Welcome to the amodelofcontrol.com review of 2020, which begins this week. Over this and the next two Tuesdays, I’ll be rounding up the best music of the year in various categories. In coming weeks there will be the wrap of the best tracks and the best albums.
But this week, as I’ve now done for a few years now, I’m going to look at a number of the re-issues and compilations released across the year. This gives me a chance to reflect on some old favourites in new forms, and rediscover some albums that I’d maybe forgotten about entirely, not to mention the odd compilation from a label that is worth your time.
As you’ll note, there is, of course, no gig round-up this year. What’s the point? I attended just seven shows before gigs came to an abrupt halt with the lockdown in March, and even with one more (distanced) show next week, to test the water, I don’t have the heart to wrap up this tiny number of shows. So it’ll just be three posts this year (and they’ve taken me long enough to write).
I run /amodelofcontrol.com as what might be called a “labour of love”. I’ve written about music for twenty-four years, seventeen of those years under this website banner, and I continue to want to celebrate all that is great about this corner of the musical realm. So this site continues to exist – with no external funding and no paid-for advertising – and I will continue to do so as long as I want to do it, and as long as people want to read it.
So thanks for reading, contributing, offering comments, or being one of those people that makes the music I want to write about. And here’s to 2021 being better than 2020, eh?
/Electronic Saviors – Electronic Music To Cure Cancer Vol VI: Reflection
/Distortion Productions / Metropolis Records
Over six releases and a decade, Jim Semonik has done heroic work for charity. The Electronic Saviors series concluded this year with the sixth edition, having featured (by my count) at least 367 artists over 604 tracks, with a good proportion of those tracks either unique, one-off releases for this or rare remixes, or just a way to get attention to a band you might not have heard of – and most importantly, having raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity. Over the decade that these compilations have been reached, they’ve been a pretty good indicator of the industrial scene generally, with, as word has got out, the reach spreading considerably from just North American bands to bands from across the world, all eager to do their bit to help. Various bands have appeared multiple times, and you can also see the gradual changes in styles in vogue as different sounds proliferate. But all told, these are excellent, sprawling releases – if you’re like me, it’ll take weeks to get through all eight CDs of the premium edition this time around – that is well worth putting the time in to listen to, and this final edition is a fitting close to such an important series of releases.
Thanks to being in London, and work commitments – at least pre-lockdown – never quite allowing me to be able to schedule a visit to one of Drøne’s well-regarded nights in Salford, I’ve had to content myself for now with the music that they’ve been putting out. Their compilation M3 7LW (that being the postcode of their venue home, The White Hotel) turned out to be an exceptional guide to the kind of music to expect from them. Broadly, it is the in-vogue world of industrial techno that dominates, but with a wide variety of takes on the style – it’s certainly not all four-to-the-floor pounding – and that variety makes this such an essential purchase.
/Cold Waves 2020
The events of this year killed off pretty much everyone’s plans, but one particular thing I was really looking forward to as the winter thawed was the fourth trip to Chicago for Cold Waves, which pretty quickly became clear wasn’t going to happen. And so it proved – and sadly I wasn’t able to tune into the live streams, as simply the time difference made it impossible. That said, there was still the traditional compilation that is released for each year’s edition of the festival, and this year turned out to be a belter. It led off with the entirely unexpected Stabbing Westward take on Burn (The Cure’s legendary track from The Crow soundtrack), which turned out to be a good fit for this most dramatic of the industrial rock bands, but there are other delights to find here too. Like the excellent track from new breakout artist FEE LION, a host of fantastic new remixes of familiar songs, and even the return of NYC industrial loons Bile. Here’s hoping I can make it back for 2021 instead, eh?
/Chasing the Ghost
/Some Kind of Strange
Collide are a defiantly independent band – they have been releasing their material on their own label, Noiseplus Music, for well over two decades – and that has allowed them to plough their own furrow, having built their audience with a string of striking releases and a long-time internet presence, perhaps being one of the earlier independent bands to realise the importance of the internet, and indeed crowdfunding too. This year – and I suspect this was in train pre-COVID, anyway – they announced lavish reissues of their two greatest albums, Chasing The Ghost and Some Kind of Strange, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the former. Rather than just a quick brush-up of the mix, they went all out.
Included alongside a new “2020 Mix” of each album on CD – basically a very nicely done remastering, they’ve not fucked with the songs otherwise that I can tell – is a Blu-Ray which contains (deep breath) the original mixes, the 2020 mixes, instrumental versions and early demos, as well as a handful of previously unreleased tracks and a video of one track from each. So that’s a lot to get through. But it’s also interesting to listen to the demos, and see how they became the songs that they did – clearly, there was a fair amount of reworking and retooling that went on, and it’s not something that we always get to see – a peek behind the curtain if you will. Really, though, the re-release of these also gives the opportunity for them to reach a new audience, as they deservedly do – Collide stood apart from other bands of the time for resolutely doing something different, taking ethereal goth and harder-edged industrial and even trip-hop that even now still sounds unique. A trip down memory lane that’s well worth doing.
/Sign o’ the Times
/Warner Bros. Records
While there is perhaps a bit of cashing in by Prince’s estate since he died, it can’t be argued that the colossal reissues thus far of his greatest albums haven’t been value for money. The latest is of his magnum opus, the double-CD Sign o’ the Times. Seeing as it was something of a compromise after the cancelling of about three concurrent projects, that it holds together so well – and is so damned good from start to finish – is something of a marvel. But, also, that background helps explain why the full, Super Deluxe version of this includes no less than sixty-three unreleased tracks. Some of them were well-known to dedicated fans thanks to long-standing bootlegging, but even so, it’s still remarkable to hear all of this treasure trove. That said, in the mid-eighties, Prince’s quality control was perhaps unrivalled, as despite the riches at his disposal he was still capable of whittling it down to what it became – probably one of, if not the greatest album of the eighties, that saw Prince hitting the bullseye with every style he chose to attempt. We’ll never see his like again, that’s for sure.
/Out of Line
Suicide Commando’s album Mindstrip was a massively important album in the development of the wider aggrotech and harsh-industrial scenes, the style endlessly copied, parodied and, lest we forget, enjoyed by many. Stuffed to the gills with industrial dancefloor favourites (most notably Hellraiser, of course), it perhaps fell out of favour for two reasons – one was the general move away from aggrotech in many realms, but also the fact that like many other releases of the time, it was played to death.
But, twenty years on, it’s time for reappraisal, and Johan Van Roy decided on two versions for the re-release. One is a new, reimagining of the album, the other simply a remaster of the original. To be honest, the latter alone would have been fine – especially as the remaster gives an extra sparkle to an album that has long sounded a little flat these days. It also puts into the shade the new versions, which seem to rob the songs of their power (the rampaging Raise Your God, particularly, seems to have been neutered). If it ain’t broke…
To mark his sixty-sixth (!) birthday this year, Daniel Bressanutti – one of the founders of Front 242, of course – revisited some tracks from his history into new, extended forms suitable for techno dancefloors. The tracks come from 242 and also the MALE OR FEMALE project, but what links them all is that they were all dancefloor monsters in the first place, in one form or another, and in keeping with the long 242 traditions of remixing and reconstructing, this is in some respects more of the same, but in other ways, very different indeed. With most of the vocals stripped away, we are able to see more clearly the rhythmic power behind some of these tracks, and across this forty-six minute, near-continuous mix, the pick of the bunch is the latest take on the evolution of Happiness, the 242 live powerhouse that here is reworked into a quasi-orchestral, synth-drenched twelve-minute techno monster – the extended length simply giving that legendary, breathless build yet more run-up.
/Future Sound of London
It felt a little strange, perhaps, for an artist so associated with pushing forward to be revisiting the past. The Future Sound of London were always the relentless futurists, looking at what they could do next with their technology, which included such milestones as performing over the nascent internet years before others even tried. Their work in the nineties in particular, where they were a towering force in downtempo, ambient electronics, still stands up elegantly now, from the beauty of early hit Papua New Guinea to the organic/electronic hybrid of Lifeforms, to the dark, foreboding decay at the heart of Dead Cities. That organic weirdness of Lifeforms is where they chose to return this year, building a new album of material from the glorious single Cascade. The most fascinating thing from this new take is how much darker it is, there’s an edge that perhaps mirrors the climate emergency facing the world in 2020. Perhaps this is FSOL still looking at the future after all.
/My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult
/Confessions of a Knife…
With plans for thirtieth-anniversary shows of this seminal album postponed for now, of course – including what would have, finally, been my first chance to see TKK at Cold Waves last September – the wonderful WaxTrax! Reissue and remaster will do nicely for now. Remastered from the original analogue tapes (and with a couple of epic 12″ remixes tacked on the end), it sounds amazing in this form, with the dense mix, host of samples and variety of vocals all shining through in their campy, schlocky glory as they should. The album is dominated by the five absolute dancefloor bangers that resound to this day, of course, but all the other tracks too are worth revisiting (especially the deep-down-and-dirty industrial funk workout of Waiting for Mommie. But as it always has done for me, Kooler Than Jesus towers over the lot, the poke in the eye to the haters and fundamentalist Christians that still riles them to this day while destroying the dancefloor.
/Children of God
/Young God / Mute Records
The now long-running re-issue series by Michael Gira of the Swans back-catalogue – all gorgeously remastered, in neat packaging – is pretty much complete now, aside from The Burning World, and seeing as that album is these days almost impossible to get unless you’re willing to pay silly money (or find a less than reputable source to download it), I wonder if it might follow sometime. This year’s reissue though is one of Swans’ greatest albums, the point where the band began to evolve and find new sounds – and their stepping stone to that ill-fated major label excursion. The earlier material is infamously like an aural punishment, relentless rhythms, masculine power and sheer musical force.
So while the releases in 1986 (Greed and Holy Money) had introduced the tempering vocals of Jarboe in particular, it was on Children of God where she really made her presence felt, and this remaster only enhances her place among the maelstrom. She takes pride of place on the gothic ballads In My Garden and Blood and Honey in particular, and elsewhere, such as on Sex, God, Sex, her wailing backing vocals feel transcendent. The whole album, though, a kinda concept piece comparing religious and sexual ecstasy, is one of Swans’ greatest albums, one that dials back the extremity to allow those moments where they do to sublime extremes all the more force.
/Draconian Times (25th Anniversary)
/Music For Nations
Yes, so it just falls outside of the qualifying (it’s actually released on 04-Dec), but fuck it – I’ve been listening to the promo for weeks (and my vinyl copy should be with me, post allowing, in the coming days). As good as Paradise Lost has been over the years – and different fans will have different favourites across their extensive discography, granted – I think most of us can agree that Paradise Lost hit an extraordinary peak with Draconian Times. While their previous work had always been great – and Icon began to give a hint of where they might go next – the release of this album in 1995 seemed like a quantum leap forward.
Every song has a lush, melodic depth, without sacrificing the crushing gothic doom base entirely, and the brilliance of what is to come is heralded by the majestic power of opener Enchantment (to this day probably my favourite PL song). But there are no missteps here whatsoever – Forever Failure harks back to their roots before unfolding into a gorgeous, floating chorus, Shadowkings shows their gothic influences well. A still essential album twenty-five years on, and with the band having also released their best new material in a couple of decades this year, it’s been a hell of 2020 for these metal survivors.