/Countdown/2021/Tracks

Continuing the amodelofcontrol.com review of 2021, which this week turns attention to the best tracks of the year. Next week will be the wrap of the best albums of 2021.

/Countdown/2021/Tracks

/30-Nov/Compilations and re-issues
/07-Dec/Tracks
/14-Dec/Albums

/Countdown/Playlists

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/Countdown/Tracks

/2020/seeming/End Studies
/2019/SCALPING/Ruptured
/2018/IDLES/Television
/2017/Zola Jesus/Siphon
/2016/School of Seven Bells/Signals
/2015/CHVRCHES/Playing Dead
/2014/seeming/The Burial
/2013/Seabound/Nothing But Love
/2012/Death Grips/Hacker
/2011/Frank Turner/One Foot Before The Other
/2010/In Strict Confidence/Silver Bullets
/2009/Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Zero
/2008/Mind.in.a.box/What Used To Be (Short Storm)
/2007/Prometheus Burning/Battery Drain
/2006: No tracks of the year list
/2005/Grendel/Soilbleed / Rotersand/Exterminate Annihilate Destroy
/2004: No tracks of the year list

The tracks of the year post is often the hardest to collate and write. It is perhaps because I have so much choice – even from just the /Tracks of the Month posts in my /Tuesday Ten series this year, I had 113 tracks to choose from (needless to say, it’s not unusual for me to be writing about more than ten tracks each month!), and it’s also not unusual for a few more to pop into consideration in one way or another. For example, the release list file that I keep recorded 286 relevant releases to consider. In other words, there’s been a whole lot of new music this year.

Like 2020, too, at least in terms of my musical consumption, I have once again listened to an enormous amount of music. Even just going by my Last.fm stats, I’ve listened to over 14,000 songs during the “qualifying” period for this list. Working from home, for the most part, helps – music has long soundtracked my working day when I’m not on calls – but it has also helped me get through the more monotonous moments of this year. I’ve also continued DJing (in livestream form!), although that waned in the second half of the year as I, never mind my listeners, got something of streaming fatigue – but it did continue to widen the reach of what I might write about this year. Once again there is less of an emphasis on industrial music, but perhaps a bit more than last year.

Once again there is no gig round-up this year. The continued lockdown and swathe of rescheduled shows (I’ve already got six in the diary for 2022, as well as one more next week in 2021) has meant I will have attended just four live shows in 2021 – the least since I started gigging, I reckon. So it’ll just be three posts this year (and they’ve taken me long enough to write). A note, too, on “eligibility” for this list. If the song was released between 01-Dec 2019 and 30-Nov 2020 or featured on an album of new material in that same timeframe, it counts.

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. Who the fuck knows what’s to come in 2022.

My Spotify playlist was built initially by using my friend Dylan Beattie’s excellent utility.


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For a start, Eximperitus (no, I’m not writing their full name every time) have hit the jackpot with their gloriously ridiculous band name. I mean, we’re all going to remember them, right? We should be remembering them for how these Belarusian metallers sound, too. Ridiculously fast and heavy tech-death that sounds like it is ready to swallow you whole into the abyss, this is the best track on the album that chugs, grinds and roars like the best of them, and for those double-bass kicks through the entire seven minutes, their drummer should be showered in awards. Solid stuff.


/AUTARKH

/Turbulence
/Form In Motion

Formed by some ex-members of DODECAHEDRON, this Dutch outfit take the electronic elements even further, with little of the percussion work done by humans, and the resulting release is a heavy, mechanised piece of work that didn’t always fully work. The lengthy Turbulence, though, raises from the electronic wreckage of the short intro track into a pummelling industrial black metal piece, with blast beats faster than most human drummers would be able to deliver, and enough dynamic shifts and instrumental elements to impress as the band chug through. Now they’ve made their opening statement, they could well be one to watch if they can refine some of their sound.


/The Colour Fades

/Our Ascension
/Self Sabotage EP

Lockdown has had one benefit for many musicians: time. It has allowed quite a number of artists to explore ideas that they’ve maybe never really had the chance to before, and the result has been a multitude of solo and side projects. One particular project that intrigued me has been The Colour Fades, the work of Daevid Jael (otherwise known for their work in Rome Burns and Quasimodo). I’ve known Daevid for many years, and their love of shoegaze as much as goth shines through in this project. Doomy basslines – and programmed drums – point to the goth side, but the treated, shimmering guitar(s) (and is that a tremolo I hear?) gives a lovely, shoegaze feel to the track, and Daevid’s vocals are rich and warm. I want to hear more of this.


/KAUAN

/Raivo
/Ice Fleet

Post-metal can sometimes fall into the trap of well, sounding all a bit the same. So props to Russian band KAUAN, whose excellent new album this year even linked into an RPG game and story around an abandoned fleet of ships in the ice (so far, so The Terror). This was the pick of the tracks on the album, and something of the unsettling isolation out on the ice does filter through, the minor tones of the track making for a lonely, sad feel to the entire track, especially as the main guitar melody feels so…crestfallen. At least until the meat of the track crashes in, all peaks like the crashing of the waves, and a forlorn voice howling over the screaming winds.


/Throat

/Shots
/Smile Less

Finnish band THROAT came back raging this year, their ostensibly noise-rock sound augmented by brutal blasts of noise and other experimentation, but they were at their best sticking to basics, like on this rampaging beast of a track, that made me want to get up and punch the walls. Everything about this track is designed for maximum impact, those thunderous drums in particular, but also the squalling guitars and the bellowed vocals. There is something of a reminder of Icelandic nutcases Mínus in their noisy days, too, which is no bad thing.


/Lycia

/Except
/Casa Luna EP

US darkwave icons LYCIA have never really been away over their thirty-plus year career, but it is true that they’ve regained some of their prior importance in the scene, perhaps. As well as a gorgeous reissue of the landmark Cold this year (which turned twenty-five years old!), they have continued looking forward with new material and continuing too to explore different facets of their sound. The EP they released this year, Casa Luna (“Moon House”) has an after-dark, mellow feel to it. Except sounds like a goth-dancefloor hit where the extremes were rubbed away – and is interestingly a re-recording of a previously discarded 1989 (!) demo, leaving a soothing, gentle post-punk sound with an equally swooning vocal from Mike VanPortfleet. Still relevant, still brilliant.


/Dot Allison

/Long Exposure
/Heart-Shaped Scars

Dot Allison was once the frontperson of a Scottish group expected to make it big – One Dove. A fascinating what-might-have-been, their glorious, dreamy ambient-dub-pop managed one album in 1993 after a brace of exceptional singles, and even that was subject to label interference, and Allison struck out as a solo artist later in the nineties and onward. Never one to stand still, she explored a number of styles, but after the end of the 2000s, there was effective silence. It turns out that Allison was raising a family out of the glare of publicity, and her new album was a delicate album of pastoral folk. The gorgeous opening track and single, Long Exposure, appears initially to be a sun-dappled folksong, until you listen in more detail to the lyrics, where you find that Allison is telling a folk tale of abandonment and the breakdown of love, and suddenly, it all feels deeply sad.


/Alabama 3

/Whacked
/Step 13

For their first new material since the untimely death of The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love, Alabama 3 just wanted to get caned. An upbeat, entertaining song that unusually for A3, cut back on the acid country and just stuck with the techno(pop), celebrates the human ability to use some substance or another to help them get them through the day, and it works partly as a character sketch as Larry Love observes those getting by around him, and partly as a celebration of the band getting stoned out of their minds. Crucially, though, it’s basically a surprisingly feelgood track, with euphoric backing vocals and a big, catchy chorus – although with the subject matter and the puritanical nature of just about everything these days, it’s perhaps understandable this didn’t get too much mainstream airplay…


/Tombstones In Their Eyes

/Quarantine Blues
/Looking for A Light

A band that I would have missed entirely were it not for an unexpected promo invitation, and it was a well-directed contact, too, as this kind of sound is right up my street. Dusty, shoegazey psych-rock from Los Angeles that has a blissed-out, sun-drenched feel to it, something in my mind suggests that it should all be a cliched mess, but it really doesn’t work out like that. The droning fuzz of the basslines provide the momentum, the vocals are laid back, even the fact that in these (continuing) times of COVID that it’s called Quarantine Blues doesn’t annoy me like it should. A glorious, elegant song.


/THE LSD

/The Fall
/The Fall

With Jeremy Inkel having passed, frankly I was surprised to find that Left Spine Down (now known as The LSD in the main) resurrected at all, but then, maybe it’s a nice tribute to him. Especially when the first new tracks back are shit-kicking cyber-industrial-punk, with the right level of glitch and grime, and a bruising guitar sound that rips through the groove. Kaine Delay drops into the background a bit, but with musical backing as fucking great as this, who wouldn’t be overshadowed just a little?


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/Ungraven

/Defeat The Object
/Ungraven / Slomatics Split

Five minutes of doomy metal sludge almost entirely made of Riffs, hearing this for the first time earlier in the year was one of the reasons I had resurrected /Stormblast for: playing new extreme metal of almost all forms, and getting excited by new music in the realms again. Ungraven delivers on all fronts. This track is furiously heavy, slow-paced nastiness, with the best metal riffs I heard all year, and a boot-on-face heaviness that just keeps delivering in the way that Electric Wizard used to be untouchable at. As always with this kind of metal, volume is key: turn that dial to eleven and stick your head between the speakers. You won’t regret the aural battering you get.


/Front Line Assembly

/Unknown
/Mechanical Soul

While it was by no means as lacklustre as Wake Up The Coma, there was still a sense of disappointment and, maybe, treading water by Front Line Assembly on Mechanical Soul – something made especially frustrating when it turned out that the first new Noise Unit album in ages was so much better. Still, there were moments on this album that felt like vintage FLA, and Unknown was one. Great programming and a solid, cyberpunk feel to the lyrics fed into a stomping, massive electro-industrial chorus that I really can’t wait to hear live, one day.


/Noisome

/Darkest Days
/Darkest Days EP

The ever-fertile ground that is the scene that revolves around Drøne in Manchester has revealed another few great artists this year, and Noisome – a project by an ex-member of noise terrorists Kollaps – takes a similarly harsh approach to their work in their former band. Metallic, sharpened drum patterns stomp out of the speakers, complete with ominous ambience, vocal samples and a general sense of industrial terror, only exacerbated by the distorted voice of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern responding to the Christchurch Shootings, which get multitracked before getting lost in a brutal rhythmic assault. This is top-quality industrial noise, and I’m here for more of this.


/Gift of Blindness

/Hide
/The Lake

This remarkable track – and notably, even at fourteen minutes long is only the third longest track featuring in this list – comes from the work of one person, Umair Chaudhry, who is Gift of Blindness. An Oxford-based studio engineer with a history in various other bands too, it’s obvious from just this titanic track that his musical interests stretch way further than just post-metal. Large sections of this track are ominous, picked-guitar ambience, giving a nervous feel as you wait for the noise to come crashing back through, leaving the wall-smashing heaviness to be used sparingly and to devastating effect.


/Pixel Grip

/ALPHAPUSSY
/ARENA

The thrilling pulse of this track hooked me immediately, even before I listened a little closer to the lyrics. Pixel Grip is a trio from the Chicago underground, whose work takes in industrial, minimal synth and the sweaty throb of club-bound Techno. But as well as that, there is also a politic to their sound, especially in this exceptional song, where vocalist Rita Lukea claps back against those who use “pussy” as a pejorative, weak term, instead celebrating the word and using it as a definition of power. Their music, too, has similar power and is one to celebrate in every way.


/LEATHERS

/Reckless
/Reckless EP

In between her work in ACTORS (and her dayjob), Shannon Hemmett has her own project under the name LEATHERS, and after a handful of demos, the first LEATHERS EP finally broke cover in 2021, and the wait was worth it. Sleek, neon-drenched minimal synthpop is the style here – and interestingly there are links to her contributions to ACTORS, too. But here, it’s entirely synths and vocals, and there is an intriguing, laid-back style to it, with smooth rhythms and lush vocals, and a general sense of deliberately holding things back a bit – a classic case of less is more, and it very much works brilliantly.


/St. Vincent

/Pay Your Way In Pain
/Daddy’s Home

Annie Clark has been one of the most fascinating artists in music over the past decade, her forays into different styles showing a chameleon-like ability to adapt and change, but sadly Daddy’s Home felt like a step too far. Apparently inspired by the release of her father from prison (involved in what might be called “White collar crime”, as I recall), that inspiration seemed to blind Clark to the fact that most of the music she was creating was a frustrating 70s pastiche at best. What makes it all the more infuriating is that the first single, Pay Your Way In Pain, pointed toward something so much better. Prince-esque lounge-funk and Young Americans-era Bowie plastic soul are the main two reference points here, as Clark’s voice drips with seduction and glee through the song. Sadly, though, these three glorious minutes were better and more interesting than the rest of the album as a whole.


/V▲LH▲LL

/Eversleep
/Neversleep

The path taken by V▲LH▲LL since their early releases has, perhaps, been a very different one to what some of us might have expected. Having shed their anonymity, they’ve steadily stripped back the vocal treatments, too, to begin making much more human-sounding music – in their early days, they barely sounded human whatsoever (indeed they sounded terrifying at their best). Unexpectedly, their current style still suits them well, as while the vocals are sweeter and very much more discernable, the music itself remains creepy and just plain strange. Eversleep has high-pitched synths, and even drum patterns that move above a walking-pace tempo, injecting an urgency that, to be charitable, this Witch House-originating duo has never really felt the need to have in the past. This road they are travelling on remains one to follow, but best check out of the window to see where we are, just in case.


/Pupil Slicer

/Stabbing Spiders
/Mirrors

The shortest track to feature in this year’s list is just forty-seven seconds long, and they pack a lot in during that time – as this young band demonstrates their grindcore influence neatly. As befits a track this short, it blasts through, heralded by a guitar sound like a fucking air-raid siren, as vocalist Katie delivers a shrieked, chaotic vocal of mental collapse as she and her bandmates ebb and flow through the vicious climax and deep, heavy breakdowns without taking a breath. A mental note to see this band live in 2022.


/ESA

/I Detach
/I Detach EP

We know what to expect from Jamie Blacker these days, and yet he still impresses, having never rested on his laurels. This quite brilliant single earlier in 2021 was another example of this, a song that had a beat that didn’t quite sound…right. There’s something being distorted and twisted on the fringes of it, that adds to the intrigue, while Blacker’s vocals have a disassociative feel, the matter of fact delivery upfront, and a raging one in the background. Then there’s the odd, jazz/swing samples in the breakdowns, not to mention the extraordinary video…


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/Årabrot

/The World Must Be Destroyed
/The World Must Be Destroyed EP

One of the surprise highlights – at least to me – of 10 Years of Chaos before lockdown, in early 2020, was Norwegian duo Årabrot, who did two sets, one of deep, immersive ambience, and the other of enthralling stripped back rock. One of the first tracks released by the band subsequently, on an EP early in 2021, was this fantastic track. It seemed to cross the worlds of groovy garage rock and dank No Wave, and in subject terms, comes from an EP inspired by Antonin Artaud’s ‘biography’ of child emperor Heliogabalus, who ruled for just four extraordinary, scandal-filled years (even by the standards of Roman rulers). This song drips with disdain and a sparkle in the eyes, as if the duo know the time of this song has come…as the world is ravaged by a pandemic, and they are retelling tales of leaders who partied and enriched themselves while the world burned. Funny old world.


/Artillery Nightspace

/Who’s Afraid of a Good Time?
/ausgang

LA-based electronic artist Shane Talada has moved on from his work under the names Marching Dynamics and The Operative in recent years, now working under the name Artillery Nightspace, but the concept remains similar. That is noisy and damned loud electronics, digging into dancefloor industrial/techno, rhythmic noise and even at points dub. But as a DJ, Talada remains at his greatest when he is unleashing weapons-grade dancefloor material, and this album peaks with the outstanding who’s afraid of a good time?. It near bounces through five minutes of hard-hitting, elastic techno-industrial, it’s groovy as sin and fantastic entertainment at home, never mind at club levels of volume.


/Quicksand

/Inversion
/Distant Populations

The first single from what turned out to be the second Quicksand album since their reformation immediately – as soon as those thick riffs kick in – signalled more of a callback to their earlier material, which was fine by me. Apparently a song about emotional distance in an era where we are more connected in other ways than ever, Walter Schreifels delivers a wonderful, melodic vocal to a dense, heavy rhythm, and retains that instantly catchy feel of the best Quicksand material – Quicksand were always so much more than “post-hardcore”, willing to explore all kinds of other sounds, and this track reminds me of the outstanding Hum comeback album from last year (it has a similar, shoegaze-influenced density), which is no bad thing at all.


/Tunic

/Exhaling
/Exhaling

Apparently a band formed out of sheer spite after previous projects fell apart, that anger shines through in every single short track that this band release. This, the lead track on a compilation of their previous material as their debut on Artoffact, has guitars that ring like alarm sirens as well as choppy, noisy riffage such that you can almost see the band throwing themselves around the studio as you recorded this. John Lydon once noted “Anger is an energy“, and Tunic are a living embodiment of that.


/C R O W N

/Illumination
/The End of All Things

French duo C R O W N blindsided me a bit with this exquisite track – particularly as other tracks on this album turned out to be, shall we say, “well versed” in the sounds of early Misery Loves Co.. Here, though, they dialled back the electronic elements to a wash of synths, as guitars wail like lights across the dark sky, and vocalist Stéphane Azam’s rich, deep vocals provide an impressive gravitas to a song that seems steeped in sadness, from the mournful guitar that opens the song alone to the soaring chorus.


/Randolph & Mortimer

/Repent
/Torque Force EP

Released on an excellent split EP with US-based Industrial Techno artist and DJ Andi, this track neatly defines the enormous strides R&M have taken since their early material (collected on an EP released this year, and featured on /Countdown/2021/Compilations and Reissues last week). The palette for much of their work these days is built around club-bound industrial techno bangers, so it is interesting to see the hits dialled down a bit here, as a sleek, powerful rhythm gradually gains in power across the track, a recurring synth hook burrowing into your skull along the way.


/Mogwai

/Drive The Nail
/As The Love Continues

Over their now quarter-of-a-century (!!) career, Mogwai has expanded their sound a long way beyond the initially savage post-rock crescendoes of yore, displaying a delicate touch and mastery of electronic music to find a parallel career as in-demand soundtrack artists. But, every album still draws them back to the odd stab at that slow build and overwhelming release that is always so thrilling (and utterly deafening!) live, and in some respects, it should be celebrated that they are still finding ways to make this concept seem fresh and new. Drive The Nail – all seven minutes of it, a relative pop song length by this band’s standards – is that moment here, that stalks quietly for a period, building an atmosphere that you just know, the first time you hear it, is going to explode. And explode it does – repeatedly – as the multiple guitars (and bass) get louder and louder but with an elegant melody, before cutting away into almost nothing, and leaving that usual feeling after listening to Mogwai loudly. A gentle ringing in the ears, the sign of Mogwai doing what they do best.


/FORTÍÐ

/Insignificant is the Wormking’s Throne
/World Serpent

Ripping blackened metal from Iceland, Einar Eldur Thorberg’s band here delivered a ferocious, lengthy assault on the senses that was easily the best thing on the album. Iceland has for some time been one of the more interesting places for new Black Metal – there’s a darkness and violence to the sound that so many bands seem to tap into – and FORTÍÐ here are unusual here in singing in English (at least as far as I can tell) but also bringing in classic Thrash influences to create a kinetic, fast-paced sound. As a drummer friend noted, we should all be in awe of the drum work here, but it’s not just that – everything gallops forward at a neck-snapping pace, and frankly nearly seven minutes of this is not enough.


/VRMS

/VRMIVOR

Released in autumn 2020, I’m making a rare exception for qualification for this list, mainly as the first time I heard about it at all was at Stay-In-Fest. As far as I can tell, it is the work of someone (who has chosen to use a pseudonym, so I’m not going to reveal their name here) that I’ve known for some time, and this is their first – and so far only – single. On the evidence of this monstrous track, I’m very much hoping there is going to be more. This is a stripped-back, punchy EBM track that ticks all the boxes of the classic elements of the style, before ripping into a dancefloor-levelling, anthemic chorus that Nitzer Ebb would be proud of.


/Nuovo Testamento

/Michelle Michelle
/New Earth

A belter of an italo/synthpop track that couldn’t be more “on brand” right now if it tried, but those fashionista considerations rather melt away when you realise your feet are tapping away within ten seconds, and you’re singing along by the time you hear the chorus the second time around. One of those tracks that hits like a bolt from the blue, but then has an impressive staying power on successive listens, such is the brilliance of the pop-hook songcraft on display here. This is a group that utterly understand classic pop music of the past, but also have enough of their own ideas and skills to take a leap forward like this. A truly brilliant song.


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/Zeal & Ardor

/Run
/Zeal & Ardor

Manuel Gagneux – for he is the core of Zeal & Ardor – has been drip-feeding singles across the latter half of the year, in preparation for the next, self-titled album in early 2022. And while previous material seemed to keep to a more conciliatory tone, there’s been a distinct feeling that Black Lives Matter and other political events over the past couple of years has hardened his attitude (and so it should). Run is the perfect summation of this change, from the off it feels breathless as if it is chasing down the listener to grab them by the lapels and pin them against the wall. Drums tumble like an army streaming down the hill, guitars slash through the speakers, and Gagneux is howling vengeance on those who continue to oppress, particularly those, it seems, who justify it by religion: “Where’s your fucking God?”. Zeal & Ardor might be the most vital voice in metal right now.


/Garbage

/The Men Who Rule the World
/No Gods No Masters

Shirley Manson would like a word with the powerful men of the world, and it’s clear that she’s had e-fucking-nough. Entirely fair really, as the rich and powerful have got much fucking richer, and everyone else has been left to scrabble for the crumbs, watching as people like Elon Musk spend their apparently tax-free wealth to go into space, rather than paying what they (should) owe in tax. Manson seethes her way through this spiky, stuttering song, spelling out what we all know, and also their attitudes to women (which often haven’t passed much beyond the stone age). Garbage hasn’t sounded this vital in years.


/Cannibal Corpse

/Inhumane Harvest
/Violence Unimagined

Cannibal Corpse has long been one of those Death Metal bands that I’ve always seen as an ever-present in the scene. Very much, lyrically, the splatter-horror end of Death Metal, and always reliably…good. So it was perhaps a bit of a surprise when this single dropped earlier in the year, as it made us sit up and take notice from the off. Erik Rutan has joined the band recently, and his input seems to have revitalised the band – and Inhumane Harvest, seemingly about the clandestine harvesting of human organs in some parts of the world, was the first evidence of that. Everything about this song is crushingly nasty. The riffs are the size of icebergs, the rest of the band provide a solid, heavy-as-shit backing, and vocalist Corpsegrinder sounds like he is relishing just how vicious the band are again. The video is every bit as grim, by the way.


/CHVRCHES

/Good Girls
/Screen Violence

This song contained without a doubt the best opening couplet this year: “Killing your idols is a chore / And it’s such a fucking bore“, a reminder of the razor-sharp lyrics and equally sharp songcraft that has characterised CHVRCHES’ best work since they first crashed into our consciousness less than a decade ago. Vocalist Lauren Mayberry went on record about this song, noting the double standards around problematic artists – especially as too many people tie themselves in mental knots trying to excuse male behaviour, but women never get such a free pass – thus the cutting hooks here about “Good Girls”. The reality is, of course, much more complex and nuanced, and CHVRCHES know that full well. That it is wrapped into a fantastic, catchy pop song that has some sharp teeth is part of the wonder here.


/MILDREDA

/Blame It On The Moon (feat. Cyan)
/I Was Never Really There

The most immediate song on the excellent album by Mildreda this year, the pounding beats and futurepop-esque synth sweeps are only enhanced by the powerful, dramatic vocal delivered by Cyan of German veterans The Eternal Afflict. There were the seeds of what felt like a gradual return to such futurepop stylings pre-COVID, as some of the original stars of such began to look back to their own pasts for inspiration – and some younger bands began to mine their influences similarly, but I can’t help but feel that COVID has robbed us of progress on that front (and perhaps understandably so). At least we can enjoy this exceptional song in the meantime.


/HEALTH + NINE INCH NAILS

/ISN’T EVERYONE

HEALTH have had an extraordinary touch with collaborative tracks in recent years, having an uncanny ear for knowing exactly how to mesh their sound with whomever they are working with. Even so, a collaboration with Nine Inch Nails – a band HEALTH owe at least part of their more recent sonic stylings to – was an unexpected treat this year, and indeed it was so good that it wasn’t long before voices started asking for an entire album of it. ISN’T EVERYONE begins like a NIN track, before HEALTH take over, and then both of their styles come together for an awesome, lighters-in-the-air chorus and climax. HEALTH wisely avoid the blasts of noise they’ve long peppered their work with, instead weaving their ideas around a heavily distorted and glitched, slow-pace rhythm, and providing the more melodic vocal counterpoint to Trent Reznor’s world-weary growl. That said, it was far from the only collaboration Reznor released this year…


Now pared down to a five-piece, after having as many as eight members at points, this post-rock/indie/emo band have not pared back their vision and scope one bit. Their fourth full-length album is full of songs that are less triumphant, and more about overcoming insurmountable odds (which reading between the lines, could well be about the turmoil the members of the band have been through in recent years), and between them, vocalists David Bello and Katie Dvorak sell every moment of this album through their contrasting, impassioned vocals. The extraordinary closing track, though, towers over every other part of this album. A true epic track that begins with spoken word, and then the instrumentation gently swells beneath Bello’s soothing words that are oddly dramatic (considering the end of the world and how we might escape it for something, somewhere, better – and escaping a world full of conspiracy theories and people willing to believe anything without questioning), before finally petering out with five minutes to go: as the final, jaw-dropping coda needs heralding. Guest vocalist Sarah Cowell has words for us – oddly defiant, she admits the world is fucked, but we can fight through it, and it rolls back to the band’s name and album title in a curious way – the world is a beautiful place, and we’re no longer afraid if we have others to help us. Sure, a little bit utopian, maybe? But a bit of light in these times is welcome, and the rest of the band join Cowell for a rousing, closing singalong, the feeling is that I need to hear this song live, as I suspect it will be amazing. It’s amazing enough on record.


/Desperate Journalist

/Fault
/Maximum Sorrow!

Everything about the lead single from Desperate Journalist’s fourth album dripped with bitter fury. From the first seconds, it was noticeably darker in tone than anything they’ve done so far – Simon Drowner’s fast-paced, grimy bassline pushed to the fore, while Rob Smith’s guitar simmers in the background – and it seems to gather steam, bubbling away to an explosive force that never comes, but the tension here is key as Jo Bevan howls her rage at everything, musing that it must be someone’s fault, before eventually turning that rage inward, suggesting it must be her after all – nodding to The Undertones’ greatest song along the way.


/Herbert Grönemeyer feat. Alex Silva

/I Love A Man In A Uniform
/The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four

The Gang of Four tribute album that arrived this year was a genuinely heartfelt, powerful set of songs by a bunch of artists who made a great job of showing just how influential Gang of Four were, but the best take on the sprawling compilation was perhaps a little surprising. German singer Herbert Grönemeyer – better known to English audiences as one of the stars of the claustrophobic, draining Das Boot – was not someone I’d have expected on here, nor to absolutely own an electro-funk take on the sneering I Love A Man In A Uniform, a song about the use of the working classes to fill military roles and the ultra-masculinity that results (particularly in the UK, but it works elsewhere too). Everything about this works – from his vocal delivery to the soaring, barnstorming chorus, that maybe, just maybe, tops the original. Some feat.


/Dubstar

/Tectonic Plates

The eternally-underrated Dubstar inch another step forward toward their fifth album with Tectonic Plates (potentially confusingly, the album will be called Two, following their first comeback album being One, suggesting a reset of sorts). The more I think about it, this is their best song since they’ve resurrected. A sharp, powerful groove underpins colourful, punchy synths, and a funky rhythm guitar that joins later into the song only enhances the funk that this song has. Sarah Blackwood’s delicate vocals offer the usual sweet counterpoint, spinning a tale of perhaps inevitable love, using tectonic theory as a neat metaphor for the endless courtship. Everything about this song is an utter thrill.


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/Imperative Reaction

/Like Swine
/Mirror

Aggressive negativity is the common currency on social media these days, as people can’t wait to tell you how shit something is, or how much they don’t like something for some spurious reason – and more amazingly, many people think it’s ok to say this directly to artists as if they need to know. I’ve for some time now decided that I will only write about the good for the most part (unless there’s a really good reason to do so otherwise), as most musicians have got more than enough to worry about otherwise – and so if it ain’t any good, I’m unlikely to write about it (that said, it could simply be time that has meant I didn’t write about it, so…). Ted Phelps is clearly sick of similar attitudes, as he tears into the subject on the savage Like Swine, the hyper-furious, killer electro-industrial highlight of the Imperative Reaction comeback Mirror. Everything about this is crisp and tight and is capped by the breakdown into a massive rampaging chorus that is IR at their very best.


/Halsey

/I’m Not A Woman, I’m A God
/If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

The towering, formidable highlight of Halsey’s excellent album that muses on her recent pregnancy and motherhood, it simmers on a mid-paced rhythm that has all kinds of unusual, throwaway elements cascading through the mix (thanks to NIN-members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), but really? This is all about Halsey. In interviews, she explained that this song deals with the Madonna-Whore complex (“Socially, we’ve been reduced to two categories, you are the Madonna or the whore,” she told Zane Lowe. “So if you are sexually desirable or like a sexual being, you’re unfit for motherhood. You could never be someone’s mom. But the second you are motherly or maternal and somebody does want you for their mother or their wife, you’re unf*ckable.” source). And as a kickback to the way women are sexualised and demonised at every turn, there’s rarely been a better song than this to make it clear.


/RED MEAT

/Eat Me Beat Me
/Homo Vulgaris

Rhys Hughes has been involved in the UK industrial scene for many, many years – I’ve known them for the best part of two decades – and maybe, they’ve finally found the musical output that suits them best. The now-defunct ded.pixel was an interesting diversion into spaced-out, industrial prog, but plainly and simply, RED MEAT is a much more arresting sound. Rhys describes it as a “queer EBM electronic project”, and perhaps that is underselling it a bit. This edges into rhythmic noise territory, especially on the barnstorming EAT ME BEAT ME, which pulls together relentless rhythms, samples that sound like the scraping of metal, howled vocals and smart-ass samples. There has always been a queer element to industrial – anyone who tells you otherwise is a bigot and a liar – and kudos to Rhys for kicking the closest door through with this excellent release, our only surprise around this project was that Rhys didn’t wear assless chaps on his debut performance at Stay-In-Fest…


/Akhlys

/Somniloquy
/Melinoë

By some distance the most thrilling Black Metal track I’ve heard in the past year, this became a regular track on my /Stormblast livestreams across the first half of 2021. Less an “atmospheric” Black Metal band than an entire fucking hurricane, this is an eight-minute tour de force of howling vocals, screaming guitars and absolutely pummelling drumming. The latter in particular, by Colorado-based drummer Eoghan, deserves all the awards possible (and probably the funding for another drumkit, as the story goes that he destroyed a kit recording this – listening, it’s not hard to see why), as it is fucking relentless. Eoghan mentioned in an interview prior to release that he wanted to contribute to a “Wall of Sound” (yep) and that the drumming pushed him to his limits (I can see that too), and his work here helps to create the base for Akhlys mainman Naas to create an extraordinary modern piece of Black Metal that stands aside all of the classics that came before it.


/Royal Blood

/Boilermaker
/Typhoons

I’ve not always been a massive fan of what Royal Blood do, but certain songs of theirs really are quite great – and Boilermaker is their best moment so far. Josh Homme produced the track with the duo, and it shows – a filthy, groovy, staccato rhythm underpins the track as Mike Kerr uses unexpectedly good cocktail metaphors to describe a romantic encounter that he probably shouldn’t get involved in. Thing is, the lyrics aren’t the key here – that monster groove, and the ultra-catchy chorus are, and they deliver hooks for weeks, never mind days. Fun fact – remember Liam Lynch (you’ll probably know United States of Whatever)? He was responsible for, and is in, the video.


/Arab Strap

/Fable of the Urban Fox
/As Days Get Dark

An unexpected element of the reunited Arab Strap’s first album in fifteen years was a rare foray into political comment, even if it was couched in many, many metaphors. But the message was impossible to ignore and was made absolutely clear at their London show in September when Moffat proclaimed “Refugees Welcome” before starting the song. Fable of the Urban Fox at face value is telling the tale of a family of foxes trying to find a home in the noise and light of the city, but when you know that Katie Hopkins called refugees “vermin” in The Sun a few years ago, the message becomes abundantly clear, as Moffat tells the tender tale of a family of migrants simply trying to find a safe home for them and their children – something that should, and is, a human right. The sad reality is that too many on the right don’t seem to see refugees as human any longer – as seen by the horrific treatment of them on the borders of Europe, and of course here in the UK, especially those crossing the channel in recent months, and those being caged up in unsuitable old barracks just down the road from us in Folkestone. Thus Moffat is giving an oblique voice to an apparently unpopular minority, but one that needs all the help it can get in the face of unfathomable adversity, and this song is an elegant, restrained voice of protest from a most surprising source.


/Odonis Odonis

/Salesmen
/Spectrums

Toronto-based band Odonis Odonis took an unusual route with their fifth album – they steadily released nine of the ten tracks in advance of the actual release, but perhaps that was simply an excited band knowing full well how good their new songs were, and just wanted to get them out there. One of the first songs released from it was this scorching track, which has a heart-racing rhythm and disorienting synths, as the hissed vocals swirl through a track that appears to be smacking down men that treat the opposite sex as just another transaction to complete. The disgust and fury simply burst out of the track in every way, especially as it is mixed in such a way that the track gains in volume and intensity every few seconds at points (some feat). Industrial music continues to evolve, and right now Odonis Odonis might well be the most impressive practitioner of the style as we close out 2021.


/Godspeed You! Black Emperor

/A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)
/G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

The titanic opener to the seventh Godspeed album arrives amid radio chatter before a chiming guitar riff sounds an alarm that gently recedes – and then the band gently, imperceptibly, gather pace and steam like only they can. Despite legions – and well over two-decades-worth – of imitators and bands they’ve inspired, no one quite has the finger on the pulse of what GY!BE can do. A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind)… at points feels like the soundtrack to a stately march to take back the world from relentless capitalism (the staggering mid-section Job’s Lament), and the sudden key change into a triumphant, recurring chord sequence almost inspires me to want to storm the barricades RIGHT NOW. Where this piece differs, though, is that rather than drifting into an ambient piece, the element First of the Last Glaciers rips into a piece that feels like a waltz on a rocking boat as a storm rages above, and it’s only as …(ROCKETS FOR MARY) washes in that the band find piece…of a sort. Peaceful sounds of the country are interrupted with what sounds like distant explosions, a reminder that peace in this world for many is far, far away. As ever, Godspeed themselves say nothing, while providing a clear, sometimes inspiring, sometimes furious message. Their best song in a great many years.


/Where We Sleep

/Broken Things
/The Scars They Leave

Beth Rettig took her time post-Blindness to release new material, and when she did, it was small-scale releases under the name Where We Sleep, and it took until this year for the first full album – and it was worth the wait. The pick of the album for me was the fierce Broken Things, one of a few songs on the album where Rettig picks up the strands from Blindness and takes them in a subtly different direction. A choppy, jagged riff dominates parts of the song, where otherwise all but the bass and drum pattern are stripped away, leaving her voice to stand alone in a song where she seems to be dealing with fight or flight, each line of the striking, powerful chorus seeing her pull in opposite ways (“I tried being pretty / but the ugly broke through / I tried being still / but I’m compelled to move“) and like her old band’s best moments, that mental tension adds the seething power to the heart of another brilliant song.


/ACTORS

/Killing Time (Is Over)
/Acts of Worship

Have we reached peak Post-Punk yet? Judging on the continuing torrent of releases in 2021, perhaps not. Interestingly, though, ACTORS – one of the most prominent and popular, it seems, bands of the style in recent years – seem to have decided to push their sound that bit further, and the results vindicated it. The pick of an excellent album, though, is Killing Time (Is Over). It digs that bit further into early-eighties synthpop and goth than their usual slick post-punk, and it thrills. There’s everything here – interesting drum programming, the occasional fist-punching “Hey”, that power-chord that introduces the glorious, smooth chorus, guitar solos, not to mention Jason Corbett’s greatest vocal performance yet. Basically, even though it is perhaps a bit of a departure from what they do, it might, bizarrely, be the best summation of what ACTORS do. By ignoring traditional genre boundaries, and picking the bits they think are the most interesting, it has resulted in an astonishing song and was an easy choice for the /amodelofcontrol.com best track of 2021.


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