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 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me.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.
/Cold In Berlin
/God I Love You
/Give Me Walls
Cold In Berlin has changed its style massively over the past decade, nowadays being a doomy, goth-metal band. But back around the time of their debut album Give Me Walls, it felt at points that they were still finding their style. But the best tracks on the album allowed vocalist Mya to roar, flail and dominate every second, and the opening track to that album was my introduction to the band. Drums tumble like a raging torrent, and Mya’s dramatic, sexually-charged vocals drag you into the midst of the band by sheer force of will. They might have slowed the pace of their songs since this incredible introduction, but they remain an intriguing band.
/Look Up, Hannah
Mark Alan Miller’s project OUT OUT entered its most prolific phase since the nineties with this album, as a succession of releases has followed it – and with a great variance in styles along the way, too. There was very much a feel here of an artist inspired back into life by the rapidly regressing political atmosphere in the US at the time (and it’s only got worse since, of course), and this track takes the title from the legendary speech in The Great Dictator, itself a warning of the future. The kick-drum-led beat is blasted through for the chorus by huge, shredding guitars, and Miller’s vocals are, unsurprisingly, seething with political rage.
Black Metal is not the force it was, perhaps. While a number of the early wave of Norwegian bands continue in one form or another, it has long since splintered into different scenes across the world otherwise, and sometimes takes a bit of looking to find the diamonds in the rough. Watain was one of the bands from a later wave, but swiftly found wider attention, partly thanks to their ability at writing ripping Black Metal, and partly thanks to their eyebrow-burning live show, which involves lots of fire and lots of blood (honestly, I’ve never been to a gig that stank so bad in the aftermath!). The best of their tracks across this decade was this track, that at points tears forward at such a relentless pace (that opening!) that it is leaving scorch marks in its wake.
/Carry A Knife To A Gunfight
Both Jason Novak and Sean Payne seemed to never stop across the decade, what with festivals, tours, various bands and side-projects all vying for attention. They got their heads together with the excellent Vampyre Anvil project, which saw their common interest in drum’n’bass and downtempo electronics explored to the full, and with a grimy, down-and-dirty feel, as if it was recorded in the midst of a sci-fi dystopia. Which, of course, I’m sure was entirely the point. The mecha-monster, stabbing beats, stuttering bass hits – and the kick-up into rolling breakbeats – of Carry A Knife To A Gunfight, though, was the most fascinating song here. Industrial meets the urban age, grime of a very different sort, and the result was fantastic.
/Bury Me Here
Another of the many so-called “minimal” duos to make their presence felt in recent years, Wire Spine felt different from the first time I heard them. A punkish edge permeates their sound, from the sneered vocals to the stripped-back electronics, perhaps a matter of necessary economy but it is a concept that works. The pick of the album, though, was the searing malice of Burn You, which accompanied the distinct sense of bitter revenge with an additional thump of a second kick-drum in the chorus, and a more direct, less-disguised vocal, too.
Detroit duo ADULT. noted that they disconnected from the world, pretty much, to write this album (going off somewhere in upstate Michigan), and that isolation was reflected in a chilly album that was every bit as stark and bleak as the environment that inspired it. The title, opening track perhaps helped to understand why they did. The song drips with disgust at human behaviour in general, the selfishness, the raw need to be better than others, and the vocals are delivered with an edge that matches the punching synths and raw beats. ADULT. might have once been lumped in with the supposed decadence of electroclash, but those days are long gone, and any such feel has been systematically stripped away here to reveal a dark, seething heart – and it might be said that they are all the better for it.
/Burn It Down
/Music From Before the Storm
A song created for a videogame called Life Is Strange: Before The Storm introduced me to a band I’d never heard before. Daughter did the entire soundtrack, but this song was the one that got the airplay, and it was easy to see why. While nominally restrained, gentle indie-folk music provides the backing, from the first second she sings, it is clear that Elena Tonra is exorcising a world of her own demons here, as well as inhabiting the character she’s singing about. Her words are a boiling cauldron of rage and fury, battering her fists against the walls that the outside world smothers her with, and it is testament to her skill as a singer that her delivery (just) keeps a lid on the anger. An exceptional, fascinating song that had me thinking for weeks after I heard it.
/Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
/Cake of Light
/King of Cowards
Who’d have thought that a band with an unwieldy name that play psychedelic, doomy heavy rock would get A-listed on BBC 6Music? Perhaps a tribute to the open-mindedness of that station, but also to the fact their listeners are no fools, either, and are perhaps more open-minded than many would expect. One of those that got playlisted is the dusty grooves of Cake of Light, which sound like they come from the deserts of California rather than the streets of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, it appears to be almost entirely made from riffs hewn from mountains of the hardest Rock, it’s mad and glorious. I’ve no doubt I’ll be featuring songs from their follow-up in the next decade round-up, at the end of 2029, that’s for sure…
/Tear It Down
The London indie scene is far more diverse than you might expect, with a whole host of interesting artists exploring different styles, and it isn’t unusual – at least when live shows were happening – to hear three or four wildly different bands on the same bill. dexy has been gigging for a while as both a solo performer and with a band, and it is a credit to his songwriting that both work equally well. His songs owe a lot, perhaps, to the alt-rock of the nineties, and one name that keeps cropping up in my mind when I hear his material is Buffalo Tom, but it is by no means slavish copying of others. dexy has found his niche, and his songs are hugely enjoyable. Particularly the consistent album and live highlight Don’t Operate, which doesn’t hang about in leaping straight into the vocals, and it has the kind of naggingly melodic chorus that many artists would kill to write. An emotionally and musically choppy song (just listen to that guitar!), dexy’s best moment yet – and we have a new album to look forward to soon.
I think there was an unspoken concern about what the first new R+ material in a decade was going to sound like. Would it have the same power, the same style as before? In fact, the album was better than any of us perhaps expected, and characteristically, they let their videos for some of the songs do most of the talking. The eye-popping, epic Deutschland video got most of the attention (and controversy, yet again proving that most of the people complaining hadn’t watched the whole thing, nor understood the context), but Radio for me was the best song and had just as interesting a video. R+ were unusual in many of the Berlin bands that made it to the mainstream – or more to the point the English-speaking world, if I’m honest – in coming from East Berlin and East Germany generally, and this thumping, anthemic track (powerful industrial metal, huge chorus, Flake’s characteristic synths) appeared to nod to their way of discovering new music before the Wall came down, covertly listening to the radio to hear the music otherwise banned from them.
/Industrial Brass Band
/No Error It’s Lewsor
Matthieu Gosselin has been involved in a number of projects over the past couple of decades, but he came to my attention thanks to his work under the short-lived Lewsor moniker, and particularly the No Error It’s Lewsor album, which was a wild, noisy and chaotic ride. The track Industrial Brass Band – which really does do what it says on the tin, in consisting of thundering industrial beats and twisted, looped brass band samples – was the wildcard here, though. A surprising dancefloor hit when DJing, provided clubbers could keep up with the insane pace that the song sets, it is one of those tracks that work precisely because it is so crazy.
I’ll admit that [:SITD:] haven’t been particularly on my radar in recent years, but thanks to the recently much-improved Release Radar on Spotify last year, I did notice that [:SITD:] had a new album out – and this song was on said Radar. It pretty much does what the group have done for many years now – long, drawn-out electro-industrial that kicks out with a stately stomp, and synth leads that scrawl their own melodies, but oh my God, that chorus, as Carsten Jacek knocks it out of the park with the kind of shimmering, soaring chorus that hooked me on this band in the first place.
After a run of exceptional albums, the final – to date, Mirror is at last due later in 2020 – Imperative Reaction album for a long time seemed to disappoint many, including me, but maybe that was only because of the high standards that they’d set themselves previously. That said, in retrospect, this album was still pretty great and had a handful of stellar tracks. It’s easy to see why Surface was the single, too. A thumping, upfront track that wasn’t subtle, instead bludgeoning down the door with raw power and a huge, huge chorus. In other words, what Imperative Reaction have long been great at.
Clutch are something of a rock institution these days, with a dedicated set of fans, and a distinct feeling that they are doing what they want to do, without any great interest in what their peers might be doing. And why should they, when they have nailed their style so well? Neil Fallon’s interest in US Government activities – covert and public – has long been a rich seam of inspiration for his lyrics, and the best Clutch single of the past decade delved (in a tongue-in-cheek way) into mind-control and “psychic” warfare, with a wild tale to be told, and a wild, groovy motherfucker of a song to back it up. Not to mention the mind-bending, hilarious video…
/Brave New Apocalypse
/Brave New Apocalypse
The percussive power of CHANT is something to behold live, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Bradley Bills’ work on record is also very impressive. Particularly on his latest album, where he explored different avenues (even balladry) and the result was an unexpectedly varied album. But if you wanted an ideal introduction to what he can do, the powerful, sub-four-minute title track is the one. Polyrhythms back up Bills’ angry vocals, as he imagines the end of our world at a macro and micro-level – and in some respects neatly describes the confusing experience of living in 2020, too. Who knew we had soothsayers on this list?
/Front Line Assembly
FLA went through some kind of purple patch across the end of the 2000s, into the 2010s, culminating in the excellent Echogenetic (#39 in /Countdown/2010s/Albums, and #1 in /Countdown/Albums/2013). The monstrous power of lead single Killing Grounds certainly garnered attention (as the band successfully brought together pounding dancefloor industrial and bass/dubstep to eye-popping effect), but even better was Deadened, a song that quickly became a live favourite. A mid-paced stomper, with the usual extraordinary attention to detail in the mix and production (synths fizz out of the speakers like fireworks), it is made all the better by the cascading, spiralling chorus that comes out of nowhere, uses subtle bass effects, and, needless to say, is best experienced really, really loud.
/Manic Street Preachers
/Europa Geht Durch Mich
Futurology felt like a surge back into relevance for the Manics. Fired up with political ire once again, this album felt vibrant and exciting, as they dug into their love of Europe and history to make their most coherent, interesting album (Journal for Plague Lovers aside) in a couple of decades. The change-up in sound was notable, too, as they were more synths, almost a delve into post-punk at points, but the key song for me was the astounding Europa Geht Durch Mich, which featured German actress and singer Nina Hoss. A glam-esque stomper that remarkably brought to mind Goldfrapp and Gang of Four, it celebrates our ties and links with Europe – something that back in 2014 felt like it could still be retained. Instead, in 2020, as I write this, that has been wrenched away from us, and this glorious song feels like a “what could have been”.
/The Soft Moon
When Luis Vasquez first surfaced as The Soft Moon at the start of the decade, his sound was almost alien. Screaming guitars and synths – with vocals way down deep in the mist, whispered as if they didn’t want to be heard – pierced a fog that became literal when you saw him perform live amid masses of dry ice, and the sound harked to the dustier ends of shoegaze as much as it did the heavier end of Goth. A few years down the line, and Vasquez began to nudge into industrial rock, but still with the blinding squall of effects that have become the trademark. By the fourth album, that industrial edge was more pronounced, particularly on the pummelling power of Burn, where a repeating, distorted bassline is the engine of a powerful, impressive track that felt like once again, Vasquez was determined to push forward and leave the past behind. Quite where he goes next I don’t know, but I’m loving the journey so far.
The torrent of “industrial techno” artists in the past few years have been bewildering, leaving me with no idea which artists to dig further into, and which to avoid (partly a problem as I don’t go clubbing half as much as I used to, and partly because I really don’t have time to listen to everything I’m sent – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day!), but there have been some recommendations that have made quite an impression. One such was the German producer Black Kolor, whose album Awakening was an album that genuinely straddled the boundary between the two genres (and if you wanted any more industrial credentials, how about Jean-Luc De Meyer doing the vocals on the drilling nastiness of the title track?). The best track on the album, though, is the echoing thud of relentless techno that is Nano Creator, though. It drags itself into life like a steam locomotive gathering momentum, and once it finally, thrillingly kicks into higher gears, it is a wonder how it is able to wind down again, such is the industrial power on display.
/Shadowboy – The Awakening
Klangstabil could be considered the great thinkers of experimental, industrial electronics. The concept of exploring and understanding ideas by putting themselves at the heart of them has resulted in some fascinating, brilliant work, and in many ways putting themselves at some distance conceptually from many of their peers. Since the excellent One Step Back, Two Steps Forward compilation in 2015 they seem to have eschewed releasing more music, which is a shame. That said, the latest single prior to that compilation was the excellent Shadowboy. A deeply conceptual piece, around the idea of discomfort with the urban world and close human contact, and the retreat into oneself, the lead track was a manifesto in song form, with strident vocals and the titular, endlessly repeated refrain providing part of the rhythm.