Here’s the second of our three-part series of posts running through our favourite records of the year! Between this and the first one, you might be able to notice some of the same trends in our picks for 2020 as we did, which we’ll be touching upon in a special Friday edition of We Have A Technical…but of course there are still five more records still to come. We’re hoping you’ll check out some of the records below if you missed them upon release, and will join us tomorrow for the our top five.
15. Harsh R
Avi Roig has been keeping things short and bitter from the inception of his Harsh R project. EPs which barely scrape past the ten-minute mark have been its calling card, and given Harsh R’s biting hybrid of synthpunk, noise, and gabber, quick surgical strikes (or rapid stabs to the kidney with a rusty screwdriver) work to keep things fresh and intense. The Burden doesn’t break from Roig’s past in terms of brevity or inspiration, but by subtly adding some extra layers to buttress up the punishing percussion and cunningly shifting focus back and forth between his howling vocals and dense meshes of synth, new weight and complexity’s been added, like the clear suggestion of a funereal dirge on “The Past Is A Prison” even as rubbery hardcore beats kick along. Venomous things come in small packages. Read our full review.
Negative Gain Productions
Jamie Blacker’s ESA has been doing a balancing act for a long-time. The UK based purveyor of rhythmic noise and cinematic ambiance has long tread the middle ground between those distinct poles, examining their contrasts and the places they collide with thunderous impact. Burial 10 is the definitive case for how good Blacker has gotten at making music that speaks both to raw, distorted and beat-driven aggression and the detailed sound design that informs the thematics of the project. A big part of that is how much more present Blacker has become as a vocalist on his own material: his fearsome vocals have become a major part of the project’s arsenal in recent releases, and there are moments here where they put tracks over the top, elevating crushing rhythmic noise with frisson-worthy growls that match the hostility of the music. It’s just one more tool in the now well-established ESA arsenal – Blacker has the ideas, the attitude, the production and the voice, and more than ever a sense of how to use them all in concert with one another. Burial 10 is a benchmark for an act who have been slowly but surely redefining what rhythmic noise is and more importantly, can be. Read our full review.
13. Panic Priest
Negative Gain Productions
Panic Priest’s sophomore album is a prime example of a shift in musical focus paying big, big dividends. The debut album from Jack Armondo’s one man darkwave project had plenty to recommend it; tuneful melodies, confident vocals and solid production. Where its successor really changes things up is in presenting those qualities with a more hard-rocking and dramatic edge, bordering on full-on second wave goth rock grandeur. It really is a record that has no end of hits both fist-pumping and danceable; “In All Severity” is all twisty guitar lines and chiming synths with the backbeat to keep it moving, “Lonely City” works a simple melodic guitar line into a timeless bit of gloomy rock, and the exceptional “We’ve Got the Cause” ended up being one of Our Thing’s most timely and memorable big-chorus anthems in recent memory. It’s just a record with a damnably catchy stable of tunes, all performed with a breezy confidence and charm that has kept it in our rotation all year. Not sold? Crank up “Shiver and Crawl” and have a proper good goth club stomp in your living room – you won’t have been the only one to do so in 2020. Read our full review.
12. Crystal Geometry
Sonic Groove Records
Industrialized techno has an identity problem; while it wants to latch onto industrial culture’s mechanical cachet and harsh sound design, too many producers waving the hybrid flag have settled for making boring techno tracks with surface level signifiers, devoid of deeper meaning. Not so in the case of France’s Crystal Geometry, whose work speaks both to the universality of techno proper and the breadth of industrial – and in many cases each genre’s shared history. Programmed and designed using a healthy arsenal of modular synth gear, the record is certainly geared for the dancefloor, but constructed with an ear for dynamics; for every flat out stomper like “Open the Gate” there’s an ghostly and atmosphere-driven companion like “Tenebres”, for every unexpected production element like the huge riffs that permeate “Spiritu Superiori” there’s a stylistic shift like martial-industrial touched “We Follow the Left Hand Path”. It’s that rare album in the style that works as just that: an album, complete with the kinds of peaks, valleys and variations that separates a proper record from a mere collection of songs or playlist. Quite simply Senestre was the best record of its kind that we heard in 2020, and a new watermark for other producers working in the same vein to be judged against. Read our full review.
11. Black Nail Cabaret
Gods Verging On Sanity
The presence and power of Emese Arvai-Illes’ vocals has been apparent to all who’ve heard them over the past decade, either as the frontwoman of Black Nail Cabaret or in guest spots. Hell, her presence on Architect’s Mine was a major reason why that record ended up topping our Year End list in 2013. While the lush and continental darkwave programming of BNC has always been a perfect complement, Gods Verging On Sanity excelled this year by delivering BNC’s best suite of songs to date. By stripping arrangements down to the barest (and most impactful) necessities, and shuffling in some unexpected moods and styles, Gods Verging On Sanity brought production, vocals, and songwriting into tight unity, giving us both compelling dancefloor catnip in “No Gold” and a haunting showstopper in “My Casual God” – handily one of the best songs we had the pleasure of hearing this year. Read our full review.
Beneath the Whelm
How do you follow-up what ended up being your band’s definitive record in approximately a year’s time? Well, if you’re Statiqbloom’s Fade Kainer and Denman Anderson you go darker. Much, much, darker. Statiqbloom’s electro-industrial has always had a healthy dose of grit and gloom to it, but the absolute oppressive atmosphere of Beneath the Whelm is still enough to give even seasoned genre fans pause. And it’s not just the opaque, woozy and dirgelike style of the record’s production, but the songs themselves; the beats are still here, but turned towards songs that convey weariness, desolation and grievous sorrow. If that sounds like something of a downer to you, well, you’d be correct. But it’s also a record that never drags despite the considerable weight carried on its frail shoulders. In a year that felt like an endurance test with no end in sight, there was a comfort in hearing music that not only reflected the bleakness of everything, but kept pushing forward through it. There’s no way you could ever call Beneath the Whelm hopeful – it’s far too dismal and unpromising – but what it suggests is compelling: maybe when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you stop looking for it and learn how to persevere in absolute darkness. Read our full review.
9. Horror Vacui
Living For Nothing
Having helped to reinvigorate the European deathrock scene over the past decade, Italy’s Horror Vacui had earned the right to push some boundaries by the time their fourth album rolled around. Adding a few more chiming melodies and slower, more brooding numbers didn’t radically depart from their already solid foundation, but did help to refresh what was already great about the band and showed them to be more than capable of handling tonal shifts. Ornate and ambitiously gothic pieces like the instrumentals “Requiem” and “Elegia” sat alongside traditionally furious stormers like “Living In Tension”, while the band’s existing socio-political fury seemed to take on new significance as the year spiralled further into chaos. Bookended by the rapturous, liberating joy of “Consolation Prize” and the towering, doomed existentialism of “Unreachable”, Living For Nothing is a testament to the enduring power of peace-punk and deathrock sounds when wielded by the right hands. Read our full review.
8. House Of Harm
As readers may have been able to ferret out by now, our Year End list is populated by much more post-punk than usual, and they’re a surprisingly uptempo and poppy clutch of records at that. Nothing fit that bill in 2020 more than Boston trio House Of Harm’s debut LP. Dreamy but immediate tracks are knocked out in rapid succession to the point that the pastel-shaded new wave of “Behind You” and “Catch” and the nostalgic autumn sunset of “Always” just seem to completely abandon the idea of post-punk at all (don’t worry, you won’t miss it). Given their ear for easy yet melancholy synth and guitar hooks, comparisons to Drab Majesty might be inevitable, but hang around with Vicious Pastimes for a while and you’ll notice that House Of Harm keep things janglier and more Creation Records-tinged than Drab even in their sunniest moments…except perhaps on the dour “100 Years” homage of “Against The Night”. Influence and comparison aside, Vicious Pastimes is anything other than its titular adjective – charming, welcoming, and damn addictive. Read our full review.
7. Special Interest
The Passion Of
Thrilling Living Records/NIGHT SCHOOL
How the hell do you even sum up a record like Special Interest’s storming The Passion Of? The musical particulars aren’t hard to identify – angular and abrasive guitars, thudding drum machine kicks and whirling synths provide a chaotic backdrop for vocalist Alli Logout’s incredible voice to croon and castigate by turns. It’s once you’ve been acclimatized to the band’s confrontational and danceable style that the real power of the New Orleans four piece starts to sink in; this is a band that is equally at home in the speedy and disorienting “Disco III” (the “Sodomy on LSD!” chorus of which is probably the most memorable of the year) as they are on the pleading, soulful “Street Pulse Beat” or the syncopated pogo politics of “Homogenized Milk”. That versatility acts as mechanism that allows Special Interest to hold forth on any number of interpersonal and political topics with delivery that ranges from pointed digs to genuine desperation and rage. It’s astonishing that Special Interest made a record that feels absolutely in tune with the zeitgeist of 2020 with such matter of fact prescience. The Passion Of is a record of brutal intimacy and tough truths that you didn’t know you needed to hear, but won’t be able to let go of once you have. Read our full review.
We might have guessed that Visitor were gonna get weird with it on their sophomore record. We just wouldn’t have guessed Technofossil would be this weird. This funky. This wet. The grimier sides of the EBM and dark electro on their debut are cleaned up on Technofossil, but in ways which connote mutant alternate histories of those genres hitherto unexplored. From the oily drips of “Precious Moments” to the plastic tubing and rubber thump of “Double Life”, to the online cabin-fever of “Virtual Game” (very on brand for 2020), Visitor zoomed in on timbral and thematic quirks from the annals of post-industrial history and exploded them out into sprawling, unwieldy chimeras you couldn’t help but gawk at and tap your foot to. A missive from a parallel universe in which the Dreamcast actually did take off, Mark Mothersbaugh’s Hawaiian Punch theme is the national anthem, and everyone spent the last five years bumping White Car records instead of Berghain techno, Technofossil helped keep us sane by staying bizarre. Read our full review.
That’s your lot for today – tune in tomorrow for the grand finale.