And the top 25 bus keeps on rolling down through the low ‘teens and into the land of the all-important top 10. If you’re just joining us you can read the first part of the countdown right here, might as well check out our honourable mentions and the friends of the site write-ups while you’re at it. Top 5 post is live tomorrow, after which we’ll be taking a well-deserved break until the New Year (after we record our 2013 wrap-up podcast anyway). Onwards!
15. Leæther Strip
Serenade for the Dead II
It’s impossible to speak of dark electro in any detail without acknowledging the tremendous debt the genre owes to Claus Larsen. In addition to releasing countless aggressive dancefloor bombs, Claus also pushed the boundaries of the genre with 1994’s symphonic Serenade For The Dead. Revisiting that historical marker without maligning the original is a feat worthy of some golf claps, but surpassing it is another field entirely. This year, Claus gave us a decadent garden of symphonic passages to match the more beat-present moments of the first Serenade, and the ear he showcases for the sequel’s more florid moments is a big payoff for those of us who’ve wanted him to give Leaether Strip a bit more breathing room. It’s a dark and needling piece of work which rewards the faithful. Read our full review.
14. Individual Totem
In a sense, Germany’s Individual Totem are damned if they do and damned if they don’t in 2013. They either cleave to the “smart but inaccessible” line which made them critical darlings stateside, or they show off their daring chops when they re-emerge from self-imposed exile. They’ve thrown their dice on the table with Kyria 13, an emotionally wrought space opera which draws the listener into its psychodrama of doomed civilizations and the idylls of the kings. If we shadows have offended… Read our full review.
13. Volt 9000
Volt 9000 has always had a lot of off-the-shelf appeal; a mixture of rubbery, ohGr-esque post-industrial and 16-bit video game aesthetics isn’t gonna be a hard sell for a significant number of heads. What lies underneath those easily identifiable elements of style however is a rapidly developing set of songwriting skills, as evidenced by the strength of their first label release for Artoffact. Despite the bright palette of his work as V9k, Cory Gorski has never really shied away from taking on serious topics, but for the first time the songs (now created in collaboration with Andrew Dobbels) seem constructed to mirror the subject matter, corroded, broken down and mutated to address the sorry state of our economy, our lifestyles, our water, air and food. The rapid development of Volt 9000 continues at pace, with all the fascinating evolutionary off-shoots and adaptations to environment that entails. Don’t get left behind. Read our full review.
12. Vomito Negro
Fall Of An Empire
Vomito Negro sit in that refined circle of Belgian dark electronic music which doesn’t have to answer to anyone. They’re perfectly happy to acknowledge others’ debt to their grinding dark aesthetic, but they’d rather dust the old formula off every now and again than entrust it to newcomers. Thankfully, the missive Gin Devo & co. issued in 2013 had all of the hallmarks we want from a VN record: slick and compartmentalized beats alongside both sacrilicious tunes and more fine-tuned tracks. Eat your heart out, eldergoths, this victory lap brings bounce and fangs.
The big advantage of doing things the way Kite has – namely eschewing albums in favour of a string of EP releases – is the high-level of quality control they’re able to maintain. The Swedish electropop duo has a little less than 30 songs in their catalogue total, and here’s the thing: they’re all good, and the ones one V are amongst their very best. The wistful scandy-electropop of the first four EPs is just as strong here as it always has been, and emotions are running as high as ever, but there’s something trascendantly great writ between the lines of songs like “Dance Again” and “If You Want Me”, an admission of life’s travails and a hope beyond hope for something better. Few artists can claim to convey so much feeling and drama so genuinely, fewer still so consistently. Kite are hitting it out of the park with each at bat, and there’s no sign they’ll stop any time soon. Read our full review.
Eat Your Heart Out
[Out Of Line]
Not unlike the black dog of depression, Klinik have always been the maniacal outpatient of Our Thing, swinging a bike chain at any who might cross their path on the hospital grounds. Unintimidated by a near ten-year spell in the penalty box, Dirk Ivens and Marc Verhaeghen rush out without any signs of social reformation, as angry as they were when our culture first happened upon them. Masked or otherwise, the Klinik remain the meanest force outside of a skillsaw we know of.
9. Front Line Assembly
FLA have been dabbling with the sounds and styles of contemporary dance music for ages, but never quite like they do on Echogenetic. 2013 is the year that dubstep influences shed the fratboy connotations when integrated into industrial, and no small part of the credit for that is due to this set of songs. Leeb and band find a commonality in the aggression and syncopation of the current crop of EDM artists and Front Line’s own history: far from grafting wubs onto standard electro-industrial tunes, they’re uncovering the way current tropes in electronic music flow outward naturally from the heavily sequenced and designed sounds FLA have always dealt in. It’s the best album in years (maybe decades) from the Vancouver mainstays, an affirmation of skill and relevance commensurate with their following. This is the Front Line Assembly you should want Front Line Assembly to be.
Read our conversation about it.
The Methuselah Tree
Tracing iVardensphere from their 2009 debut to their 2013 LP is a bit of an eye-opener. We’ve made plenty of hay from how far Scott Fox and his rotating cast of collaborators (notably Jamie Blacker of ESA and Yann Fausurrier of Iszoloscope) have brought the project’s unlikely pairing of analogue synth wizardry and world percussion in the past, but even we weren’t expecting the level-up of The Methuselah Tree. By far the most natural and transparently produced effort the iVs have ever assembled, the record is a cultivated mixture of instrumental and vocal elements that blend so naturally that they appear seamless and inseparable. Fox and company are approaching the rarified territory occupied by Thirlwell and the Brothers Humberstone, where the concerns of composition and studiocraft flow together as one with a singular purpose. Read our making of the album feature and our full review.
7. Gary Numan
Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)
The popular telling of Gary Numan’s career is so well-established at this point that most music writers and fans take it for granted. The genius musician and genre forefather whose classic work has only recently begun to be acknowledged for it’s strength and influence is a compelling narrative, although it leaves some enormous gaps; most glaringly, what has Numan been up to for twenty years or so? Splinter makes for a handy answer to that query, an incredibly engaging and compulsively listenable collection of tunes that summarizes the dark, synth-based rock that Uncle Gary has been gradually perfecting over the course of his career renaissance. It’s probably a given we would love it (the name of the site is no coincidence), but how much it speaks to why we like Numan and his specific influence on what we do is here in no short supply. Gary Numan is a progenitor of Our Thing, and in a grand and circular way has ended up forging a new path through it. Read our full review.
6. Distorted Memory
The Eternal Return
[Disciples Of The Watch]
Adrift in an uncaring hinterland of Canadian industrial, who dotes upon the cavorts of Distorted Memory? We do, motherfuckers. Whether you noticed it or not, Jeremy Pillipow cashed in his chips after 2012’s Temple of the Black Star, and synthesized that EP’s nods to witch house into one of the most refined expressions of dark electro we’ve heard since Bunkertor 7. Coming through the speakers like a special Marvel “What if Futurepop had never happened and I didn’t give a shit?” issue, The Eternal Return kicked our asses upon its emergence and has managed to insist upon its presence on car speakers and commute headphones ever since. As angry and slick as Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, we owe this record a set of steak knives. At least. Read our full review.