the band had ever done, and elsewhere they indulged in twenty-minute droning dark ambient pieces, or celebrated life and love in the utterly fucking joyous Without You My Life Would Be Boring. There’s no other group like The Knife, and nor will there be ever again.
/from when I wake the want is
/Rock Action Records
My first exposure to Kathryn Joseph’s work was a mesmerising half-hour set supporting Mogwai at the RFH (part of Meltdown, as I recall) a few years back, in the sultry heat of a London summer. In retrospect, it was a paradoxical time to hear music so insular. I often imagine listening to this album, curled up in a corner on headphones, such is the extraordinary intimacy of it. Piano and all kinds of subtle treatments to the sound are all that accompany Joseph’s liquid voice, that sweeps up and down the scales, twisting words into mere sounds and leaving a mystery that is at times very difficult indeed to reveal (but at others is exceptionally raw). A sensual, beautiful release, it sounds like absolutely no-one else and continues to enthral a couple of years after first hearing it.
/Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Godspeed’s return in 2012 – seemingly out of nowhere, as a new album was announced and released within a matter of weeks, felt like a triumphant champion returning to the scene of their former glory. Could they possibly reach the heights they had before, again? Just minutes into the epic, twenty-minute Mladic answered that as sawing strings and guitars and gentle percussion began to give way to huge, ominous noises and of the heaviest, most relentless songs the group have produced. Elsewhere, drones and metronomic rhythms are the order of the day, and a feeling became clear that they were simply picking up where they left off, remaining the most expansive of the so-called post-rock bands, taking a near-symphonic approach to songcraft and sound that makes them sound a gigantic, awe-inspiring proposition.
/Maori Music Publishing
One of the other legacies of Sheffield electronic music (see also Randolph & Mortimer in the last post in this series) is that of sparkling, escapist electronic pop music. Promenade Cinema arrived, seemingly fully formed, over the past couple of years, with a clear, deep appreciation of synthpop and industrial music that had come before them, but critically with their own ideas and concepts, and the results were wonderful. Loosely based around a concept that takes film, photography and the male gaze, but it wasn’t a matter of style over substance (as synthpop can often be dismissed as, particularly “classic” eighties synthpop). Here the songs are exquisitely detailed, and everything works. There are the lush, catchy singles (Spotlight, Polaroid Stranger, the sweeping ballads (Credits, Norway), and songs that have an emotional hit like a hammer blow (The Quiet Silently Wait), and a few years on, it’s still a popular album in this house.
Like so many artists, I was a late convert to Janelle Monáe – although I was aware of some of her previous singles – and this album blew me away from the off. The singles were all excellent – particularly the Prince-level funk-filth of Make Me Feel, which he was involved in the early stages of writing before he died, and has the kind of earworm that you start charging rent to – but in some respects, this wasn’t about individual songs, but about the statement the whole album – and Monáe herself – was making. This was an album of female empowerment, taking back the narrative, but also making it clear that she could love who she wanted, as could everyone else, but that they could also protest, fight back and party without others restricting or holding them back. That said, it was stuffed full of fantastic, stand-alone songs, too – the only mystery was how it wasn’t a bigger commercial hit than a critical one.
/Κατα Τον Δαιμονα Εαυτου
/Season Of Mist
Greek extreme metal luminaries Rotting Christ have had a notable purple patch in the past decade or more, having reinvigorated their sound by expanding their horizons. None of their recent albums, though, are as good as this excellent release (that loosely translates as “Do What Thou Willt”, or more correctly as “true to your own spirit”, according to the band). This album saw them go globetrotting as they explored ancient civilisation and their occult interests, resulting in a thrilling, multilingual album that oozed darkness and ritual spirit from every pore. Parts of it explode with black metal fury, with Sakis Tolis’ imperious roar ranging over the top, while other elements are slower, more reflective (the best moment being the astounding Cine iubeşte şi lasă, based on a Romanian folk curse and featuring the vocal terror of Eleni and Souzana Vougioukli). Most notably, though, the band remain true to their core sound, even while bringing in such disparate influences, and the result was one of the most satisfying, fascinating metal albums of the decade.