And here we are, the 13th kick at the Best of the Year can. Each year’s exercise in looking at the year that was has only revealed its real identity to us upon completing the annual list-making session, and without wishing to spoil the next few days of posts, we think there are some interesting and unique musical pockets in what we mutually enjoyed this year. You’ll get some thoughts on broader trends of the year on the round-up podcast at week’s end; for now just settle in for the specifics as we unveil them over the next couple days. The usual provisos should be taken into account: yes, this is entirely our subjective opinion and not prescriptive in nature, and polite discussion is always welcome and encouraged in the comments. Let’s get on to entries 25 through 16 of our Top 25 of 2023!
Throwback records are certainly nothing new in post-industrial music, but it’s rare to find one which has not only done its due diligence in terms of production and aesthetics as thoroughly as the debut from San Antonio’s Modebionics, but has such a natural aptitude for delivering the sort of compositions it’s drawing upon. Tunes like “Resume Function” could easily be mistaken for an original Zoth Ommog track by any number of classic acts, and Rolan Vega shows himself to be just as fluent in stateside electro-industrial when he begins working in some classic FLAisms on Precise Control‘s second half. When he warns that “There is no time,” on “Time Resist Lobotomy”, heads in the know don’t only cop the reference to the era-defining comp, but have to acknowledge the ease with which Modebionics’ sound blends in with the real McCoy. Read our full review.
24. Blu Anxxiety
Morbid Now, Morbid Later
Toxic State Recordings
Singer Dracula Orengo refers to himself as an ‘alien sex fiend’ on Blu Anxxiety’s Morbid Now, Morbid Later, a reference that invites a valid comparison; few bands have ever pulled off ASF’s trick of throwing so many musical styles into their sound while still reading as an explicitly goth band like these NYC deathrockers. Is anyone else tossing second wave goth styled rock cuts like “Sister Maria” in the blender with freestyle (“Running”), grimy rap-infused electropunk (“Negative Fantasy”), trad-California deathrock (“Fog”) and hitting puree? No, and even if they were, it’s hard to imagine them sounding as confident and fun as Blu Anxxiety, whose gleeful excess and camp trappings obscure the canniness with which they draw links between seemingly incompatible sounds like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Goths Rule Everything Around Me indeed. Read our full review.
The subtler cinematic take on EBM and related genres which Australian producer Brixx had used on her previous releases had already established her as someone with a view of the genre which reached beyond the dancefloor. That her first proper LP took the form of the score to a nonexistent 90s erotic thriller was a conceptual play in-line with Brixx’s aesthetics, but what made Erotomania such an easy record to throw on for repeat listenings this year was the ease with which Sabine Brix took up the subtler material such a conceit requires. Whether through the more low-key approach to electro taken by the title track or noir jazz vignettes like “Private Practice”, Brixx blended her body music foundation with more reflective shades to fantastic effect. Read our full review.
22. Designer Violence
We Gave Peace A Chance
A still rapidly evolving and mutating act, Dutch duo Designer Violence moved from lo-fi cyberpunk sludge to incorporate broader metal and goth sounds on their proper statement of arrival this year. We Gave Peace A Chance reckons with weighty issues like transphobia and climate collapse, and uses an ambitious register of noise, blastbeats, and harrowing vocals to do so. The result isn’t just a refreshed and refreshing take on industrial and its intersections with those aforementioned genres, but a record with its own portrayal of how those sounds, which have always wrestled with ugliness and brutality, resonate with younger artists as they struggle to find both themselves and some sense of security in a world seemingly determined to crush both. Read our full review.
21. Harsh R
The force of Avi Roig’s Harsh R has long been tempered with less bludgeoning if equally bleak sounds – this is after all an artist who released acoustic doom country versions of his synthpunk originals. Seek Comfort gathers ever more diverse melodics into the project’s paint-peeling mix without sacrificing intensity; the curled-at-the-edge sonics of the title track transform from synthpop to elegy, and the smokey sax break on “Are You My People?” provide an emotional clarity to its halting, anxious rhythm. Closer “Wave Goodbye” even has a go at auto-tuned electro-pop, albeit through the same mirror darkly that informs the whole LP, one where beauty and ugliness are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. Comfort has rarely felt so relentless. Read our full review.
20. Male Tears
Electro-goth isn’t a new idea by any means, but the ways in which Male Tears approach doom disco on KRYPT are distinctly of the now. Reverse engineered from influences that range from the most formative goth bands to the most current hi-tech pop, then spiked with James Edward and Frank Shark’s own acerbic wit, it’s a record where the lo-fi rattle of darkwave club-bids like “I EXPIRE” and “DOMIN8” and the crooned melancholic synthpop of “SLAY” and “SLEEP 4EVER” co-mingle with an archness that can only come from being deep-fried in the goth end of the internet for a few years. That makes the whole affair all the more relatable, inverting irony into sincerity through dint of empathy and shared, if skewed, subcultural experiences so real you can smell the cloves and taste the drugstore-tier black lipstick. Read our full review.
Leaving Me Behind
inåt bakåt Records
In a time when darkwave has been taken to the chicest and most fashionable of dancefloors, Danish act Torch are taking it back into the dankest corners of goth clubs. Oozing with charnal miasma, Leaving Me Behind‘s ten tracks shudder with bellicose rage and shimmer with sinister atmosphere. Whether they were linking modern darkwave programming back to first wave goth guitar on “Blood Rituals” or weaving nests of serpentine programming and keys on “Euphoria”, Torch ensured that hooks and songwriting weren’t left by the wayside while maintaining Leaving Me Behind‘s cloud of doom, creating a record which ended up being as easy to listen to as it was oppressively bleak. Read our full review.
18. Cruel Diagonals
Comprised entirely of manipulated samples of LA experimentalist Megan Mitchell’s voice, the latest record from Cruel Diagonals is an icy but affecting blend of drone, experimentation, and pure vocal prowess. Compositions bloom out of unexpected, emergent rhythms or harmonics which drift in and out of focus; it’s a record which connotes microorganisms as well as cosmic drift. While the juxtaposition between the low, industrial drones Mitchell often grinds her voice into and Fractured Whole‘s more cleanly melodic elements is impressive, the record’s real power lies in the uncanny moments when Mitchell’s voice drifts in or out of a recognizably human register or envelope. Read our full review.
17. House of Harm
If melodic post-punk is the brighter, more accessible side of the dour and angular style, House of Harm don’t think that needs to make it uncomplicated. Indeed, their sophomore LP Playground‘s great strength is in how it takes the Boston trio’s gossamer charms and puts them in service of a brooding set of songs that defers immediate thrills for drawn out builds and smooth cresting peaks. And many of the results are all the sweeter for that deferral; “Roseglass”‘s chorus burrows deeper into the listener by staying close to the ground, and the Bunnymen-isms of “Ignore the Taste” hide its sneaky great hooks in little pockets of distortion and reverb. When the band do go all in on showstopping effervescence on “Two Kinds” the effect is ever more sweet for the journey to and from it across its melancholic neighbouring lands. A lovely missive for those down to mope. Read our full review.
16. Bedless Bones
Mire of Mercury
Kadri Sammel’s most notable quality since the launch of her Bedless Bones project has been the earthy fashion she approaches both ethereal and club-focused aspects of darkwave. Mire of Mercury finds her using that to bring those styles ever closer together; songs like “Litha” and “Solar Animus” have an airiness that belies their tightly quantized synth and drum programming, where a call to nature like “Tongue and Rhythm”‘s paganistic bearing is so strong it conjures the forest primeval from its crisp mechanical sound design. That’s all a product of Sammel’s own enchanting qualities as a writer and performer, placing herself so deeply into the songs that she becomes your personal guide, running you through their winding paths to uncanny moonlit clearings. Read our full review.
Make sure to come back tomorrow for parts 15-6 of our Best of 2023!