Well, at least some folks will have figured out our top 5 picks (shouts out to friend Zander who busted out an accurate prediction over on Telekon) based on what records haven’t already been included in the 25-16 and 15-6 lists. Surprisingly, the Senior Staff rarely argue over which albums should take the top spot, and even spots 2-5 are generally agreed upon without fireworks. Partially that’s because we already have a pretty firm idea of what sort of record we think is representative of our tastes and goals with I Die: You Die, and partially it’s because there’s always been an album that undeniably had to be the top pick. Looking back over our previous number ones, there’s not one example of a record that we love any less now than the moment we decided it was the best. That’s remarkably true of the majority of our honorees over the years. For an imperfect, arbitrary collaborative process, that seems remarkable. What were your absolute favourite albums of 2016? Drop us a note in the comments, and we’ll see you on the other side.
In small doses, the distinction between Brant Showers’ work in ∆AIMON (long-celebrated at this time of year in these parts) and that in his solo project SØLVE was difficult to parse. The same focus on the metaphysical was there, as were the elegantly sculpted pockets of sound which would suddenly snap shut with a thunderclap. But when left on the stove to boil, The Negative‘s monomaniacal nature comes to the surface. The occult practices which Showers has always referenced in his music are often referred to as “work“, and never has that been more apparent than with SØLVE’s first full-length; it’s a record which doesn’t just refer to, but actually is practice, concentration, refinement through repetition. The recurring intonations and cycles of The Negative‘s clattering grooves bring words like “hypnotic” and “ritual” to mind when we we’re more accustomed to using such adjectives in connection with more droning and atmospheric fare. But it’s the rhythms in the record which Showers continues to stress throughout The Negative, as if he could punch through a boundary or hurdle over an obstacle which only he can see by virtue of dedication alone. Read our full review.
Pitch Black Mirror
Hands Productions/Sonic Groove
Could there have been a better year for Orphx to release a new album than 2016? All year the shredding metallic rhythm sequences and fuzzed kicks of techno-industrial hybridization could be heard from Berlin to Brooklyn and Los Angeles to London. Of course Christina Sealey and Rich Oddie planted the flag first, and having already pioneered the sound across countless releases and collabs over the last 20 years, Pitch Black Mirror has them burrowing ever deeper as many other producers are just breaking ground. It’s an album that plays both as a validation of the Ontario-based duo’s sonic blueprint and some vital experimentation within it, notably in the use of vocals from Oddie and Essaie Pas’ Marie Davidson act as a means of expansion, a new tool to be manipulated, processed and integrated into the whole. In many ways it’s a record that demonstrates the possibilities within a specific toolset, while the winding sequences of “All Rivers at Once” and the groovy original flavour rhythmic noise of “Blood in the Streets” are cut from the same cloth, the end results are strikingly different. Much of the record’s considerable power comes directly from that stylistic tension between songs, as undisputed masters express exactly what is possible within a template, disassembling and reassembling it to suit their needs. Read our full review.
3. Body Of Light
Let Me Go
Brothers Alexander and Andrew Jarson had been skulking frenetically for a handful of years around the borderlands between synthpop and noise (if that sounds contradictory, recall the early Mute catalog), with tapes and tunes that brought as much grit and grime as they did melody and harmony. 2013’s “Is It Lost” may have provided a clue as to their long term intentions, but only when “Tremble”, and later the entire Let Me Go LP, was released, did we realise just how firmly they’d thrown their lot (and their souls) in with the synthpop camp. Some hints of their past can be found in the way in which they generate an anxious frisson, but Let Me Go is pure synthpop, through and through. More impressively, it’s informed by nearly the whole range of music that’s been assembled beneath that too-often maligned banner since its initial unfurling. From the sprained soulfulness of “Last Breath”, through the Balearic dancefloor of “How Do I Know?”, through the unlikely meeting of Information Society and The Knife in “Felt”, to the proto-futurepop roar of “Tremble”, Let Me Go was a veritable “This Is Your Life” revue for the genre, but still held itself together via the keening passion that refracts through each of its multi-faceted gems. Rarely has a history lesson felt this fresh and vital. Read our full review.
2. Dead When I Found Her
Eyes on Backwards
Hot on the heels of the definitive statement from Michael Arthur Holloway that was 2015’s All The Way Down, Eyes on Backwards found Dead When I Found Her wiping the slate clean. Perhaps smashing it is more appropriate, as the Portland based artist has never tapped into the violence of the classic post-industrial template as effectively as he does on “Tantrum” and “The Big Reverse”. Holloway’s debt to the Pacific Northwest industrial masters has never been a secret, but the fascinating part of his work is in how he chooses to replicate, renovate and rearrange these sounds to fit his own ideas. Where so many people who pay homage to Puppy and their ilk fall apart is in failing to recognize the songs within the chaos, an issue that Holloway ably avoids by having a distinct voice as songwriter. It’s not a stretch to say that numbers like “Braille” and “High Anxiety” have a substance that goes deeper than their component elements, their carriage established well before production decisions are applied. Not many artists can reconcile reverence and creativity like Dead When I Found Her does, but Eyes on Backwards pulls it off ably, with a furious rush to glory and the most complete statement yet from one of Our Thing’s most vital voices. Read our full review.
1. Youth Code
Commitment To Complications
Few bands have been as exhilarating to track over the years at I Die: You Die as Youth Code. From the initial rumblings out of LA as to the intensity of their first shows and the clatter of self-formation on their demo, it was immediately and viscerally apparent to us that Youth Code was A Band That Mattered. Not just to us as fans, but to the ways in which the terrain of industrial music was shifting in the 2010’s. Their debut was a solid piece of work, getting the core of what the band was across to audiences within and without the industrial world, and the A Place To Stand EP found them learning to (seemingly paradoxically) amplify the rage of their live presence through cleaner programming and more structured compositions. Coming roughly three and a half years into their existence, Commitment To Complications feels like exactly the record Youth Code were born to make (which is especially impressive given that it was written and recorded during an especially turbulent period in the band’s history) even as it pushed open whole new avenues in their sound. Hell, maybe in some cases it was that restless, roaming experimentation with new grooves and structures which made Youth Code sound as comfortable in their own skin as ever, even as they were busy furtively scratching at it with overgrown claws.
From a technical standpoint it’s certainly the most accomplished Youth Code have ever sounded. Much has been made of the involvement of studio wizard Rhys Fulber in the production process, but his most tangible influence is probably in how he assisted YC in realizing their intensity more effectively than ever before. No one could ever listen to the fractured programming and doubled-and-redoubled percussion on “Glass Spitter” and accuse Sara Taylor and Ryan William George of slickening up their sound. It’s the realization of what’s always been there, and just as the uncharacteristic calm that begins and ends “Lost At Sea” signposts their evolution as songwriters, the interwoven sequences that make up “Doghead” point to just how adept their programming has become. The influence of metal on Taylor’s vocal style can be clearly tracked through numbers like “The Dust Of Fallen Rome” and “Lacerate Wildly”, with the increased aggression in her delivery holding in proportion to the acute vulnerability that comes across in her performance. So much of Commitment to Complications is felt as much as it is heard, replete with anguish and fury that feel so tangible you could hold them in your hand.
And much of that is why Commitment to Complications is a record we loved but also a record we needed this year. It’s been a tough orbit around the sun for pretty much everyone we know and care about, and having a piece of art that helped us express and direct our frustration and anger was priceless. Industrial music was born out of a need to vomit the ugliness we’re forced to consume back into the world, and no other record this year gave us the sense of violent and necessary catharsis that Commitment to Complications did. It’s unequivocally our favourite LP of 2016. Read our full review.
Thanks for checking out our Year End Top 25! Check in tomorrow for an episode of the podcast where we talk about a few honourable mentions and broad trends of 2016!