Continuing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the penultimate 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me.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.
/You Are Now Under Our Control
A band I was recommended at every opportunity by my friend Jacek, and I’m glad I finally succumbed. A Finnish band that do powerful gothic-rock, basically, the curious element is that they are fronted by an Englishman who was better known for his work in Black Metal (Kvohst, who has also fronted Dødheimsgard and Code). But as this album – and the subsequent work in Grave Pleasures that contains some members of Beastmilk – proved that he was better suited to singing, as his formidable vocal presence here is what makes this so damned good. This song, though, is something else. Complex, detailed imagery is referred to in the lyrics, before the chorus drags you into another, fantastical realm. Take my recommendation, if you’ve not heard this – go and listen to one of the best gothic rock albums of the Millenium so far.
For all of the time that he took away from music, Marc Heal’s return across the past decade has seen him pick up a number of threads, both in solo work and with the rejuvenated Cubanate. Raymond Watts of <PIG> was also finding his way back at a similar time, and the sessions that the songs on this EP come from were surprisingly forthright as if they’d barely taken any time away at all. This was most clearly shown in the grinding, dancefloor-aimed filth of The Compound Eye, which hinted at new Cubanate clearly, now I listen afresh but was also a surge of electricity back into the veins of Marc Heal, that was for sure. It might be seen as a stepping stone to his return, but it frankly stands alone as one of the best songs he’s written full stop.
/My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
Compared to what came after it – a succession of huge, sprawling double-albums and epic live shows to match, that was uninterested in the past and instead were intent on surging forward – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky felt, in retrospect, like a comfy pair of shoes. This was Swans as we already knew, from a couple of eras, really, and a neat pick-up point too for those of us who’d been waiting or hoping, for a return. That didn’t deduct from the brilliance of the songs, though, particularly Eden Prison, which turned out to be the first song we heard from the completed album. A stomping, hypnotic monster of a track, it was loud, heavy and grimy, much as we’d hoped for, really, and Gira’s heavy-lidded vocals, that at points drift off into the distance, hint at dark details that he’d rather not reveal.
/New World March
Haujobb reactivated after some years off (there was eight years between Vertical Theory and New World March) to great acclaim, and rightly so. Their astonishingly precise, elegantly produced industrial music was in full effect here, perhaps with evidence of substantial technical upgrades and perhaps even better songwriting, too. The lead single, Dead Market, had the feel of the machines coming back to life in real-time, wheezing mechanical sounds providing part of the rhythm as Haujobb felt their way back to being again. A glorious, fantastic return, proving also that the machines had a human heart, too.
/A Worthy Compensation
For many, many years, the only Beborn Beton song you’d hear on dancefloors was the evergreen Another World – rightly held as one of the pinnacles of futurepop/synthpop in the industrial world. But with the arrival of this long-awaited album, finally, we had a song to supplant it. A punchy, breathless track that was just the right pace to light up the dancefloors, it was also a breathless description of distant desire, as Stefan sees a vision of utter beauty that he’s captivated with, and tries to find ways to get closer, to sate his obsession. Certainly one of the best dancefloor-aimed songs in a decade where the wider industrial scene hasn’t always been too interested in doing so.
/Dead When I Found Her
/Eyes on Backwards
After the epic, detailed concept albums that were Rag Doll Blues and All The Way Down, you could forgive Michael Arthur Holloway for taking a simpler, more direct approach for his fourth album under the DWIFH name. Eyes on Backwards was still an excellent collection of songs, mind, and was led by the fantastic electro-industrial maelstrom of Tantrum, full of stomping drums, synth lines and a fistful of well-placed samples that made for a hell of a track, which culminates in spiralling chaos after one sample-led pause for breath.
/København Robotic Youth
/How to Enlist in a Robot Uprising [Deluxe Edition]
Memmaker was something of a breakthrough act back in 2008, their energetic, tongue-in-cheek industrial-dance music (complete with sci-fi nods and “backstory”) proving a huge hit in clubs and at festivals – and their live show was just as much fun. So when Hive Records went pop not long after they released their debut, you’d be forgiven for fearing that it would torpedo their progress. Not so – Artoffact picked up the album for re-release in 2010, and a few additional tracks were tacked on, and this song alone made the re-purchase worthwhile. An absolute monster of dancefloor track, it’s full of recurring hooks and drops, thumping beats and, needless to say, has been a highlight of their live sets for as long as I can remember. It makes me want to dance and have fun. Not too many industrial records do that nowadays.
/Speak In Storms
Issues of geography, day-jobs and time generally have slowed Seabound’s output over the years, but then, Seabound have always prioritised quality over quantity – just four albums (and a few EPs and suchlike) have resulted in a catalogue of songs that pretty much, I love all of. The one album they released in this decade, Speak In Storms, was their first new album in eight years, and was something of an album to take your time with. Dancefloor-aimed songs were few and far between (although the excellent, soaring Nothing But Love was an addition to that canon), and indeed the best songs here were where they slowed it down, and Frank Spinath jabbed in the metaphorical knife. The seething, measured rage of Contraband, though – a slow litany of realisation and declaration – is the sparkling highlight of the album, though, a perfect summation of Spinath’s examination of the psychology of love that is his lyrical trademark, and how we often fail to live up to expectations of others.
/Without You My Life Would Be Boring (Shaken Up)
The final album by The Knife couldn’t have been more different to the suffocating darkness of Silent Shout. While there were heavy, quasi-industrial (and indeed dark ambient) moments across the sprawling, ninety-six minutes of Shaking The Habitual, the most exciting moments were when they relaxed and had fun. The same could be said of their ecstatic live shows on that tour, which involved dance troupes, misdirection and a general feeling of abandon – something best captured on record on the Shaken Up Versions EP that closed everything off, and particularly so on the joyous madness of Without You My Life Would Be Boring. The percussion bounces along with a spring in its step, the vocals are as usual pitch-shifted and treated, but retain a feeling of joy and love, and the peaks, when they come, make me want to punch the air with triumph every time I hear it.
/Girls Against Boys
/It’s A Diamond Life
/The Ghost List EP
GVSB unexpectedly returned to releasing new material for the first time in eleven years, back in 2013 – after a decade spent looking back, and occasionally touring. Perhaps wisely, the new material – a short five-song EP – saw them hark back to their peak mid-90s material, full of grizzled, funky noise-rock, two bassists in full effect but also with that nod-and-a-wink sardonic delivery from Scott McCloud that made their releases so much fun. This had the band sounding invigorated and having fun again – something their major-label and post-Geffen releases perhaps lacked. They were also, of course, fantastic live when they came through London around the same time, too…
/Flashbulb / Last One Dies Split 7″
A dreamy US duo who have quite the history in US shoegaze – not to mention working with Dean Garcia in his post-Curve work, too – came to my attention thanks to this astounding song that was on a split 7″ with /amodelofcontrol.com favourites Blindness. Taking that shoegaze template – a layered fuzz of guitars and blissed-out vocals – but adding to it forceful drums and a hint of programming, not to mention a swooning, melodic chorus, listening to the brilliance of this song only makes me all the sadder that they split up.
/You Want It Darker
Cohen retained his style and way with words to the last, his final album rather addressing directly that he knew his time had come. Recorded with his son Adam Cohen, his rich voice sounded frailer, maybe a little rougher than before, but Adam wrapped an elegant choral backing when needed, and left the instruments in the background, to allow his father one last moment in the spotlight. The magnificent Treaty, though, felt like the curtain call itself. Where Cohen made it clear he was sick of retributions and dwelling on the mistakes of the past, and wanted to find a way to make amends, and the result was a beautiful, desperately sad lament that stands among his finest songs of all.
/OVERLAND (IN MY MIND)
There has been a number of great EBM-influenced acts out of Australia over the past decade, and one of the earliest of this wave to make a splash elsewhere was FORCES, with this pummeling track that I’m fairly certain I first heard at one of the later iterations of ENDURANCE, a club that had a lot to do with the resurgence of EBM and industrial into the techno scene, at least in London. This track was a relentless powerhouse of EBM beats and monstrous synth hooks and was coupled with an outstanding, cyberpunk-influenced video that matched the mood perfectly. Not a prolific group – just a handful of singles and one mini-album – but frankly this song alone made sure of a place in EBM history, that’s for sure.
The resurgence of Deftones that was led by the quite simply brilliant Diamond Eyes was one of the highlights of the past decade. It was an album that was lean, sharp and snappily edited, with no wasted moments and some of the best songs that Deftones have ever recorded. The pick of the album for me was this ultra-short missive, where Chino Moreno hints at control and dominance amid a choppy, rolling rhythm, and just when you think it is all angular riffs, just wait for the chorus, as it suddenly soars to another level entirely, Moreno hitting melodic heights he’s not hit before or since. Now I think about it, that long-promised new Deftones album can’t come soon enough.
/Godspeed You! Black Emperor
/Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
The first GY!BE material in some time turned out to be tracks that they’d been playing live before they went on hiatus (something they’d done before, and continue to have done since), but that didn’t lessen the impact of their return. The lead piece from this album was a twenty-minute, symphonic post-rock monster of a track, entitled Mladic and one that gradually built from snippets of voices and drones to huge, jaw-dropping swells of guitar-led noise and rhythmic crashes that is a hypnotic force – and makes the epic length of the track absolutely fly by. GY!BE, even past a quarter of a century since they formed, remain a fascinating, singular group.
/Lesser Man EP
A song that had become ubiquitous in goth and industrial DJ sets by the end of the decade – this sprawling, seven-minute minimal synth epic is, on the face of it, an unlikely song to become such a hit. But since then, it has been clear that Boy Harsher hit onto a winning formula that they’ve stuck with, and refined, as the astonishing power of Careful last year (this site’s album of the year for 2019) proved. Their songs are often little more than tumbling drums, subtle synths, and the dreamy work of Jae Matthews’ voice, not always intelligible but always emotional, and it’s her delivery more than the content that is so vitally important. She gets across the breathless joy and kick of music and clubbing, losing yourself in the moment and never wanting it to end. Thus, the stretched out delights of Pain struck a chord with seemingly every DJ, and every punter that listened.
/In Strict Confidence
/La Parade Monstrueuse
In Strict Confidence have deliberately, it seems, made a point of moving the goalposts of their sound each album, sometimes admittedly with mixed results, but they hit the bullseye with the lush sounds of La Parade Monstrueuse. The idea of monsters and fantastical threats was explored in great depth across the album, and the single Silver Bullets was the best example of it. Taking an idea perhaps inspired by werewolves and Jekyll & Hyde, Dennis Ostermann thrillingly imagines being such a man, trying desperately to hide what he becomes at night, across a soaring, symphonic-darkwave track that has an utterly glorious, stadium-sized chorus, that fully gets across the mental gymnastics that such a man would have to deal with. It was accompanied by an equally fabulous, lavish video that is as essential as the song.
/The Heart Is A Monster
The lead song from the much-heralded and brilliant return of Failure felt like a particular kind of statement. From a band that, amid the carnage of their earlier career, wrote sprawling, lengthy songs, never mind albums – that while hugely enjoyable and memorable could occasionally meander a bit – it felt really important that Hot Traveler was laser-guided in focus. Even though the production was sparkling and pristine as ever, and the song had a mighty bass-and-drum heft, it was a masterwork in the economy of elements, with an elegant melodic touch, not to mention a glorious, dreamy breakdown. A song that made us all fall in love with Failure all over again and their return didn’t disappoint one bit.
/(We Need) Machines Without Romance
The concept-heavy electronics of Belgian duo Metroland have continued to fascinate me across the decade, ever since I saw them live – and indeed heard them for the first time – at BIMFest in Antwerp, in 2012, opening the second day (/Memory of a Festival/017). Since the release of transport-themed debut Mind The Gap, they’ve since explored the Bauhaus movement and Photography, as well as a dizzying array of remixes and a sweet tribute to their producer (who passed away mid-decade) too. Hidden away, though, on the B-side to the first single from their Bauhaus project Triadic Ballet was probably their most fierce, punchy track, and stepping away from their thematic work for just a short while paid dividends. This song riffs, perhaps, on retro-futurist ideals of machines and/or robots aiding and abetting human contact, but also ensuring that they don’t supplant our emotional needs. The complex rhythm pattern sounds like a giant forge clanking into life as if the track is building itself, and perhaps also is one of their occasional doffs of the cap to Kraftwerk, too.
It’s remarkable to consider the places I’ve seen Skindred live. Back in their early days, after Benji Webbe’s earlier genre-bending band Dub War had disintegrated, I saw Skindred with a handful of friends in a tiny Huddersfield venue called Abraham’s. Come early 2011, and I saw them owning the entire crowd as support to Rob Zombie at Brixton Academy, and they were phenomenal. Particularly this incessant, air-raid siren of a song, that was aired for one of the first times at that show (it was released as a single later that spring). It was obvious from the first chorus – as the crowd went nuts – that this was The Song, the one that would push them way bigger, and so it happened. A brilliant, pulsating, jump-up track that takes in the melting pot of influences that have always made up Benji Webbe’s work, but here it had the necessary, laser-like focus on all of the best elements. Skindred will never be better, or more entertaining than this.