Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the second 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me.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 anymore 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.
/Lava Lumps and Baby Bumps
Sadly having ceased to be an active entity a few months back, bringing down the curtain on a forty-two-year stint under this name, Paul Lemos’ uncompromising group still had delights to hear in their final decade. Particularly on the relentless Lava Lumps and Baby Bumps, an album that was both experimental industrial and noise rock, and thus was very loud indeed. Particularly this savage track, which had a drum pattern that cracked skulls, squealing electronics that felt like power drills at the right volume, and atonal saxophone parts that sounded like Satan himself had taken up jazz. What was even more remarkable is that this was the accessible end of the album (just try the twenty-two minute The Perks of Being A Perv…), but one thing’s for sure – it was and remains great. Not that my wife would agree.
/The Soft Pink Truth
/Why Do The Heathen Rage
This gloriously sacrilegious release ruffled an awful lot of feathers at the time. The work of Drew Daniel of Matmos reimagined various parts of the Black Metal “canon” in electronic – and critically queer – forms. This latter element was so important, as the sleeve notes of the album pointed out. Too much of Black Metal fandom involves a tacit approval of questionable opinions (something I’ve perhaps been guilty of in the past too), and this flipped the blasphemy entirely (attracting the ire of the “KVLT” fandom along the way, who rather missed the point). The best moment here, though? The punchy, all-electro-disco take on Venom’s classic “Black Metal”, really does fucking rock even in this form.
/Strange Little Birds
Garbage released two albums during this decade, as well as remastering and re-releasing their first two albums (and touring them both) – thus a busy time for a band who had looked like they weren’t going to continue before that. They have nothing to prove, these days, of course – millions of albums sales already done, consistently popular tours – not to mention that all of the band have other interests as well. But the new material was good, and certain songs very much felt the equal of the Garbage that I grew up with as a teenager. This, the lead single from their latest album, was one of those. It has the sonic density in the mix the band were always great at, it has the quiet-LOUD dynamics, and a wonderful, huge chorus that I was humming for weeks after I first heard it.
For me, the dizzying depth of the sci-fi concept that was behind this album initially gave me pause. Réal Cardinal’s work has always been intriguing and intricate, but this went way beyond what had come before. There was a scientific precision in it, the way that beats stuttered and glitched, the way his voice was pitch-shifted and distorted in all directions, the smartly layered, near-symphonic synths that help to build the sound into elegant, audio sculptures. Emergent One was one of the most intriguing songs, though. It felt like it was bringing in unexpected RnB elements, particularly in the melodious vocals, while at others the mix is so dense that there are two or three different ideas vying for attention. It is a testament to Cardinal’s skill that it works.
Ventenner will likely be a familiar band to London industrial gig-goers – as they’ve plugged away over the past decade, they’ve been on a lot of live bills, and their full-on industrial rock seems to have gained quite a few fans, too – me included. At points, they’ve perhaps leaned a little too close to their influences, but this excellent later single saw them starting to forge their own sound for the better. It is obvious from the first bars of this song that an explosion is coming – everything is primed, cocked and loaded to do so – but when the chorus does kick in like a hurricane, with vocalist Charlie Dawe howls his lungs out, it’s even more of a bracing experience than you might have experienced. More like this, please!
One of the most interesting groups to emerge at the end of the decade – a point where the divides between genres have all but dissolved – are this Bristol group. They combine industrial-EBM rhythms with techno and post-rock and are reputedly quite some force live (I was about to go see them live when the lockdown hit). This track has been the pick of their material so far – a steady pulse of a kick-drum and burbling electronics that steadily, slowly gains power and additional accompaniment, before absolutely exploding into a final section that feels like it is jet-powered. A group to watch into this decade, that’s for sure.
I first heard Paul Tierney’s work as Lonely Tourist thanks to Steve Lamacq’s show on 6Music – indeed various singles from this excellent album – and was lucky enough to catch him live just moments from my house, supporting local band LOCKS. His wry, observational songs are often stripped back things, to allow the full details of the stories that unfold to be heard, but none are better than this song. The closing track on an album about employment, jobs and/or the lack of it, what appears initially to be a humorous, witty and fantastical piece takes quite a turn. Rather than being a funny concept, this is a tirade against the bitter, spiteful policies of successive Governments around unemployment – people to be punished rather than helped. I’ve been lucky with just a couple of short periods of unemployment in the past fifteen years, escaping the nastier elements of the system by sheer fluke. This song neatly encapsulates what I managed to avoid, and that many don’t.
The first new material from this legendary London-based industrial group in over two decades turned out to be an essential listen, and proof that the group had lost none of their political fury – or creativity. Most importantly, they hadn’t stood still. I saw an early return of them as Test Dept.: Redux at BIMFest in Antwerp, in 2012, where it was entirely electronic – which worked ok, and was a useful reminder of their best moments of the past, but later shows, where the massed ranks of percussion were reintroduced, were more impressive. And so it was with this album, where new technology was certainly harnessed, but still present was the reliance on steel-edged, powerful rhythmic force. Landlord is the best example of this. Recent advances in industrial techno are nodded to, and that thundering rhythm that’s hammered out could be used to punch through walls, as they rail against the housing inequality that continues to blight their home city and elsewhere.
/This Is Radio Silence
/Soon, Much Of This Will Have Been Destroyed
/Soon, Much Of This Will Have Been Destroyed
This Is Radio Silence have been a band that have rather flown under the radar for many in the past decade, which seems grossly unfair. Particularly their eye-popping live shows, which use spectacular visuals that make use of as much of the room as possible, creating something of an immersive experience. Their lengthy, carefully built songs take a similar view, and the opening track to their last full-length album (they’ve gone for EPs since) is perhaps the best example of this, with rolling, heavy rhythms providing a backdrop for buzzing guitars and Ben McLee’s impressive vocals, that are pushed hard with the imploring chorus here.
/Be My Enemy
/This Is The New Wave
Phil Barry’s post-Cubanate project (that despite the Cubanate reunion, is still going, with new material coming soon, as I understand it) perhaps understandably didn’t drift too far from the Cubanate blueprint, but the most effective songs for me were the ones where he indulged new ideas that bit more. The most savage track on the debut album was this dense, ripping track that took the BPM down a bit, added chugging guitars and vocal effects to create a furious, stompingly heavy track that remains my favourite BME track to this day.
/Field Agent (demo)
After leaving Deafheaven, Stephen Lee Clark struck out in a fascinating new direction, that had absolutely nothing to do with his former bandmates. This was mysterious, ghostly echoes of electronics, techno and industrial, complete with samples of Phil Schneider talking about military preparation for alien agenda. The swell of electronic fog that surrounds that first section is ominous, but once the voice fades away, pounding beats take over and transport us to some kind of alien rave to thrilling, gripping effect. Quite an introduction to a new project, this…
/(Don’t Call on Rock’n’Roll) Call on G.D.H. Cole
/Singing Down The Government (Or The War of Position and How We’re Winning It)
There are few examples of such divergent paths than that of two members of the short-lived, late-era Britpop band theaudience. Vocalist Sophie Ellis-Bextor ended up with a vastly more successful pop career, while founding guitarist Billy Reeves moved on to form “Socialist R’n’B” band Thee Faction. For a while during the past decade, they gigged an awful lot – and were an exceptional live band, too – and released a few albums too, with a number of outstanding songs on them, although if you are of the right-wing persuasion…they might not appeal so much. The best and most memorable song for me, though, was the blistering power of (Don’t Call on Rock’n’Roll) Call on G.D.H. Cole, where they espoused the power of that notable economic thinker’s who espoused socialist ideals in new ways, particularly in the use of the co-operative movement, but also in generally thinking smarter about how to reach socialist goals.
/IDK About You
After the brutal, oppressive darkness of the first Fever Ray album – which was followed by the wildly expansive final album from The Knife – the return of Karin Dreijer to her Fever Ray solo work felt very, very different. This was sex-positive, gender-fluid, all-encompassing music, and at points was celebratory in its politics and activism. For me, this was best shown in the energetic abandon of IDK About You, a barrage of near-tribal drums and Karin Dreijer’s bare vocals, as they celebrated love, desire and a need to know more. That time when you’re interested in someone and have that keenness to discover, to experience, to feel. This song encapsulates that feeling brilliantly, the drums like a heart-racing and Dreijer’s vocals your brain fizzing with what could be.
/Cigarettes After Sex
/Cigarettes After Sex
An album that nearly didn’t happen – Greg Gonzalez first released an EP under this name in 2012, but somehow the lead song from it became a sleeper hit a couple of years later, as he was about to give up making music – turned out to be worth the wait. With a sound that reminds of Mazzy Star – all gently strummed guitars, brushed percussion and acres and acres of silence in the mix – where they differed, though, was in Gonzalez’s androgynous, delicate voice, but one that he uses to tell sordid, bedroom tales that often reveal more information than you might ever expect. Needless to say, I suspect a whole lot of students might well have had this as their seduction soundtrack as a result, but the opening track on the album makes it clear that this isn’t tales of happy events. This is the grubby reality of modern relationships and hookups, sex, feelings and self-doubt, and was all the better for it.
/Dead Animal Assembly Plant
/Rise With Me
/OFH: Prime Cuts
Sure, it might owe a bit to other bands, but Dead Animal Assembly Plant really know their way about nailing an anthemic track, as this bruiser of a tune proved. It’s all about those processed, treated guitars and that brilliantly-judged build into the monstrous, wrecking chorus, that takes me back to Red Stripe-fueled nights at the Electric Ballroom, where this kind of industrial metal madness would have us rushing the dancefloor.
A band that feel a little out of time these days – there aren’t many groups coming to my attention that make thundering electro-industrial like this anymore – but when they get it right, this band are unstoppable. A track that was on compilations in various versions some years before the album was finally released, it is by no means subtle. In fact, it is anything but – all monstrous, house-sized drums, hook-based lead synths and growled vocals – but why should it be? This is aimed at clubbers wanting to stomp holes in the dancefloor, and on that front, it delivers on every single level.
Clock DVA unexpectedly returned to live shows at the beginning of the decade – I saw a thrilling, early return at BIMFest in 2011, and have seen them a couple of times more since – and have steadily released new material in small quantities since. What has been notable, though, is how they’ve gone headlong into more experimental realms, with cerebral, glowering electronics being the order of the day – as Adi Newton made a conscious break with the past, reforming himself and Clock DVA for the future. Amid what is unquestionably difficult material at points, though, were some awesome tracks. The best of the remains Rayonist. A nod to the light effect-obsessed work of the Rayonism movement (contemporaneous with futurism), the precise synths almost represent points of light moving across the speakers (as I’m sure is the point), everything in the sound mix moves, proving that like light, nothing within Clock DVA ever stands still.
/Fuck In A Suit
Back in 2012, Matt Fanale released the album The Man Who Couldn’t Stop. It was a prophetic title – during the decade he released six Caustic albums, another seven re-issues or remix albums, as well as albums with others under the names Beauty Queen Autopsy, The Causticles and more recently KLACK, and a number of guest appearances elsewhere. Does he ever sleep? Best of his releases under the Caustic name across the decade was undoubtedly Industrial Music, where he nodded to his explicitly industrial roots and influences (and, I might hazard, is where the idea for KLACK came from in the first place), and Fuck In A Suit saw Fanale bare his teeth. A relatively rare roar of political anger, it stomps and grinds like classic WaxTrax!-era industrial rock, as Fanale rails against conformity and the political right, and it instantly became one of the best Caustic tracks yet.
/Better Than Love
Talk about a squandered promise. HURTS were trumpeted loudly from the off – #4 on the BBC Sound of 2010 list, and their early singles were wonderful. A slick, eighties glamour exuded from them, from the stylish videos to the plaintive vocals, to the sleek electronics that backed them. This song – their first official single in 2010 – absolutely soars, particularly as it transitions from the near-a capella first verse into the chorus before the electronics accelerate into lockstep with the vocals. So what went wrong since? A classic case of a band shooting their bolt early, perhaps. How do you top a song as exquisite as this (and the very nearly as good Wonderful Life)?
/Asphalt for Eden
New Jersey hip-hop act dälek have remained one of the more fascinating, thoughtful hip-hop groups throughout their career, and that is down to their musical creations as much as it is down to MC dälek’s measured raps. Musically, their dense sound owes as much to classic hip-hop as it does to shoegaze and industrial, meaning that their rolling rhythms have an eye-popping power and heavy, heavy feel. This backs MC dälek’s ominous words well, allowing him a canvas for him to paint his raps in precise ways, and this excellent single (that was from their first album since the end of the previous decade) noted the continual struggle against tyranny, wondering whether his education and knowledge meant anything against the tide of populism that was at the time cresting. Sadly things haven’t got any better – in fact likely worse – since.