Welcome to the twelfth iteration of our annual best of the year coverage here at I Die: You Die. If you’re a casual reader who swings by at the end of the year to get a quick list of recommendations, thanks for popping in! If you’re a regular reader we hope the list reminds you of a few records you might have had on the back-burner but haven’t yet had a chance to dig into. We’ll be offering some overarching comments in this week’s Year End podcast, but we do think that this is one of the more varied lists we’ve ever compiled, without any particular genre or style running the table. Let’s get things started with our first ten records of the year…
25. Ye Gods
While there’s an inherently mysterious quality to producer Antoni Maiovvi’s work given its wide range of genres, none of his guises is quite so intriguingly opaque as Ye Gods. You can draw a line from any number of esoterically-minded electronic acts to the sound of Babalon Works, but what makes the long, loping sequences and structures of the record resonate isn’t their invocation of unknown, but how they approximate the feeling of insomnia-fueled contemplation. Those familiar patterns of circular thinking, along with unexpected revelations, and the feeling of snapping suddenly awake from reverie are all contained in these textural, but by no means ambient compositions, rendered from samples and programming that feel by turns both far off and proximal. Read our full review.
24. Puerta Negra
The mutant EBM style which Puerta Negra are serving up on their debut EP has had a few years to work its toxic neon DNA into the body of North American industrial culture. But even while tapping as distinct a presence as Susan Subtract to master Costo Humano, the Portland duo ensure that their own read on body music, and especially that of vocalist Maria Aguirre, stays firmly in the ooze-green spotlight. Having found a balance between the loose funk and punchy programming upon which this style depends, Puerta Negra dish out six caustic tracks touching upon social and environmental themes (no doubt shaped by Aguirre’s tenure in deathrock act Vueltas) with brutality and panache. Read our full review.
23. Caldon Glover
Caldon Glover’s move into the dark ambient big leagues (or at least the equivalent thereof in such a niche genre) with their first LP for Cyclic Law saw the Arizona producer blending their earthy approach to electro-acoustic sampling and composition with the far more grand and otherworldly style “traditional” dark ambient often rests upon. It’s a difficult balancing act, but Glover manages it by working intriguing tics and noises into the corners of austere, contemplative compositions which nicely suit the Lovecraftian themes Labyrintia is built around. Maintaining a real sense of personality in a style which often eschews humanism is no mean feat, but Glover puts their own stamp on it while still measuring up to the sonic expectations of dark ambient connoisseurs. Read our full review.
22. A Projection
In A Different Light
Swedish post-punk act A Projection’s synth-driven reinvention of their sound is dramatic, but that’s appropriate given the tenor of the songs on In A DIfferent Light. Tracks like the manic “No Control”, the instantaneous club hit “Careless” and the soundtrack-worthy “Darwin’s Eden” are all driven by speedy programming musically, but their climactic and cinematic scope is what makes them land. The band’s cannily assembled songs still deploy electric bass, guitar and drums where appropriate, but it’s their grasp on how to use vocalist Rikard Tengvall’s impassioned delivery and synthpop hooks that take their songs into big-feelings territory from the first listen. Read our full review.
21. Kill Shelter
Metropolis Records/Manic Depression
Coming on the heels of a well-received collaboration with Antipole, one-man Scottish act Kill Shelter went for the goth rock jugular with their second stand-alone LP. Aided by an all-star roster of guests ranging from Beborn Beton’s Stefan Netschio to William Faith, Asylum succeeds by delivering a clutch of songs which widely vary in terms of tempo and mood, yet still all scratch the classic goth rock itch. Best of all, Kill Shelter main-man Pete Burns put his engineering chops to work in finding fresh sounds and instrumentation with which to reinvigorate the time-tested goth template. Read our full review.
The cinematic and orchestral ambitions of Scott Fox’s iVardensphere have been plain to see over the past decade of the nominally rhythmic industrial project’s evolution, but they’ve never been given as broad a canvas as eighth LP Ragemaker. Comprised of strident martial percussion and thrilling string sections, Ragemaker feels like the culmination of a side of Fox’s work with projects as varied as his collaborations with This Morn’ Omina and his adaptation of “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”. It’s a testament to Fox’s ever-deepening talents for composition, with its peaks being reached through pace and arrangement rather than pure volume or noise. Read our full review or listen to our commentary on the record featuring Fox.
As half of witchhouse touchstones ∆AIMON, Brant Showers’ work was based on the energy and emotion that passed between himself and wife Nancy Showers through the crucible of music. His solo work as SØLVE has a different, if no less personal cast; setting aside many of the overtly ritualistic elements of his earlier compositions, Earth Inferno finds Showers pushing his always stellar production in to harder and more fraught territory, informed by industrial rock and metal and a feeling of inescapable doom. The crushingly weighty percussion is matched by some of Showers’ most expressive and angry work as a vocalist, placing himself in the heart of the maelstrom as the songs as thrash and convulse themselves into torpor. Read our full review.
Negative Gain Productions
Jamie Blacker’s evolution in ESA from anonymous composer to powerfully charismatic vocalist and performer is so striking that it often obscures just how cunning the UK-based producer has proven himself. Exhibit A: the incredible number of genres and ideas that inform the entirety of his latest LP Designer Carnage. Beyond his trademark rhythmic noise workouts (“Hyena”, “One Missed Call”), you’ll find snatches of such unlikely forms as dixieland (“I Detach”, “Come and Find Me”), chamber music (“Laudanum Dance”) hip-hop (“Who Then Shall I Fear”), and countless others (see towering closer “Saturnalia”), each brought to bear with precision and skill. Fueled by deep misanthropy, but tempered with purpose, it’s evidence of ESA’s consistent growth with each punishing release. Read our full review.
JC Lobo may always be associated with the OG witchhouse movement, but with Ritualz’ Radical Macabro, the Mexico City based-artist reclaims and contextualizes that influential sound and aesthetic. Weaving nods to his own history into the darkwave-styled compositions that make up the LP, Lobo highlights commonalities in style that fly under the radar; see how he renders sludgy black metal through an electronic lens on “Die Here Now”, or the alternately smooth and sharp melodies of “Disintegration” recalling blocky mid-2000s club industrial as much as as modern darkwave. All of this through Lobo’s own distinct style of production, a heady and potent brew of saturation, thudding percussion and foggy reverbs, his trademarks since his emergence as an artist on the global stage. Read our full review.
16. Null Device
The Emerald Age
A case could be made that Null Device’s The Emerald Age shows the limits of ‘Wisconsin Nice’, at least by the standards of the normally very amenable Madison synthpop band. While still featuring the sharp and considered songwriting we’ve come to expect from the group over their last few records (which now reach well beyond synthpop’s traditional limits, as we recently asked the band about), it’s a record about drawing lines in the sand, personally and politically, in times when retreats to polite neutrality are no longer tenable. Read our full review.
Come back tomorrow for entries 15-6, and Wednesday for our Top 5 of 2022!