The new year has started well for new music. In fact very well, as all kinds of new music has been flying at me from all directions, or so it feels. Which is why this week has more than ten songs – I finally stopped at sixteen – and I suspect that future /Tracks of the Month posts will do too.
This month, there are familiar bands returning with new material, new artists to me, and a couple of bands who seem to never stop (and no, that doesn’t involve Matt Fanale for once). And all of them have me quite excited about what is to come this year. At least it might distract me from horrors elsewhere.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Track of the Month
Thanks to Andrew of Iris pointing me towards this fabulous release that dropped at the beginning of the week. Their first release in a while, as I understand it, there is a dreamy, lush edge to the otherwise pared-back, electro that seems to cross the divide between trance-led house and synthpop to great effect. The swelling, soaring leap into the chorus is one of those moments that makes me want to stand and applaud, too, it’s so fucking good. An early and unexpected contender for one of my favourite releases of 2020 already, this.
It has become clear that there is a distinct difference to the sound of Promenade Cinema for their imminent second album (due later in the Spring), and perhaps like The New Division, there is an influence from other areas of electronic music creeping in. Unlike the dark, forbidding single The Arch House, though, this track is more of an uptempo one, with a fizzing energy and continuing their lyrical preoccupation with life behind and in front of the lens – something that the excellent accompanying video takes up the baton with.
Code Orange seemed to explode to wider attention a couple of years ago, their savage hardcore-metal on Forever bolstered by an impressive arsenal of industrial electronics, that was usually carefully targeted for maximum impact. So colour me – and quite a few others, judging the reaction to it – surprised at the lead track to their new album, which almost entirely eschews guitars for a fair proportion of the song and is led by an urgent, impressive delivery by Reba Meyers, Eric Balderose providing mainly supporting vocals. This perhaps heralds a full-on move by the band into industrial metal, and it’s a sound that suits them well, particularly as the track eventually explodes into a brutal breakdown like a storm that’s been threatening on the horizon. Some commentators have suggested they are moving into a sound like Nine Inch Nails, but I don’t think it’s anything of the sort – this track reminds me of the much-missed Interlock at their best.
The Swedish doom icons return, and like Code Orange, with what appears to be another step away from their roots. I can’t imagine the whole album will sound like this, but this song pretty much dispenses with guitars entirely, for a synth-led, gentle backing to Jonas Renske that that still feels like Katatonia, even if it doesn’t entirely sound like it. A hell of a brave move from this band as a comeback single, but we must accept that bands move on and try new things. I for one await the album City Burials (out 24-April) with curious interest.
/The Sky Will Turn
Having remarkably passed twenty years active as a band – although of course they were originally called Imagica, and switched names in 2002 – this will be their eighth album, and going on the first track from it, there is perhaps a more contemplative feel to their sound this time around, even if the core feel of the track is what we expect anyway – dense, guitar led rhythms with twinkling washes of synths. Chibi’s vocals, though, sound a little resigned, as if this was a difficult song to process for her. One of the things I’ve long loved about this band is that despite their openness and friendliness with their fans – particularly live, but also online – there is always this distinct feeling that something is being held back, and this song proves that in spades.
/Rhys Fulber feat. Sara Taylor
/Slip It In
Rhys Fulber has been extraordinarily active in recent times, combining his work with Front Line Assembly with production work for other groups, and his own explorations as a solo artist into the world of industrial techno. In the past couple of years that latter element has seen two full-length albums and a number of shorter releases, of which this is the latest, and the really interesting bit is the choice of lead track. It’s an unexpected, raging cover of the Black Flag track with Sara Taylor of Youth Code on vocals (hopefully heralding the return of Youth Code sooner rather than later, too…), but don’t expect fireworks from the get-go as it takes a little while to get going. The song was always uncomfortable for the lyrics – that I’ve long taken as the band critiquing domineering, frankly rapey men taking advantage of women smaller than they are, and with Taylor’s perspective it gains a whole new power.
/A Violent Stimulator
/The Ecstasy of Emptiness
The metallic industrialists Concrete Lung are back, after a three year gap since their last release Fumes. This first taste of the upcoming new album is a brutal, intense listen, with near-extreme metal vocals, a molasses-thick, forbidding beat, and the sound of metal bars being hammered like the tolling bells of death. Concrete Lung were never for everyone, that’s for sure, and this track is exquisite proof of just how nasty and threatening industrial music can sound in the right hands.
After a few years busy with the return of Cubanate, Phil Barry is back with his Be My Enemy project, interestingly now with co-writing credits with Keef Baker (who has long been part of the live band for BME anyway). The political, electro-industrial crossover feel is still there, and this song – critiquing those politicans who are agitating for another war to benefit their donors, as far as I can tell – roars into life with a thumping, fast-paced march of a beat and thick layers of guitars. It even finds time for a breakdown that involves a presumably-sampled arabic singing voice – which as the beats subside for it, allows a catch of the breath – before hurling you back in the maelstrom. It’s great to hear this band again.
/Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown
Remarkably now a project that has been going for nearly two decades, Jamie Blacker’s intensity as ESA remains undimmed, even on this eighth album (if you have any doubts, by the way, the remarkable, fluid jabs of rhythm of opener Relapse will allay them). Elsewhere on the album, new avenues are explored amid the powerful beats, too, particularly on the exceptional Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown, where a guest vocalist Lecture offers a fast-paced rap that works brilliantly with the powerful electronics backing him. Blacker continues to be a fascinating electronic artist, who found his niche and has grown in stature as he has explored it to the fullest. Note: because that track is not available to share yet, I’ve featured the (also very impressive) single and title track to listen to.
An error on my part meant I managed to miss this off last month (apologies, Réal!). That said, perhaps I needed more time with it – this is a sprawling album. Sixteen tracks, eighty minutes, and a whole lot of detail to get through, but if you’re already familiar with the work of Comaduster, this should come as no surprise. Réal Cardinal has come to prominence as a composer of electronic music that is richly, almost obsessively, detailed, songs, and while this album doesn’t have the extraordinary depth of concept of the last, it apparently still has a hefty metaphysical theme. The genre-bending is still there, too, as he flits from one idea to another but still keeping a coherent whole, but the most impressive track for me is Bad Blood, a kind of futuristic ballad that paces forward ahead of black holes of bass and a sky full of synths and effects that hit your ears like tiny fireworks. I’ll still be thinking about this album at the end of 2020, that’s for sure.
Such is the apparent pace of the industrial/techno crossover scene at the moment that every week I seem to stumble across another artist that I’ve not heard before, but other than the recent Crystal Geometry releases, it’s been a while since one left my jaw on the floor, but that’s what’s happened here. The work of NYC native, now Berlin-based Hayden Payne, this is techno with at least one foot in the world of EBM and industrial, but critically someone who clearly understands the latter too (rather than just saying they are “influenced by it”). The outstanding opening track makes this abundantly clear – the sound is pure industrial dancefloor music, the tempo down a bit from straight techno and a phalanx of great detail and melodic synths that makes for a thrilling track, that sets the scene brilliantly for what is to come.
/V O I X
One of the more fascinating releases I’ve received on promo in a while is this release, from a Cleveland artist (Nate Eberhardt) with a punk and hardcore background – not that you’d especially know it from this track which at least in part, is very much in vogue by being chilly, propulsive cold wave. The chiming synths add a colour and depth to the sound, for sure, and interestingly Eberhardt’s vocals are very much an afterthought, a blurry smudge of texture to the sound way down in the mix. Either way, this is an intriguing release – as is the rest of the album, and my only complaint is that it flashes past (eight songs, less than twenty minutes).
/Anatomy & Blu Anxxiety Split EP
A bit of a buzz appears to have sprung up around this blistering track, the work of NYC artist Jenna Rose. It’s not hard to see why – late-nineties acid-breakbeats rush forward through the track, with relatively sparse vocals that are spat out and drenched in reverb. It’s not hard to uncover that this is clearly an intensely political, feminist work, too (other tracks of the EP are Ira Agni (“time of fire”?) and S.C.U.M.), and it slays. There has been a long-overdue rising to attention of women in industrial music, and after so long being belittled by too many (see also /Repeater/001.3 from a couple of year ago), is it any surprise many, like Anatomy, are fucking furious?
Do these guys ever stop? Over the past few years there has been a steady stream of new music from them, and they seem to be getting better and better. This track is a fucking monster – towering, thundering drums stomp out a broadly 4/4 rhythm that is joined later by the usual fizzing, distorted guitars and bass, and Michel Berdan’s throat-shredding vocals. According to comments to Stereogum by Berdan about it, it is a nod to a dead friend as well as an experiment with their sound. Judging on the awe-inspiring, vicious power of this track, I think we can safely call this an experiment a resounding success. More like this, please!
I was rather fond of Dicepeople when they supported ACTORS and Empathy Test last summer, and left intrigued by their apparent influences of pitch-dark trip-hop as well as the more usual electro-industrial. Their latest EP, released during January, perpetuates this, the synths pulsing like a background threat as the lead song Rollercoaster gradually gathers pace and momentum, and Zmora’s unusual vocal delivery (it’s her intonation that makes it stand out particularly) gives the chorus especially a real kick. This is one band I’ll happily see on a bill in London again, and hopefully soon.
/Un-United Kingdom 20th Anniversary Brexit Edition
The return of Pitchshifter as a recording entity – even if it’s just for this grimly appropriate track – is almost as welcome as their exceptional reunion shows at the end of 2018. Here, they borrow a few friends from like-minded bands to assist in gang-esque vocals on a subtly updated version of one of their most beloved and pointed songs. Sadly the broad idea is as relevant as it was back in 1999, a divided, insular and arrogant country that has retreated even further since, culminating in leaving the EU, a short-sighted and damaging policy that many people will rue for years.