Welcome to /Countdown/2021 – this year’s wrap-up of the best new music that I’ve heard across the year. I begin as usual, with the best compilations and reissues in no particular order, although it should be noted that this year has more reissues than perhaps usual.
As you’ll note, there is again no gig round-up this year. What’s the point? I’ve attended just four shows so far (with a fifth next week), and crossing fingers, maybe 2022 might allow me to resume the gigs round-up?
Other things to note: to allow me a Christmas break from writing, my “year” covers 01-Dec of the previous year to 30-Nov of this one, and I try my best to stick to that.
I run /amodelofcontrol.com as what might be called a “labour of love”. I’ve written about music for twenty-five years, eighteen or so 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.
/From Dayton Ohio
/Touch and Go
/Touch and Go
The outstanding documentary film Transmissions After Zero has, without a doubt, resurrected interest in one of the most trailblazing indie bands of the nineties, one I was fortunate enough to see live (just the once) before lead singer Tim Taylor died in a car crash. This has led to the reissue of most of their back-catalogue on vinyl and digitally (I’m still missing a copy of the reissue of Bonsai Superstar, but I’m not – yet – willing to pay the silly cost for a copy from the limited release now…), and this year for Record Store Day, there were two double-vinyl releases that more than likely cleared the vaults. From Dayton Ohio pulled together early demos, a handful of obscure singles and covers – including an excellent early version of Nothing Ever Changes, then called Do It! – and a surprisingly good quality live recording of an entire show in Champaign-Urbana from November 1996, that reminds me nicely of the time I saw them in Leeds (UK), in the spring of that year.
Attic Tapes is a stranger beast, the result of John Schmersal having sifted through Tim Taylor’s four-track demo archive – and what is presented is a series of sketches for songs. Some of them never made it beyond this, but some of these became their best-known, most riotous songs. The most difficult element is those songs from the last demos, the ones that never would be completed in the wake of Taylor’s death. This archive only adds to the feeling that Brainiac was only just getting started – that said, neither of these is for the casual fan wanting to know what the fuss was about (except, perhaps, the bruising live show on From Dayton Ohio). If you want to get started, go find Bonsai Superstar and H1551NG PR195 1N 5TAT1C COUTUR3 first.
/Burn Out at the Hydrogen Bar
Very much a landmark industrial release. Jared Louche was an artist that added a human touch to a genre that, at the time, could be quite cold and emotionless to some extent, and he and his band emerged pretty much fully formed with their debut full-length album Burn Out at the Hydrogen Bar. It was the forerunner of what became known in some circles as “Machine Rock”, and that definition suits it well – a mechanised wheeze is evident through many of the meticulously programmed tracks (turn up the mighty Suicide Jag, and listen through good speakers, and you’ll see what I mean). It’s not an album with any filler, either – the well-placed interludes (all numbered and named …Suture) ensure continuity and allow tracks to burst into life immediately, like the glorious drum fade-in that heralds the stately Chemical Halo.
Seriously, I could – even twenty-eight years since release – be picking every track as a highlight, but a personal favourite remains the thumping, aggressive power of Rivet Head, a song so important it pretty much named a subculture in one hit. Anyway, this remaster (by Jules Siefert at Epic Audio Media) rights a long-time wrong, in that it is finally a decent volume, but also various details in the mix are now audible in ways they never were before – and helps to shed light on how impressive an achievement this album was, and still is.
/Failure (20th Anniversary Edition)
Another album to mark a milestone in the wider industrial oeuvre this year, and also to benefit enormously from a remaster and retouch, was the second album from Assemblage 23. Tom Shear had already made a mark, and a curious fanbase, with his first album Contempt (not to mention a first club with the excellent Purgatory), but while that debut felt very much of its time – the tail-end of nineties electro-industrial stylings permeated through it – Failure was an enormous step forward. Released in the midst of the bubble that was “futurepop” – where a number of artists suddenly hit paydirt with a poppier, more anthemic style (even if VNV Nation, Covenant, Apoptygma Berzerk, Icon of Coil and others actually all sounded strikingly different in their own ways) – Failure saw Tom Shear define his own style. Thoughtful, introspective, and most of all, honest, electronic music that had hooks and intimacy, it sounded so different because of it. In some ways, too, A23 felt like the North American cousin to Seabound, who appeared a year or two later, more interested in the psychology and detail in life and love than simply making dancefloor bangers, even though both artists managed that too.
Certain songs here continue to resonate, though – the sprawling opener Naked, where Shear metaphorically strips bare to remove all pretence, for a start. But then, that pair of songs that anchor the heart of the album. Divide, a thundering paean to isolation and mental self-care, is still an extraordinary song, but even that is eclipsed by Disappoint, the song that Shear will be defined by forever. Not only is it a brilliant anthem, but it also remains a striking example of an artist using his own pain and suffering for good, as he asks his own father what he could have done to help – as he continues to grieve for his father’s suicide. To this day I have no idea how Shear still sings this song live, such is the emotional punch of it, but maybe it’s the love shown by his fans for it that keeps him doing so. Not every album deserves yet another reissue, but this one really does. A true landmark in our scene.
/Love’s Secret Domain – 30th Anniversary
For those of us with more casual interests in Coil, the steady stream of remasters and reissues (and, indeed, releases from the vaults) has been a welcome move in the past few years – as well as, maybe, finding a new audience that might be discovering them for the first time (the key to that, of course, is making the music accessible). What makes that bit more difficult is the sheer scale of Coil’s ambition across their career, as few of their albums sounded alike, and John Balance and Peter Christopherson (as well as their veritable army of occasional and more regular contributors) seemed keen at times to shroud their material in mystery and the occult. Love’s Secret Domain was reputedly recorded while the band were consuming what might be termed “heroic” amounts of hallucinogenic drugs (presumably, hence the sly title), and this remaster helps bring out the sheer depth of the production in some style. This album, too, does seem them lean into far more electronic textures, and specifically acid-house, but somehow, this lush, sometimes chaotic album hasn’t dated at all.
/Universal Music Group
I still remember when I first heard Rammstein. It was thanks to a German student who was over at King’s College London (and in our halls) for a term in my first year, and after we’d got talking about music (and bonded over a group trip to collect a redundant traffic light – no, really – one drunken evening), he gave me a tape of various German industrial/electro-industrial/Neue Deutsche Härte bands of the time. The opening track was Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen, and I was hooked – I had the album within a day. I’d never heard anything like it – heavy, German industrial metal that my reasonable command of German at the time allowed me to realise that this was less serious and more intriguing, perhaps, than it first sounded. Then, Sehnsucht – well, more particularly, Du Hast – dropped like a bomb later in 1997, and reports of their monumental live shows began to surface – something I’ve had the pleasure of seeing six times over the years, and they remain the greatest live show on earth.
Returning to this album after over twenty-five years is fascinating. Many songs on this are now rarely played live, if ever, but I still know all of them by rote. That monstrous opener that hooked me all those years ago is still a riot, but elsewhere, the dark, forbidding drama of Heirate Mich is possibly the bleakest they ever got, while the stomping titular track is forever associated with seeing Till Lindemann in his metal coat onstage, arms outstretched and in flames. Du Riechst So Gut – later edited and re-released in 1998 with a spectacular video – still remains a thrill, too, a gloriously over-the-top, symphonic industrial metal track. What is also interesting is that the band chose to simply remaster and repackage – thanks to the hefty “best-of” packages some years ago, there wasn’t really anything else to add, so they left it “as is”. Now, about that Sehnsucht anniversary in 2022…
/DEKLACKED Vol. 1
What evidently began as an affectionate side-project from their respective main musical outputs (Eric Oehler from Null Device, and Matt Fanale from Caustic and his host of other side projects) seems to have spawned a monster. A steady stream of singles and EPs, not to mention a number of cleverly produced live sets over the internet during lockdown, seems to have exploded interest in their side-hustle. The result was a genuinely brilliant remix album that saw their New Beat/EBM love letters twisted into new shapes by a collection of all-star producers and newcomers alike. Some of those newer artists provide part of the highlight reel here. Like the rampaging Nevada Hardware take on Rhythm of the System, for one, and Sweat Boys have a similarly impressive take on With Precision. Old hands also bring the heavy weaponry – Patrick Codenys of Front 242 turns Discipline into a Front By Front-era banger, while Assemblage 23 bring out the Depeche Mode in Faith In Me. All killer, no filler.
/Salt Peter (25th Anniversary)
/Salt Peter (25th Anniversary rebuild)
There’s been a lot of looking back this year involving Lesley Rankine. One particularly notable release on vinyl was the shit-kicking debut Fat Axl by her original band Silverfish (can I hope that Organ Fan follows at some point?), but the more interesting release was the debut of the project that followed Silverfish. Lesley Rankine worked with Mark Walk (a producer/engineer best known for his long association with Skinny Puppy and ohGr), and the album that resulted was a cryptic, sometimes deeply oblique and yet personal release, that dug into industrial, trip-hop, ambient, folk and even elements of jazz – and sounded a million miles away from Rankine’s previous work in Silverfish.
Instead at points it felt like a kindred spirit to some of the work Rankine was involved in with industrial collective Pigface (and indeed Carondelet uses lyrics from Chikasaw). Twenty-five years on, there was a neat vinyl reissue (which sounds as fantastic as it should), and teased across the year – with at least half of the tracks released in dribs and drabs prior – was a Salt Peter 25, which saw Lesley Rankine and her brother rebuild and rethink the tracks from the ground up. Live shows over the past decade have seen a similar approach, but even some of these still feel radically different. Particularly the glorious, gospel-infused, near-lounge take on Paraffin, which makes for such a pretty take on the old favourite, while Pine lessens the vicious tension of the original to turn it into an unexpected industrial stomper. Lesley Rankine still has the power to surprise.
/White Pony / Black Stallion
White Pony was the point where Deftones left their Nu-Metal tag far behind. While there were a handful of straight-up rock tracks (and those hit hard – particularly the savage, overwhelming Elite), it was where they stretched themselves into other worlds that this album got really fascinating. The spacey, far-out fantasies of Digital Bath felt like the band had been listening to Massive Attack, while Knife Prty is just plain creepy, even after twenty years. Then, Change (In The House of Flies) confirmed once and for all that Deftones were about far more than just metal fury – especially as they made the gutsy decision to release the ballad as the lead single. The flipside of this, though, is what this edition was really about. Deftones were clear at the time of original release that they wanted DJ Shadow to remix the whole album (and indeed contacted him about it), but it took twenty years for Black Stallion to surface – and in the end, DJ Shadow remixed just the one track (Digital Bath). The first thought listening to Black Stallion, too, is that a lot of the ideas around where Deftones could have gone went into Chino Moreno’s ††† (Crosses) project instead, quasi-Witch House grooves and traditional “rock” elements torn into small fragments. And then Blanck Mass gatecrash things, turning Elite into an oppressive, industrial maelstrom – but generally, the feel is a laid-back, electronic take on White Pony that flips the narrative entirely, but managing not to eliminate the actual songs at the heart of all of this.
/Randolph & Mortimer
/Born to Consume EP
Sheffield industrial artist Randolph & Mortimer first appeared on my radar in 2013 (and I interviewed the artist on /Talk Show Host/005 around that time, too), and has gone on to be a well-respected artist in the scene, widening their remit and interests to the point where they are now involved in being remixed or remixing a whole gamut of prominent industrial-techno artists. But one thing that had rather disappeared were the origins – a number of early singles vanished from Bandcamp and YouTube some time ago. This gap was filled this year with a short, five-track EP that collected those early tracks, and reminded the fiercely political, anti-capitalist origins, not to mention the heavy industrial metal slant of some of those tracks. The Markets and Debt Is King are as unsubtle as their titles, liberally sampling US TV and Ministry. The other tracks I don’t think I’ve ever heard – Eastern Bloc is Cold War influenced, eighties synth-industrial, War Game (influenced by the film, and originally released to mark 50 years since the Cuban Missle Crisis) is a ghostly, slow-paced track that seems gripped by terror. Finally, though, Legacy of Orgreave, never previously released, although I’m fairly sure it has been played live from time to time over the years – tips the hat to the miners that fought the police (and Government) during the strike of the mid-80s that was the beginning of the end of the coal industry in Britain (and did so much damage economically to areas like Sheffield).
/Draven’s Mixtape:1994 Revisited
The soundtrack to The Crow remains a remarkable example of a diverse collection of bands absolutely nailing the feel of the film – and indeed the soundtrack is an integral part of the story on a number of points within it. So anyone trying to cover songs from it is, just maybe, on a hiding to nothing. Jim Semonik, who runs Distortion Productions out of Pittsburgh, and is a regular in these end-of-year lists thanks to his incredible work on the Electronic Saviors series over the past decade, grasped this nettle regardless and pretty much stuck the landing. Cocksure add the latest in a number of recent takes on Burn (and like everyone else who dares, make a respectful take), while Encephalon are equally solid on Dead Souls, while Jim himself (as part of Red Lokust) sounds like he, along with Leæther Strip and Tragic Impulse, are having a world of fun tearing up After The Flesh. The most interesting takes are elsewhere, though. Matt Fanale clearly has a lot of fun channelling his inner Rollins on a powerful Ghost Rider, while Panic Lift adds guitars for a tight take on Milktoast. The best bit, though? I:Scintilla giving the slushy closing ballad It Can’t Rain All The Time a smoking, sultry feel that it never had before. Sure, it doesn’t work all the way (I’m really not a fan of the dancefloor-aimed version of Golgotha Tenement Blues – interestingly the only Machines of Loving Grace cover I’ve ever heard), but there are vastly more hits than misses.