Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the first part of the best tracks of the 2010s. This has been an interesting, and memory-laden trip doing this list. I’ve dredged up a few memories, reconnected with a few songs I’d not heard in a while, and generally enjoyed doing it. It took a while, too. I started considering this list back in October last year, so it’s taken the best part of eight months to complete.
In this list of 200, there were artists from nineteen countries across four continents, released on 122 different labels (and ten that were self-released). Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me. This is a top 200 because, well, I’ve listened to a lot of music over the past decade. My /Tuesday Ten/Tracks of the Month posts (usually nine or ten per year) have covered no less than 673 artists and 1089 tracks. So as you might imagine, whittling this down to just 200 has been tough enough.
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.
In these rather insular times, watching a young band from Mongolia become the hot new thing in rock music has been quite something. A band combining western rock and Mongolian instruments – and almost entirely singing in their native language – gatecrashed the rock/metal mainstream last year with the awesome, stately charge of Wolf Totem back in 2018, and the album that followed was enjoyable, too. But this particular song was the really important one – reminding that the international language of rock has a far wider reach than we might think, and local influences and traditions used in this way can make for excellent, thrilling music.
/Make The World A Bitter Place
Recently returning with new material after a little while away, the many-headed beast that is Cease2xist has made frequent appears on interesting live bills over the past decade, and never have they been anything other than a forbidding, powerful presence live. Many bands struggle to translate that power to their records, but somehow, the vicious, snarling rage of this band does translate. Particularly this rampaging track that is the aural equivalent of being pinned against the wall and screamed at for four minutes, such is the relentlessness of it. One of the few bands that took the aggressive nature of aggrotech – a genre that paled in interest quickly – and made fascinating sounds with it.
/Let All The World Believe
American Head Charge blasted to wider attention nearly twenty years ago, with their exceptional, industrial-metal-meets-Faith-No-More levels of invention on The War of Art, and a fearsome, six-piece live show that felt like watching a riot in realtime (seriously – supporting Rammstein back in 2001, they felt feral). Sadly that momentum was checked by all kinds of inter-band turmoil (and the deaths over the years of two band members), but their return with Tango Umbrella in the middle of this decade at least showed signs of life (especially as they proved themselves still great live). The key track was the comeback single, though, a grinding, nasty piece of work that harked back to their best, early songs – and had a malevolent edge (and video) to match.
/3, 2, 1, Nein
I was, as ever, a bit late to these masked loons, but at least the debut album turned out to be worth the wait. While clearly a nod to Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, their punky, shouty – and very direct – take on EBM was very much of their native Sweden, emerging from a scene that had flourished since the Millenium with a whole host of entertaining, energetic bands who were as much punk as they were electro (and one or two other bands from that scene feature in this list, too). That said, will Wulfband ever top their opening statement? It’s not subtle in the slightest – shouted slogans, stomping beats, likely moshpit down the front – but as an intro, blimey. More like “3, 2, 1, Ja!”.
The Toronto-based industrial group Odonis Odonis have been on my radar for a while now, and their menacing, cross-genre sound has been part of their appeal. Their best moment yet, for me, though, was the lead track from their 2019 EP, which had a swaggering power as the rhythm stomps slowly through the speakers. Everything feels like it has had the brakes put on, the group holding something back, which is perhaps why the unexpectedly melodic moment of the chorus is such shock. I like what this band are doing a lot, as they seem to strike out in a direction rarely explored by their peers, and if you want a route into understanding why they are so good, this track is your starting point.
After twenty-two years, countless false starts and rumours, and endless analysis of every sentence uttered by Kevin Shields in the meantime, how could any new My Bloody Valentine material ever live up to any expectation, let alone Loveless? So it was something of a miracle that m b v got released at all, let alone that it was an interesting listen. Looking back with a few years distance (yep, it’s now been seven more years since, and promised dates for new EPs have of course come and gone…), the first two-thirds of the album is ok, in a soporific MBV kind of way, and it’s the last three tracks where things get really interesting, as the pace picks up and strange things start appearing in the sonic maelstrom. But the crowning moment was the staggering final track, where drum’n’bass collides with shoegaze – and a tardis trying to materialise in your skull. I’m now certain there are about eight different songs fighting among themselves here, but the concept and reach are amazing, and frankly, only Shields could get away with this – especially as it sounded even more amazing live, in the end…
/Pyramids On Mars
A Brooklyn band that take their name from a Jim Thompson novel, but are more preoccupied with disquieting sci-fi – and disquieting, industrial-tinged rock. Vocalist Chris Bug delivers all of his vocals with a characteristic sneer, an apparent distaste for anything and everything, while the band build a curious, bone-dry sound around him. This fabulous opening track has ominous noises bridging the cavernous gaps between other elements (there is only a gentle pulse of a beat, and buzzing synths and what I think are guitars are used sparingly), as a tale is spun of loss and seemingly tall tales. This enigmatic band are quite fascinating, and this turned out to be a hell of an entry point.
/If You Want Twee (You Got It)
/Livin’ The Dream
One of the joys of living in North London over the past decade has been the thriving live music scene, which while it gets a little incestuous at times, has provided an awful lot of great music too. One such artist has been Keith Top of the Pops, who live plays in an almost improvisational fashion with a band formed of whoever is available that night (so some members on any given night will never have played the songs before), but on record, his songs are razor-sharp observational pieces. Probably his greatest song so far comes from his recent third album – apparently inspired by being turned down from a festival that rather…didn’t like his humour, perhaps. But also, he can’t stand ukelele orchestras, either – as he explains in a rather brilliantly direct way – and that’s absolutely fine by me. Sometimes, we need people willing to poke fun at the music we listen to, and Keith Top of the Pops is one of the chosen ones in that sense.
/You Were Never In Love
I’ve already posted about how brilliant this album was, but the lead single also rather stopped me in my tracks. A windswept, lovelorn song – much like all the best Dubstar songs, frankly – whose lyrics read like a bitter, direct reality check, it is elevated by a swooning, string-assisted backing and Sarah Blackwood’s soaring vocals that remind just how brilliant this band could be. A band that was great as dissecting the realities of love and life – that is often never as simple as some make it appear – this was the hook that got me back in.
/West Riding Hood
Tony Young has kept up a relentless release schedule since his first album under this name in 2005, with eleven albums under Autoclav1.1, as well as a couple of remix albums and collaborations elsewhere. His thoughtful, melodic work has had a deep melancholy through much of it, almost entirely eschewing a lot of the noisier elements that were in vogue, particularly in his earlier releases. Over the years, though, Tony has relaxed somewhat in his musical creations, with new elements merged in and a distinct evolution of the sound. Hence his latest release, Makeshift Splint, which seemed to head into darker realms again, particularly this track, that floats on a bed of cavernous bass as a mournful piano plays above it, and a synth effect that resembles a distant voice, crying away in the background. Perhaps it is the song titles, but it distinctly reminds me of my adopted hometown of Huddersfield (the same town Tony also comes from, and still lives in).
/The Cursed Remain Cursed
One of my abiding live music memories of the past decade was watching a display of hardcore brutality and brotherhood at the first London show by Vision of Disorder in a long time, in Sep-12, not long after their first album in a decade had been released. I’d not been to a hardcore show in a while, and to put it mildly, I chose to skulk at the back, rather than getting involved (I’m too old for that these days). But the rush of adrenaline hearing songs old and new was quite something – and to their credit, that comeback album was something of a return to form. The best track was Loveless, though – as they tear into riff-laden hardcore, but with the band’s trademark ability in melody and song, too – this isn’t just bulldozing violence, it’s more than that – and of course, it has a shit-kicking beatdown.
Rhys Hughes has been involved in the northern industrial scene for many years, and prior to this was involved in a number of other projects (most notably as part of Modulate for some time), but ded.pixel saw him strikeout in an unashamedly Prog direction (while retaining an industrial backbone to the sound), and perhaps against my expectations, it worked out well. This track, though, is a dramatic, towering thing, as if heading step-by-step towards the end of the world, as a minor-key piano plays out an accompaniment to the march. More artists in recent years have begun to understand that instrumental music can have deep emotional impact, and this song, in all its melancholy beauty, is truly one that does.
/Nobody Smokes Anymore
/Texas Piano Man
An unexpected and hugely entertaining support to Eels last year on a broiling late-summer night, the self-styled “Texas Piano Man” was a riveting presence, somewhere between balladry and outlaw country. But one song stuck out and had us choking with laughter at the audacity and directness of it. In short, this is a ballad bemoaning the lack of hellraisers in music, the risk-takers and entertainers – and amid a presumably deliberate musical nod to the showy seventies country-rock, Ellis is defiant, still smoking and drinking and not giving a fuck. Life is too short, he seems to be saying, let’s fucking enjoy while we can. I don’t smoke myself these days, but I do drink and do still want to have fun. I raise a glass to you, sir.
The title feels a bit on the nose right now, but this track was the best point of a nasty, nasty album. A Houston artist who started out doing (very) experimental grime – but a world away in eventual output from what you might consider as London “grime” – this album takes some of the rhythmic structure of the genre but then blows the rest into fragments that stab outwards. That’s outwards from the speakers in jagged shards, as samples and effects appear all over the spectrum to unnerving effect. This track, though, begins with ominous voices, before unleashing an utter barrage of drums that sounds like a fucking warzone has arrived in your living space. What makes it all the more astonishing is the element of surprise used – before it appears, there is nothing to hint at what is to come. Musical shock and awe.
An excellent relatively recent release was from a trans-Pacific (US and Australia!) collaboration, that took danceable electro-industrial into modern times (there has, to be fair, been precious little of note in that genre in recent years). Of particular note was the razor-sharp, slick production, that gave their songs a clarity and power that many of their peers and influences struggled to reach in the past. Production isn’t everything, mind, but 11grams made an excellent fist with their songs, too. Particularly the surgical precision of the lead single, that used Apollo-programme samples as an incessant lead synth drove the song forward.
The return of Neuroticfish in 2012 felt like a chance to make up for lost time. It had always felt – at least from here in the UK – that they’d never quite reached their potential, despite some brilliant singles (and at least two brilliant albums, too). But various cancelled shows, and long gaps between albums, seemed to check momentum before they headlined Resistanz 2013 (/Memory of a Festival/018), and dropped an unexpected EP at the same time. The lead track demonstrated the Sign of Life that was to become the album – a slick, instantly catchy futurepop song with a huge, hands-in-the-air chorus, and upon first listen, we’d all fallen in love with Neuroticfish all over again.
/Rodovnik [A Genealogy]
/Proti kapitulaciji [To Surrender]
The return of Borghesia during the decade – after nearly twenty years of silence – was something of a surprise, and sadly it didn’t make the splash that it perhaps should have done. The album And Man Created God was scorchingly cynical, taking on American hegemony and personal responsibility in the modern age, and interestingly was quite a departure from the work they were known for in the eighties and nineties – and in my opinion, much of it worked better live than it did on record. The follow-up was, perhaps, even more interesting – a feel of nudging back toward their “traditional” sound as well – in that it was music based upon the work of Slovene poet Srečko Kosovel. This excellent, dramatic song was released over a year in advance of the album that it came from, and was fascinating. Having died in the years post-WWI aged just 22, his political, constructivist poetry has gained in importance in central Europe long after his death, and the use here is clever, as his politics appear to align with what we know of Borghesia. This song was punchy, angry and anthemic. How it didn’t catch on wider was, frankly, a mystery.
/When The Walls Close In
Will Haven were always at their best when running at full tilt, their huge, heavy guitar sound enveloping you (and live, causing all kinds of madness in the pit). I remember seeing them around the time of this album being released in London, newly reunited with Grady Avenell, and this was the clear highlight of the first set that night (that was the entirety of Voir Dire – they later did a second set of old favourites). It almost starts with an inrush of air, before the band – led by guitars – explode outwards like a mushroom cloud, and the entire band in lockstep just bulldoze you for four minutes. Will Haven was often a bit much for many – the sheer intensity on show here reminds why – but for those of us that did appreciate, they were and remain one of a kind.
Colin Cameron Allrich’s work as Slighter has seen him work in the shadows somewhat, as his often more restrained, experimental work hasn’t perhaps had the immediate appeal of some of his peers in the current US industrial scene. That’s no slight (sorry!) on Allrich – it is rather on those listeners who’ve passed. There is some really excellent material in his decade-worth of work (and some absolutely stellar remix work, too), and one track in particular from latest album Automata continues to stand out. Owing a debt to Underworld, sure – it’s dark and long, has minimal, treated vocals, and is almost trance-like in build – but it has a darker, sleeker feel perhaps than some Underworld material, and Allrich’s production chops also help to elevate this as the bass pulses out of the speakers, like you’re listening in additional dimensions. Eight minutes well-spent.
/When the Wolves Return
/When the Wolves Return
The US-darkwave duo Ego Likeness have been around a long time – indeed I saw them in the UK back in 2008, when they’d already been going some time – and their latest album thus far, When The Wolves Return, felt like the group had kicked up a gear or two. There were punchy dancefloor tracks – with added political punch – that felt like they were going to bust through the ceiling, as well as moments of more contemplative gothic rock, too, but the most remarkable moment for me came with the epic closing track. Across little more than washes of synths against a dark shore and hints of piano and strings, Donna Lynch gives a dramatic, striking vocal performance where she perhaps pushes herself more than she ever has before, and sounds incredible doing so. This could, and should, have been on movie soundtracks, such is the power on display.