Completing the process of wrapping up the last decade before it disappears too far into the rearview mirror, this is the last 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 Not all artists remain active – nor indeed some of the labels – but even if they are no longer active, their music resonated long enough to mean something to me.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.
/Notes from A War
/Electronic Saviors: Industrial Music To Cure Cancer
Stromkern rather faded away quietly rather than any specific end – an indefinite hiatus, if you will. The furious Light It Up was released back in 2005, and aside from remixes and singles, the only other release following that was the Dead Letters EP, which was four new songs and a notable rebuild of Ruin, with a distinct live band feel compared to before. But there was another song of note, and it was one of the lead tracks on the first Electronic Saviors compilation back in 2010. A reflective, elegant song that had appeared to be about the war between disease and host (in this case, cancer and humans), it was in many ways a step away from almost anything else Stromkern had ever released but was still no less affecting for it. Stromkern was perhaps best known for their songs where they stand up and fight for what was right, but always with empathy and understanding, and here, there is less of a fight, but no less understanding and a song bubbling with emotion, and the result was probably the best Stromkern song of all.
/Central Park East
/The Light In You
As I noted a few weeks back placing The Light In You in the top albums of the decade list, was a mighty return from a band who seemed hesitant about whether they still had a place to fill in the run-up to release. Just one listen to this album proved that they still had the magic of old, and one song in particular of a few had me gasping in wonder, and that was Central Park East. Mercury Rev at their peak was interested in getting out of the city – and New York especially – as they sought refuge in the rural parts of New York State, so a song about being in the city was surprising. Then you listen to the lyrics, as Jonathan Donahue paints a picture of a lonely walk through the titular park at night, and as the music twinkles around him like the lights of the city that surrounds it, you immediately understand the desperate loneliness that can hit when you’re among millions in a big city. Mercury Rev are one of the great romantics in alternative music, and this song helps explain exactly why.
/Taken For Granted
I had thought that over the decade, Mesh had had a resurgence that saw them writing some of their best songs, but the more I reflected on this, I realised that they’d never really been away, it was me that had drifted from their orbit for a bit. I was pulled back in by the excellent A Perfect Solution, but then even more so by the follow-up Automation>>Baby. Their modus operandi hasn’t really changed – sharp-edged synthpop with tales of heartbreak and disappointment, and perhaps as we get older and we have more life experience, their songs just simply resonate that much more. Which is probably why Taken For Granted seemed to hit like a lightning bolt. One of their ballads, to a point, is a song of frustration that life hasn’t gone your way, and trying to take stock and work out what to do next. Which would be ok on its own, but what took it to another level was a) that huge chorus, that is an enormous emotional hit in itself, and b) that breakdown hook, that quickly got taken up by fans as something to keep singing, even when the band had left the stage at their shows – the first time I saw it happen, the band looked genuinely surprised at the reaction. Mesh has always been about the connection they’ve established with their fans, and this song took that far beyond anything anyone might have expected, simply by writing a beautiful song that really did strike a nerve.
By no means the first 3TEETH song I heard, but this was perhaps the one that really made me sit up and pay attention – and I’ve been following the band ever since. NIHIL was the dramatic opener to their debut album (and for a long time the opening track in every live set, too), that has little in the way of lyrics (Bound by Flesh / Freed By Blood) and instead is a stomping monster of a track that is all about rhythm and power. But, it is also about ritual. By stripping away vocals to two phrases, it helped to remind that music is about ritual and belief as well, that you invest yourself in a band to a lesser or greater degree, by listening and engaging with them – and buying their music. This was also helped by the excellent use of elements from the legendary 1992 film Baraka (which silently showcased elements of human ritual, from religion to manufacture to the end results of war, to spectacular effect), which only heightened the power of this extraordinary song.
A band who burned brightly for a short while, released two Skinny Puppy-influenced albums, then suddenly pivoted into a huge, industrial/dark-pop sound that belied their background – seriously – as Swedish pop producers. One of the songs where that latter skill really shone through was on this absolutely staggering album track, which sounded oh-so-scene to start with, with hulking great drums that stomped out a rivethead beat. And yet…it then drops into a key-change chorus that leaves the jaw on the floor, such is the audacity of it (and man, is it an earworm), and this has all the hallmarks of the kind of song that coulda, shoulda crossed over. Sadly they’ve never followed up Wintermute, but they did play a chaotic, memorable show at Infest 2012, of which this song was the screaming, glorious climax to.
It still is a source of wonder to me that the same person can front the wild hardcore punk of Mínus and the windswept, electronic drama of Legend. But that’s what happened, and it turned out that Krummi Björgvinsson was more than capable of the range required to do both. That first Legend album was something of a word-of-mouth hit, as it gradually spread from their native Iceland into the goth/industrial scenes of both Europe and North America, and for me, at least, what drew me in originally were two striking singles. City was the first, an energetic, buzzing ode to his hometown of Reykjavík, it seemed, and how life in that forward-looking, young city inspired him. But it was Sister that was really intriguing. A pitch-dark ballad of attempted redemption, that feels for all the world like a subdued piece until Krummi suddenly roars into the heartfelt chorus, that comes out of nowhere and made it absolutely clear just how good Legend was.
/Edge of Dawn
/Anything That Gets You Through The Night
Releases that are utterly adored by both myself and my wife, particularly more recent ones, aren’t especially common, but Edge of Dawn’s excellent 2010 album was one. Probably the best-known project for Frank Spinath away from his main group Seabound, earlier Edge of Dawn releases had not made too much of a splash, even though they had a number of great songs on them. But Anything That Gets You Through The Night felt different as if everything had received a mighty upgrade. This was best shown by the swooning glory of Stage Fright, which steadily added layer-after-layer to the music, building the tension before Spinath delivers the chorus of his life across an ecstatic, shimmering backdrop.
/Teeth of the Sea
My initial exposure to Teeth of the Sea was thanks to breathless reviews of their live shows, post-release of Your Mercury, and initial listens had me a little confused, at least until I saw them live for myself, my first time being around the time of the release of MASTER at the Lexington, supporting Esben and the Witch. The initial song released in the run-up to MASTER was Black Strategy, and it was this song, too, that made me realise that Teeth of the Sea were a fascinating band that was not what I perhaps thought they might be. They are proggy, cinematic post-rock at points, and electronic rock at others and more recently an out-and-out experimental electronic group, but what they have an innate understanding of is dynamics, volume and impact. Black Strategy has all of that – riding in on an ominous two-note bassline, while treated trumpet paints the space around it, the build is stretched out to a near-breaking point, before an acid hook squalls across everything, hinting of the aural violence to come. When the storm does break, it is a huge, wall-of-sound production, with spacey guitars, more trumpets and more rhythms piled on what is already there, and as you might expect, live it is near-overwhelming in a way that provides an almighty rush. Still one of London’s most forward-looking bands, two more albums and countless live shows since, too.
/Dancing On My Own
A song that has had a lot of attention lately, as it passed the ten year anniversary of release, and quite right too. An extraordinary electro-pop single that manages the rare feat of being hugely uplifting and desperately sad at the same time, it had an incredible slow-burn, too, reaching platinum status in the US nine years after release. Maybe repeated plays over the years rammed home the appeal of the song, and what it meant to so many. Or maybe the viral videos of spontaneous sing-a-longs of it on the NYC Subway, or the staggering live footage from Alexandra Palace helped to bring it back to the wider consciousness. Or maybe it is just simply a brilliant, emotive song. One that many of us understand too well – watching the apparent love of your life off with someone else, and you have to watch every uncomfortable moment of their intimate interaction in a public setting and to save face, you can’t say a word. The thing is, this song also has a special resonance to my wife and me – it was one of the songs that made it to our wedding reception playlist under the guise of “inappropriate wedding songs”, and was, not unexpectedly, universally popular as a song choice. Great songs are not always euphoric and about the good times. The best often resonate with our own experiences, and Dancing On My Own transcended to a rare pantheon for exactly that reason. That, and it isn’t far off from the perfect pop tune, either.
/Six By Seven
/Love and Peace and Sympathy
After splitting for the first time in 2008, original members Chris Olley and James Flower reconvened with an otherwise new band in 2013, and the best new Six By Seven material in some years. The glowering, jagged power that made the band so special in the first place was still there, that’s for sure, and there was perhaps also a return to the slower, more atmospheric sound that characterised their first singles. One song, though, proved itself to be the standout (and proved to be an arrestingly loud live centrepiece, too). TRUCE is nine minutes of build and release, calm and storm, as Chris Olley pours out relatively cryptic missives toward his parents (at least as described in the Six By Seven lyrics book The Things I Make) and allows the song to unleash titanic displays of rock power at a few points. Seven years since release, this song remains an incredible thrill.”
The debut from KANGA was something of a bolt-from-the-blue that had many of us hooked from the start – a smart bit of planning prior to release was not to drip-feed tracks ahead of time, so we’d only heard one or two tracks prior, and it turned out there was a wealth of riches to enjoy. Many songs were frank confessionals, either around self/-image or sex, and the latter appeared to be the subject of the staggering dancefloor thrills of Viciousness. Built around an incessant, nagging synth bass rhythm, as it gathers pace it spirals and coils its way into your brain before that fabulous chorus seals the deal and takes off like a rocket. Mainstream pop influences are sometimes looked upon as something to be avoided in the wider industrial scene, but KANGA weaponised them here to spectacular effect.
The dark, electronic tones of Nika Roza Danilova’s work as Zola Jesus has mystifyingly remained in the shadows over the past decade, her breakthrough never quite coming, it seems, despite a number of exceptional releases. Her peak came with the outstanding Okovi in 2017, inspired by upheaval and issues in her own life, as well as those of friends and relatives, and as so often seems to be the way, such setbacks inspired the best music of her career. Even among the impassioned songs here, though, Siphon stands out.
It immediately follows the bleak, string-drenched Witness, which appears to be about the same subject (the attempted suicide of a friend), but while Witness appears to be bereft of hope, Siphon seethes with love and anger, as she tries (in her head, at least) to talk down the person. To make them realise that there is a point to staying, to try and make them appreciate the love that is there for them, and this song burns with the idea of carrying on – which, is something that it was fairly clear that Danilova was assessing in terms of her own career. It turned that that fighting on was the best thing she ever did, too.
/Let Them Burn
/My War Is Your War
The Grenfell Tower fire happened just over three years ago, and the after-effects of it – besides those of the victims and their families and other local residents – have seen a lengthy inquiry (that is still ongoing), has claimed the jobs of a number of senior local councillors, required a lot of assessments of other tower blocks (and many of them still haven’t had similar dangerous cladding removed), and caused an awful lot of soul-searching, but really, without too much in the way of actual action. After all, for a Conservative Government, the people that were affected weren’t their kind of voters.
They were the working class (and often immigrants) that they’ve spent so many years demonising for votes, so why would they start actually doing something for them now? Not even providing safe housing for everyone is even remotely a priority. deux furieuses were a number of artists that wrote songs inspired by this event, which should have been a national shame, and it inspired by far their best song yet. A searing, thundering song of utter rage, as they call for justice for innocent people, and call for the heads of those whose Austerity indirectly helped cause it. Politics absolutely has a place in music, folks, and deux furieuses are here to shout from the rooftops until you pay attention.
/Joy As An Act of Resistance.
Initially, the hype around IDLES suggested that they would be another “cool” punk band that were all image. Closer listening to their debut Brutalism suggested a rather deeper substance, but I was fully converted by their excellent follow-up Joy As An Act of Resistance., which made it clear that this was a band fully willing to expand, evolve and get better. Critically, too, they were fronted by Joe Talbot, who through his lyrics, interviews and speeches when playing live, is a man who is determined to do better, to implore his listeners to be better but to make his words become actions. From smashing down the patriarchy and toxic masculinity to fighting the snobbery against the working class, to fighting xenophobia and racism.
That latter cause was joyfully highlighted in the glorious punk anthem of Danny Nedelko, touchingly titled after a close friend of the band (himself a Ukrainian immigrant and frontman of the band Heavy Lungs), but as a wider song, reminding how important immigrants of all creeds and origins have been to the Great Britain of today. Live, this song is an incendiary love-in, one where fans, no matter where they are from, come together to celebrate what brings them to the same place. In a country that sometimes feels like one more divided than ever, what this band do reminds us that there are good people still fighting for something better, and Danny Nedelko is part of the soundtrack to that.
/The Waiting Room
The astonishing ballad at the heart of Tindersticks’ best album in years, it isn’t your average duet balladry. For a start, at the time of release, Stuart Staples sounded like he was convening with the dead, as Lhasa de Sela died on the first day of 2010, and this was recorded a few years before. Entirely understandably, Staples couldn’t face finishing or even listen to their studio recordings for some time, but I’m glad he did. A song in the form of a conversation between two old friends, who are discussing going out, but “Lucinda” isn’t especially keen for a variety of reasons that she discusses, it smoulders, it shimmies, and carries the immense emotional weight that winds through the song amazingly lightly. This is less a song about going out, and more about the weight and power of friendship and memory, and how you continue to carry that torch for better or worse. Like that, it’s brilliant, and as a tribute to Staples’ old friend and collaborator, it’s flat-out phenomenal.
/The Money Store
What was technically their debut album (the imposing Exmilitary being a “mixtape”) – and all the more remarkable for such an experimental hip-hop group that it was released on a major label, although Epic quickly found out they’d got more than they’d bargained for subsequent to this album – was a dense, mad ride, that took in hip-hop, rock, punk, industrial, bass music, reggae and fistfuls of samples that peppered the album made it like there was no air or space to be found within the mix. The final track on the album, though, felt like it was a level above what had come before.
The intro, seemingly recorded on the street outside a club, has a beat pulsing through the wall, before the door is opened and everything comes at you at once. The beat suddenly morphs into an electro groove, before switching again into a phasing squeal like a fucking siren, then hinting at classic EBM and electro-funk, all at once. MC Ride delivers a surrealist tirade, snatches of dialogue and political and consumerist commentary, hinting at imagining being the shadowy, titular character that knows all about you. Death Grips haven’t always hit the bullseye with their work, as sometimes it feels like they threw everything in and crossed their fingers, but here they created a chaotic, brilliant industrial-hip-hop mash-up that absolutely nailed the chaos of the information age.
/Every Single Night
/The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple has been an enthralling musician ever since her emergence in the nineties, even then apparently unconcerned with what the press or anyone else said about her or her music, instead setting out her stall and making the music that she wanted to make, and saying her own piece along the way. This fierce independence has made for outstanding music, with nary a bad song, let alone an album along the way, even if the gaps between releases have got longer and longer. The one album she released during this decade was way back in 2012, and amid the wild percussion and piano mix that made up most of the album, were some fascinating ruminations on life and relationships. But the most striking song was the opening track on the album, at least for me, where she seemed to be having a battle with her own mind and subconscious.
A song about second-guessing yourself, questioning whether you should speak up, offer your own opinions, and how you cope (or not) with the pressures of your mental health. Perhaps this song was perfectly timed, but I listened to it an awful lot in the coming years as my own mental health went on something of a rollercoaster. Here was someone else, singing about things I’ve experienced, and understands. Apple perhaps hasn’t always had her due as a songwriter (something that has, finally, been righted with the ecstatic response to Fetch the Bolt Cutters at long last arriving earlier this year), but this song, in particular, stands out as one where she made an eloquent and difficult statement oh so well.
/One Foot Before The Other
/England Keep My Bones
England Keep My Bones, like most of the albums that the top five songs come from, has been part of my life for the past few years. They have soundtracked both good and bad moments of my life over that period, and thus different songs dredge up different feelings. There are points on this album in particular that I can’t get through without wiping away tears, such is the intensity of emotion that they inspire, and live these songs – as part of a choir of hundreds or thousands – are something else. But after lots of listening to this album anew in recent months, and realising that I love every moment of it, I came back round to the song that grabbed me in the first place. See, to start with, I was wondering what my friends who were raving about Frank Turner were on about. His earlier stuff, I thought at the time, was…ok? But then I heard this song when the album was released, and it hit me like a lightning bolt.
This is a song as a personal pep talk, as a way of reminding yourself that you matter. It isn’t especially relevant who you matter to, but what you do to make that happen. Did you provide someone with a happy memory that they smile about when they are low, did you do something for someone that changed their life in a small way. Did you support someone when they needed it? I sometimes wonder this myself – will I be remembered when I move on, have I been remembered by the people I used to work with, or used to know? I strive to do better, and I know I’m not always even remotely perfect. But like Turner, I try. I really fucking try. And this song has been a constant in my head over the decade, as I’ve tried to do the right things, taking one foot before the other as I do.
/Madness + Extinction
While Alex Reed’s second album as Seeming, SOL, topped the /Countdown/2010s/Albums list, I’ve long thought that in terms of individual songs, his previous album Madness & Extinction might be better by a nose, for two songs. I’m going to make an admission here – trying to decide between The Burial and this song for my choice for this list (there was a strict rule that I was only going to include one song per artist) was a near-impossible choice. The Burial topped /Countdown/2014/Tracks, but even then, it could as easily have been Goodnight London then, too. Both songs – like the rest of the album – deal with different elements of how we face down death and apocalyptic events (which gives it added resonance right now, that’s for sure), and while The Burial has a note of defiance and anger within it, as it reminds us in eloquent terms that we’re all equal in death, Goodnight London has a beauty that is perhaps unmatched.
It depicts the protagonist listening to an imagined end of the world (some undescribed apocalypse, perhaps), as they listen to different cities around the world falling to ash – perhaps not unlike us at points this Spring, as we’ve nervously listened to reports around the world as city after city, country after country, began to report the spread of COVID-19 and some locked down sooner than others, but the overriding feeling, as we saw images of usually bustling cities deserted, was of the end of the world as we knew it. Which makes the curiously hopeful, upbeat sound of this glorious song so jarring. Even amid the worst circumstances, we can find beauty and hope. That’s one of the things I genuinely love about Alex Reed’s work as Seeming. He might question things, he might depict our darkest moments in song, but it is never, ever negative. It is about finding the way out of these circumstances, and Goodnight London is his finest moment in an entire catalogue of them.
An awful lot of the music I find and write about, in general terms, is by recommendation. It might be engineered as such (say by way of a promo, or by a band advertising it), or it might be in the online music press (I don’t think I buy any physical press anymore, or certainly haven’t in a few months now). But I’ve begun to realise in recent years that the most important ones come from friends, who might tell me when I’m out that I really should listen to this band, or they might share a link to a song with a story attached to it, or they simply tell me “you must hear this”.
This song was one of the latter ones, as a friend shared the video for it on Facebook sometime back in late 2010/early 2011, and I was curious. Particularly, as I discovered, their guitarist happened to be Debbie Smith, a name I recognised for their work with a number of bands (but most notably Curve and Echobelly). It took one listen for me to be hooked. The song is a seething fog of squalling guitars (and feedback!), powerful drums and a rolling bassline, as vocalist Beth Rettig pours out her words that appear to detail a mental breakdown of sorts, and was an introduction to a band that could be viciously intense live (not to mention exceptionally loud).
I saw this band live a lot over six years (sixteen times, according to my currently dormant gig spreadsheet, and this song was often the closing song) between 2011 and 2016 when they began to wind down and eventually split. There was something frustrating about seeing them bow out, having just released one album, one lengthy EP and a number of singles, perhaps the feeling that they still had more to offer. But, life goes on, and for smaller bands that rely on gigging, merch and word of mouth, perhaps it was time to stop and do something else.
But on a personal level, they left me with a fistful of songs that I continue to adore, and this song, like a few others in this list, has remained one that has been held close, I can relate to, and gets me through moments when things aren’t right. Music can be a transformative thing, and Blindness did that for me. They introduced me to a number of other bands (one of which is also in this top ten), and they rekindled my interest in hunting out new bands in London after I’d returned to the city I regard as my home. And most of all, they released this song, my top song of the past decade.