…and just like that, this is the last /Tracks of the Month roundup for 2021. I’ll be beginning /Countdown/2021 in less than a month, looking at the best music of the year, and while this might be the last ten tracks I feature during the year, there will no doubt be something else amazing released after this.
As you, the reader, can probably imagine, I listen to a lot of new music each year, and it’s frankly impossible to be able to feature everything. But I try to feature as broad a swathe of music as I can, and the results are in these posts.
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).
/Always Together With You
/Everything Was Beautiful
Despite musings from Jason Pierce last time around that And Nothing Hurt might be the last Spiritualized album, here we are again, and may I say thank $DEITY. Always Together With You continues what we know and love from Pierce, really – gentle drones, soothing vocals, and gospel-assisted, gigantic crescendoes that sound like they were beamed in from another star. Like that previous album, too, there seems to be more of a sense of positivity here, as Pierce suggests all of the ways that he’d prove just how much he cares for his beloved. The joyous, multi-tracked coda, too, is a thing of beauty. Spiritualized have been a thing – and an essential thing, too – in my life for nearly thirty years, and I selfishly hope that never ends, at least while Pierce continues to release music as fucking sublime as this.
/I Am Nothing
/I Am Nothing EP
It is, remarkably, over five years since I was lucky enough to witness the live return of Stabbing Westward in Chicago, at the sweatiest, hottest gig I’ve ever attended (/Memory of a Festival/027 refers). In the time since, they’ve released a handful of new songs (Dead and Gone EP last year), an impressive EP of covers (Hallowed Hymns, and now a new single, ahead of their long-promised new album, which will be their first new album in twenty-one years when it drops in 2022.
But what of that new single? I Am Nothing is classic Stabbing Westward. A prominent, synth-led rhythm, overlaid with slashing guitars, and, of course, Christopher Hall’s soaring, dripping-with-disdain vocals, as he turns inward once again, particularly on the band’s best chorus in an age. Bring on the album.
The first BODEGA album was a sharp, cutting critique of modern life in a gentrified megacity (in their case, New York City, but hell, it resonated with people in other cities too), but crucially they remembered to have great songs to go with the great lyrics. Their second album, going on this first new single, sees them keeping their sense of humour and outrage, and songcraft. It’s not hard to see what they’ve been noticing a lot of during their lockdown, either, as they tear into self-improvement gurus, influencers and the relentless march of capitalism shaming you into always doing and buying something: “ it’s making me bitter, harder, fatter, stressed out“. Yeah, I know that feeling.
Jason Hollis has long been known for his work as ENDIF, but this new diversion into another project looks very interesting indeed. This is industrial dance music in the “classic” sense, one of thumping, 4/4 rhythms moving your body and cool synths adding some additional elements of interest. But frankly, with such classic EBM, the synths are all frills, and I’m all about that speaker-shaking kick drum. As the Bandcamp page notes, “optimized for the JBL D130s down at the club”: no shit. This has so much power it’ll likely move the floor too through those JBLs.
/Gone Long Before the Death of the Sun
The long-running project by Tony Young continues, with the new album Gone Long Before the Death of the Sun due early in the new year. The lead track from it is a contemplative piece called Culpability, one that feels deeply sad, maybe even despairing by the time the mournful piano arrives to accompany the downbeat drum pattern. Then, you watch the video that accompanies it, and it becomes a eulogy for a sick planet, one that is steadily dying in front of our eyes, and recovering from this is going to take more than a few platitudes and promises at COP26.
/Chaos Space Marine
/Ants From Up There
From the first seconds, there is perhaps a suggestion that things have changed a bit. The horns and vocals (and piano!) are pushed to the forefront, and the distinct post-rock power of their previous album For the first time seems rather absent. That’s not to say that this isn’t as good – it’s just very, very different. Comments about the “Official Audio” reference a whole host of different bands, which is interesting, as people are certainly hearing different things from it, but I rather agree with the nods to Arcade Fire, although I’m pretty sure that Arcade Fire would be unlikely to name a song after a Warhammer 40k character. As to what else is coming from the new album, I now have absolutely no fucking idea.
A supergroup collaboration that’s been in the works for a while – the seeds were apparently planted at Roadburn back in 2016 – it also features Ben Chisholm and Cave In‘s Stephen Brodsky as well as the top billing. Going on the epic title track, they could be onto a winner here, as the expanded band provide a gloriously doomy and heavy backing for both Chelsea Wolfe and Jacob Bannon wrap their vocals around, and the contrast between their vocal styles here only enhances the power. The album should be crushing.
/The Runner (Original Soundtrack)
It is fair to say that no artist in “our scene” has broken through to a wider audience in recent years quite like Boy Harsher. After a number of smaller-scale albums and singles, their early single Pain became something of a sleeper club hit, and then the frankly astonishing album Careful blew the doors off. #1 on this site on /Countdown/2019/Albums, it was a flawless execution of sensuous, body-moving electronic music, and ever since, I’ve been intrigued to know where they would go next.
So the release of Tower and the information that accompanied it was unexpected. Vocalist Jae Matthews has been very unwell (an MS diagnosis), and that coupled with lockdown, changed their thinking, and the result was a short film and an accompanying album, complete with guest musicians, that suggests this might be rather different to the sleek, pulsing power of Careful. While dancefloor-bound tracks are promised on the album, Tower is waves of ominous synths and Matthews’ murmured vocals before howls of terror take over – and as the album opener, perhaps a portent of the darkness to come.
Rhys Fulber has been busier than ever it seems in recent years, continuing his work with Front Line Assembly, Fear Factory and Youth Code, but also with a prodigious solo output. This latter work has seen him investigate raw and powerful industrial techno, but like others during lockdown, the lack of clubs to play such music in appears to have made him consider other textures. Thus, the upcoming album Brutal Nature has some remarkable, chilled-out ambient passages alongside the relentless techno rhythms, which allows colour and texture into his work like never before. The lead single, Fragility, is solid example of this, with what feels like a nod to Future Sound of London in the form of cascading, organic sounds and vocals used as texture rather than a focal point. Extraordinary, and unexpected, that’s for sure.
An interesting release this autumn has been this short, six-track “mini-album”, created by Stephen Mallinder and Benge (most recently working together as Wrangler) alongside Lonelady, and it is intriguingly difficult to escape the fact that this is the closest to Cabaret Voltaire that Mallinder has been involved in since he was a part of it. Lead single Camouflage is painted with catchy synths and funk guitars, as Mallinder’s distinctive voice is shattered and reassembled, but still sounds very much like him, and is an excellent song all round. The rest of the mini-album takes some interesting turns, too.