Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the fourth 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me.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.
/This Is The Age of the Naked Emperors
/Take The Slow Train
I’ve written a lot about Jeays over the past decade – his hugely enjoyable (occasional) live shows, his occasional new albums, and even that one of his songs played a key part in our wedding celebrations. Many of his more recent songs have been reflective, digging deep into his past and unearthing perhaps memories that he’d wished he’d left buried. But also, he has also released a number of searing songs that skewer populist concepts. This is by far the best of them – a hilarious and angry song about charlatans, populists, religion, and a few more things besides, where Jeays uses an entertaining narrative to see the man behind the curtain. As we watch a number of populists found wanting when facing deep crises in 2020, these are sage words – I just wish more people were paying attention (both to Jeays’ music, and also to the wider world…).
This album seemed to take many of us by surprise – the French actress and singer releasing her fifth album, to widespread acclaim and wonder, frankly. The lead single was this glorious, piano-led, electro-funk track that seemed to be being played on BBC 6 Music every hour or so at one point, not that any of us would have complained had they actually done so. On closer inspection, the lyrics appear to reflect on wedding vows as different points through life, as if life experience might change those proclamations. But the dramatic, sweeping vista of the song generally is enough to get lost in, never mind the words. A song that honestly seems to get better with every listen.
I’m not sure I’d ever had heard this EP if I hadn’t noticed it in my promo e-mails, and I’m glad I gave this one a listen. Cat Hall’s Dissonance project has been around for some time, too, and while this song, in particular, has a feel of a darkwave scene that has mostly left us, there are more than enough current production techniques here to make it also current. The stuttering rhythms and transition to the heavy, dense chorus are elements to enjoy, as are Hall’s vocals that switch from happy memory to yearning for more at the drop of a hat. A sensual, powerful joy, this.
While Fuck Buttons were interesting enough, Benjamin John Power seems to have been liberated with his own project Blanck Mass. Eschewing the electronic-psychedelia of FB, and embracing a darker, heavier tone for Blanck Mass has really paid dividends, and perhaps reflects the less optimistic times that we now live in, too. This was epitomised by the brutal track that (aside from the short intro track) led off the third BM release. Over nine minutes, industrial beats are overlaid by sheets of raining synths, cut-up and fucked-up vocal samples chatter in the mix, and other beat patterns are overlaid over what is already going on. It feels like an attempt to replicate the information overload of the modern world in musical form, and this overwhelming, brutal track is, frankly, extraordinary.
/Let Me Go
The Arizona-based brothers Alex and Andrew Jarson have released a number of albums under the Body of Light moniker, but this release was the one that had me sitting up and taking notice. Lush, intricate synth-pop is the broad concept to describe this, but there is more going on than that, and this wonderful song was perhaps the best example of that. The synth hook that opens the song – and announces it like a tolling bell – is a repeating motif through the song, and the rest of the song charges forward with everything larger than life – the vocals in particular, which are pushed to their limits for a massive, swelling chorus that remains the best moment this restless duo have created.
/Everything Is Gone
After listening to them – and writing about them – for some years, it was a pleasure last year to finally see OHMElectronic live (and to meet Craig and Chris from the group, too, who were entertaining company). But it was even better to find that their live show was more than just two guys standing behind their synths, instead having considerable energy to what they did. It helps, mind, that they have ripping songs like Everything Is Gone in their sonic arsenal – a bleak, angry song that has an urgent, powerful drum pattern that hammers through it as Craig howls his fury in the lyrics. Industrial music can still be political, eloquent and brilliant, and this is a great reminder of such.
It is frankly incredible to think that Lorde wrote a song of this depth when aged just sixteen. The song itself is a minimalist, quasi-hip-hop rhythm, with choral effects neatly backing Lorde, but this song is brilliant for two particular things. One is that chorus – it soars, but with a frail edge, as if Lorde couldn’t quite believe that she could write something so brilliant and catchy. Two is the subject matter, which is not something often commented upon in song – that of ostentatious displays of wealth by pop stars, showing a usually-unattainable standard of living for most of their fans. But Lorde here is content to dream, kissing off the chorus with a simple demand: “let me live that fantasy“. We don’t necessarily desire to be that wealthy, but a little bit of daydreaming never hurt anyone, right?
/No Lives Matter
In light of recent events in the US, Ice-T’s bleak warnings of a few years ago were entirely correct – not that we didn’t believe him back then, either. The best Body Count album since their debut, frankly, it was laced with a similar political fury – and, notably, some humour too – as well as a crushing heavy metal backing that didn’t half nod to his friends and influences Slayer. The pick of the album, though, was the scorching truth to power of No Lives Matter, a song that both supported Black Lives Matter and also reminded that if you aren’t rich, a US Government isn’t going to be listening to you, or giving a fuck about what happens to you (something that, all too late, is a fact that appears to have dawned on a lot of Britons recently about their own Government). Delivered with a furious, seething delivery only makes this an all the more bracing, and essential, listen.
/great eraser (in the sky).
/The Dark Age of Consent
Fronted by Jared Louche (of Chemlab, of course) and working with a London guitarist and a number of US-based people too – the first track from this project appeared on compilations late in the previous decade, and other commitments, life and probably a few other things delayed more material until 2014. It was an intriguing album when it did come – who knew that we ever needed industrial-glam-rock? It worked, though, particularly as, when we thought about it, it wasn’t actually that far away from Louche’s work in Chemlab anyway, really. The greatest moment, though, was in the roaring power of great eraser (in the sky)., a song that had Louche fulfilling glam-rock-star fantasies, and it suited him brilliantly.
/The Sound of Music
/The Sound of Music
Laibach covering other artists is nothing new – it has been a key part of their identity since the late 80s – but something about their work on The Sound of Music felt different. Part of that, of course, was their concert in North Korea (the film of their antics there, Liberation Day, is well worth a watch if you’ve not seen it), but as ever, it was also what else they brought out from the songs. They’ve long proved that taking songs out of their original context uncovers potential hidden meanings or messages hitherto unnoticed, but these songs in the context of North Korea were something else. Particularly the title track, where a friend pointed out upon release of this cover that there is a creepy “wake up call” each day in North Korea, that brings a whole new meaning to the words “the hills are alive with the sound of music“. Laibach’s take is a sombre, reflective piece (reflected too in the video), a world away from the joyous abandon of the original cinematic take.
The opening track from, as far as I can tell, this band’s final album, this track is an absolute monster. The band took their name from the gigantic Supertanker that was one of the biggest ships ever built, and this song has an appropriately huge feel and momentum, that needless to say takes a little while to gather steam. Choppy, heavy doom metal is the order of the day here, with subtle industrial electronics adding yet more heft in the mix, everything about this song suggests rage and aggression, particularly as the vocals and guitars begin to stack up on each other, and it roars toward a conclusion. A somewhat overlooked band, this track – and the album it comes from – is well worth a retrospective look.
/The Machinists of Joy
The third phase of Die Krupps has been a surprisingly successful one – continuing to evolve their sound, while remaining true to their history and politics – and they remain an extraordinarily powerful live band, too. As well as a few live and historical releases, the band have released three new albums and a lengthy EP over the past decade, and their rhythmic power has perhaps been enhanced by new technology advances. The lead single for this album, Risikofaktor, is a perfect example. True to form, synths drive the song forward with clean, memorable hooks, while Jürgen Engler delivers a forceful vocal apparently about dealing with false actors and claims of apocalyptic events. Some years on, the world has changed, that’s for sure, and these warnings apply again, but maybe not in the way intended at the time. Still, a fantastic song all the same.
/Sky Is Mine
Another band – and song – that I first heard on BBC 6 Music, this quite brilliant rock track was one of the songs that soundtracked the summer of 2017 for me, as I simply couldn’t get it out of my head. A down-and-dirty groove of a track, built around chiming guitar, shuffling drums and a filthy bassline, while the higher register of Leila Moss’s vocals float and soar over it. But her urgent chorus delivery seals the deal for me. It reminds me of some of the outer-reaches of Alternative rock that I was forever searching out in the nineties – and there was a lot of it – and while this song was easier to discover than many of those, it was no less rewarding.
/Beyond the Veil
This striking industrial project was notable from the off, as Verena May proved herself to be a formidable vocalist and songwriter, both in this song and the relatively short album that followed it. This electro-industrial track has a vicious, retaliatory edge to it, particularly in the thundering chorus, but it was also a track that worked nicely on the dancefloor, too, especially with the clever changes of pace and anthemic lyrics. As an opening statement, it was a hell of a track, and hopefully, there might be more material to come. (Also of note – the rampaging cover of old Nitzer Ebb track Let Beauty Loose that was the b-side to the Burst, possibly better than the original, it is well worth hunting down).
/Angry Robot Noises Merry Glitchmas 2015 edition
The second project by Jordan Davis – his earlier project Common Man Down released the exceptional single Self Addiction and then vanished, Davis resurfacing as RELIC – was perhaps a more fulfilling, accessible project. This was less aggression, in some respects, and more dancefloor directness. This was thumping, powerful industrial music (with Glitch Mode production touches, that’s for sure), and this track was the first one released under the RELIC name. It is constructed neatly to ascend into a roaring groove of a chorus, paced at just the right level to see Rivetheads stomping holes in the dancefloor (as I’ve seen such do in a number of my own DJ sets). One of the best songs released under the Glitch Mode label.
/Never Say Farewell
/Electronic Saviors: Industrial Music To Cure Cancer
Jim Semonik’s incredible Electronic Saviors compilations concluded recently with the sixth edition (my copy is in the post as we speak), and his extraordinary effort in arranging and compiling these had raised over $70,000 by 2019 for cancer charities. The first edition especially had a number of unique tracks that were notable for their high quality, and one of those was this exceptional futurepop anthem by NYC group Interface, a soaring, pounding track that ticked every box that this style should do – steady build, high-quality production, a monster of a chorus, and an uplifting feel that makes me feel ten metres tall every time I hear it.
/Kill It In The Morning
/No One Can Ever Know
The Twilight Sad have emerged as one of the more important Alternative bands of the past decade. They started out as a chilly, intense shoegaze-influenced band – although not without some astonishing songs – and over the years have evolved their sound, never losing their core power, and the vocals of James Graham are at the heart of it, both agonised and deeply empathetic at the same time. The first sign, to me, anyway, that they were expanding their sound came at a gig after their second album, where they debuted this song as the opener to astonished silence. A song that live felt mechanical, near industrial, with a measured, terse drum beat, and treated guitars that sounded like sheet metal being scratched and James Graham lost in his world as he recanted repressed memories and warnings. The song gradually builds the already striking intensity over nearly six minutes, and even nine years since I first heard it, it remains a bracing, striking listen – from a band that now is instantly recognisable and unique.
/Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
For some reason, this John Grant album didn’t quite get the love that his exceptional Pale Green Ghosts did, but maybe it was because it was a slow-burn of an album. The singles, though, were uniformly great, particularly this fabulous song that riffs on doo-wop (!) to astonishingly emotive effect in the chorus, and reveals the song to be an unusually upbeat missive of love from Grant, despite the title. This is him saying that all of the material things he loves, all of those sights, sounds, smells, tastes, none of them can measure up to his lover. That’s a hell of a compliment. The song also makes great use of Tracey Thorn’s more downbeat vocals to provide a foil, too – something Grant has always been a brilliant judge of, to know when to provide a counterpoint to his own voice.
A group who’s only sporadically returned to action over the years (and indeed unexpectedly announced their first new album in some years just weeks ago), hit something of a purple patch around the release of this album. Always an aggressive-sounding band – everything about their sound bristles with malice and threat – the opening track to this excellent album perhaps topped them all. The stuttering beats are subservient to two things – that enormous, ominous synth sound that dominates the mix and propels the track forward – while Dean Piavanni’s snarling vocals take issue with leaders and religion in equal measure (with typically frugal lyrics). That economy runs through the entire song – with so few elements, they say so much. In particular, these industrial pioneers were still leading the charge.
/Dead End Kings
Katatonia took some interesting stylistic decisions over this past decade, shedding even more of their doomy sound for a deep, proggy sound that only served to show off Jonas Renske’s stunning voice to even greater effect, and this song was the best they released this decade by far. I had to look up the meaning of Lethean: “Causing oblivion or forgetfulness of the past“, which makes sense with Renske’s predilection for songs of betrayal, loss and despair. This song is one of those that tones down the metal a bit, but replaces with such irresistible, sorrowful power that is just as heavy, but in a different way. That said, Katatonia has always been about light and shade, and they remain masters of what they do, as this song is just another example of.