i am well late doing my "best of 2016" lists, but that doesn't mean that i haven't been thinking about them. music-wise, i feel like the world of uneasy listening is in a transition. i also feel like it's overdue for one, with many subgenres of sound having circled for quite a while without showing significant progression. that's not to say that the same can't be beautiful- it absolutely can- but there always have to be artists pushing sound forward, or else things become stale and imitative.
a few things that i noticed this year:
- more beats :: even the noisiest artists are showing more of a tendency to incorporate rhythms, at least as punctuation points. whether or not you like this trend is subjective. i do, because i find that it lends a sense of structure and propulsion to music that can otherwise be a little aimless. not every artist can be arvo part, with his genius for creating growth and movement within atonal structures. and our bodies are programmed to respond to rhythm anyway, so they appeal to our most primal urges.
- techno influence :: lay this one at the doorstep of ancient methods and the continued excellence of orphx, who have risen to great heights within the underground combining a syncopated dance music backbone with sounds normally found in industrial music. there is precedent for this sort of thing, of course, with pan sonic on the noisier side and the output of the basic channel on the more hypnotic side, but there is a definite flavour of mid-nineties edgy techno music that's invading other fields.
- the return of death rock :: surely the appetite for eighties-inspired raw electro has hit critical mass, but that doesn't mean musicians have stopped looking to the decade for inspiration. this year, i noticed a lot more bands drawing from the most dramatic and guitar-driven corners of goth, as well as a number of compilations celebrating the genre. break out those old christian death records, friends. your time has come.
- a shift to the political :: for years, industrial music and its offshoots have been associated with political stands that range from outright nihilism to an embrace of the far right. call it one more effect of trumpism, but that seems to be undergoing a change. the longstanding and hugely influential apex industries staked out new territory by declaring that "industrial music is protest music". chthonic streams released a massive compilation in support of the #nodapl protests. artists in the genre have been quick to rally around bandcamp, who will be donating their full portion of music sales on february 3, to the aclu. industrial and its allies have always been about anger and frustration, but now it seems like that is increasingly channeled towards fomenting resistance and change.
since i've taken over some more administrative duties at heathen harvest, i've had much less opportunity to write reviews, however that doesn't mean i haven't been listening to music. so here, in no particular order, are my choices for the best and most exciting releases that crossed my path in the last year.
the best of the best
haus am rand :: meel
jan carlekev has a fine pedigree, having worked his magic in sanctum and parce pace, but he has never produced anything as beautiful, as haunting or as intriguing as this. i got this album the week it came out and haven't stopped listening to it since.
michael idehall :: no man's land
occupying a similar hard-to-define space as 'meel' and released by the same label [ant-zen, who continue to undergo a thrilling renaissance], this channels the dark, almost seedy qualities of underrated eighties artists like hula or click click, although it doesn't sound a damn bit like them.
ait! :: harmony
it may have taken nearly a decade, but finally we have a follow-up to 'romanticismo oltranzista'. the two albums are starkly different, though, with 'harmony' being more reflective, more mature and more melancholy than its predecessor. worth the wait, although i really hope we're not forced to go through another dry spell with this fascinating artist. [no, that digital price is not a typo. tairy ceron, the charismatic devil behind ait! believes that music, like all art, should be limited in availability, not endlessly replicated. the cd is, unfortunately, long since sold out, but it's worth trawling the depths of the internet to find a second hand copy.]
but not far behind...
sutcliffe jugend :: the muse
belgium-based label death continues is quietly becoming one of the classiest sources of industrial and dark ambient music in the world, and this release is the perfect example of that. i've raved before about the seemingly inexhaustible capacity for sutcliffe jugend to improve with time, and this beauty continues on that trajectory. far from their gritty serial-killer-and-shrieking-noise-burst origins, the band's music cuts right into you and settles under your skin.
cindytalk :: the labyrinth of the straight line
released at the very tail end of 2016, i'm still trying to take all of this one in. it's an ambitious work that twists and turns and carries you right along with it, although i imagine that some people will find themselves lost in the woods in its wake. contains some of their best material in years.
maoupa mazzocchetti :: laugh tool
talk about someone who is truly on his own wavelength. this music is rhythmic, noisy, compelling and very original because it flows from one to the other, and combines elements with such fluidity. a little reminiscent of early cabaret voltaire, to be sure, in the best way.
various artists :: rien ni personne
good lord, what a monster. ninety-one goddamn tracks of french experimental and industrial artists at their eccentric, distinctive best, put together by the figure behind the excellent 'nostalgie de la boue' blog. seems there are plans for a follow-up in 2017, so brace yourselves and make some space on your hard drives. [also my personal choice for the best artwork of the year, seen in its full glory at the top of this post.]
klara lewis :: too
my first reaction to news of this album was to be profoundly disturbed. klara lewis is the daughter of wire's graham lewis, which means i've officially crossed the generational border. nonetheless, this is a wonderful debut from a powerful voice. she stands on her own, delicate and unbreakable as a willow. so, yes, i'm whatever the industrial equivalent of a soccer mom is, but the kids are alright.
pop 1280 :: paradise
i was left a little nonplussed by their sophomore album, but on this, their third, i was once again struck by the boiling lead beneath their surface. they reach a level of anger almost at the level of early swans material, with a deranged edge.
what will 2017 bring? well, it's already bringing and i'm already reeling from trying to keep up. that's a good sign. what you see above is really just the first layer of onion skin, and there's plenty more where that came from. i promise to continue slicing deeper, to the point where it brings tears to my eyes.