Dear readers, this is the first of a handful of highly overdue lists. What was originally meant to be something elaborate and sprawling has grown beyond its own capacity even within my own head. Writing is a muscle and flexing it has been more than a slight struggle for me lately. It’s not for lack of passion, but I’m just exhausted by the entirety of my life and this is the one piece of business that isn’t mandatory for me. With that rather sad note out of the way, it seems only fitting that it’s paired with my list of the best in music that fits in the territories of post-punk, industrial, noise, ambient, electronic, and anything else on that side of my website that isn’t quite metal. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t try to describe every single album here, yet I found myself incapable of just leaving links and names. This goes deep, just like the music on the list. I present it in no particular order, so let my descriptions guide you to your new favorites.
Varg- Under the Roman Lash
No, black metal overlords, this isn’t that Varg, and thank fucking goodness. This guy knows more than a couple settings on his synths. Cold, detached soundscapes of slowly building motion and decay from this Swedish genius. While these are seriously advanced sounds, I feel like anybody with a remote appreciation for command of atmosphere will get into this. Long sold out, download it from On the Board (the label has shared the link, so clearly this is condoned).
Blitzkrieg Baby- Cannibal Commando
Holy shit. Throbbing bass and whispered vocals come together to make the most incredible martial industrial pop in this dimension. This is oppressive and focused yet it’s utterly addictive. Masochism doesn’t even come to mind, however, as this is all adrenaline and no pain. Get into it.
Sextile- A Thousand Hands
I saw Sextile as one of the openers on a Pod Blotz gig in 2015. I had never heard of them prior to the show, but their driving and constant post-punk was as gripping and exciting live as it is haunting on record. Two entirely unique experiences from one act, but both are worth absorbing if you’re able. Expect even bigger things from them in 2016. I can’t imagine this is the sort of energy that will have a slow boil; it feels like an explosion.
Memorymann- In My System
You probably all saw my slow descent towards house music coming well before I saw it myself. It’s easier when you’re outside of something to observe it properly. In My System is a choppy and frantic sample-heavy experience that feels way more soothing than I’d have ever imagined it to be. Sometimes it sounds like a skipping anime soundtrack from the 90s while at others it sounds chill and controlled, but it’s always interesting. Maybe not so much my readers’ standard fare but we all deserve to push our own boundaries.
Drab Majesty- Careless
Some of the albums that have stuck with me the most since childhood are those that make the morose elements in life seem glamorous. With Careless, Drab Majesty offered up something that fits in besides the Disintegrations of my life without aping anybody else’s creations. Pulsing synthesizers accent colorful post-punk in all the right ways. In a world of darker music that conjures greyscale imagery, mastermind Deb Demure’s creations shine neon bright in the haze of a drunken night.
Prurient- Frozen Niagara Falls
I’ve seen everything from complete disdain to total worship of this album from my peers out there in the music writing world. I don’t think this is Prurient’s golden moment in the sun, but I do think that in a genre rooted on pure experimentation and exploration, Frozen Niagara Falls is an album I can listen to on repeat without growing tired and is a true step into new territory for an artist who has been creating challenging art for ages. Truly exciting. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Die Geister Beschwören- Music Feeds Stars
I reviewed this one not too long ago, and it’s still in constant rotation in my home. Whimsy and psychedelia play together brilliantly on this experimental folk album. Get into it.
High Functioning Flesh- Definite Structures
Harsh dance music of the highest order. Breathy, snarled vocals over mutated beats that revel in both beauty and disgust. When humanity finally fucks things up beyond repair and there’s nothing left but ruins and a few folks left to celebrate in the murk before extinction finally hits, these are the sorts of the sounds I imagine will constitute our final parties. This release received high praise from just about every relevant industrial music outlet and it’s entirely well earned. If you want something that references older Skinny Puppy and Nitzer Ebb in equal parts without thieving or feeling stale, this is the best new act you’ll find.
Does this even count? I guess I don’t care. While even a band as explosive as Coil couldn’t possibly live up to the hype behind an album that took two decades to release, this is still some of the most evocative and thrilling industrial music I heard in 2015. It’s just more evidence that Coil were and always will be time travelers of the highest order.
Tanner Garza- Always
Four hours of droning tape loops may seem like a lot, and they really are. This is a labor of love from its creator and the love shows in every moment. I could gush about this for hours, especially given my friendship with the artist himself, but I’d rather you take at least a few minutes to listen to this. Pick any song and just focus on love, whatever it may mean to you.
Iamí- Cavernas do Inconsciente
I guess this album could fit into any category I’d like to place it under, but I feel like dungeon synth belongs here. I could’ve easily made a list of dozens of albums in the genre, but Iamí gets top billing for being the work of an artist whose commitment to dungeon synth as a community and art form helped rekindle my love for a genre I first fell into over a decade ago. This is majestic and complex, yet still calls back to the beauty of simpler forms. Imagination grows in places like these.
Kjostad- Like Glass
This late entry to my list hit with enough impact to best some releases I’d been clinging to since earlier months of 2015. I met with the head of Unseen Force shortly before this came out and he kept talking it up. I’m used to folks with labels sharing excitement over their impending releases but this astonished me beyond any hype he could’ve given it. Crackling field recordings slowly build towards dizzying noise and subtle melodies. This is so full of motion that no tangible concepts can be grasped. This is formless and free in all the most wonderful ways. Who needs structures when you’ve got atmosphere?
Scandinavian Star- Scandinavian Star
Constant motion with the rush of cold synthesizers hitting more like a blast of fresh air to the face than any gloomy imagery the word “cold” could possibly conjure up. This one may be a bit farther out of place for folks looking for darker sounds here, but it’s one of the tapes I played the most in 2015 and I don’t expect I’ll tire of it any time soon.
TALSounds- Medium Strong
I’m not sure if Medium Strong should be considered as a set of musical compositions or if it’s more of pure peace in sonic form. Regular readers and friends know that my head is often on fire with all manner of frustrations and stresses. Instead of just getting consumed by black metal and chaos all the time, I often need something to soothe myself. TALSounds has quickly become the soundtrack to many a bath and mellow evening. This is self-care at its most crucial.
Various Artists- Non-Christian Referent & All the Little Devils Are Proud of Hell Compilations.
Chondritic Sound is an institution in the power electronics and industrial communities. These two compilations were released on the same day and are both solid expressions of a vibrant and captivating underground. With artists as diverse as Puce Mary, Martial Canterel, Sleep Clinic, and Konvoj Bonton Bajkera, there’s enough on either of these to hold serious interest. Non-Christian Referent appears to be sold out and unavailable but All the Little Devils is still out there so snatch it up before you miss out on this still frame of an ever-evolving scene.
Bloom Offering- Death Bed
The clicking of thin, crisp percussion accents the waves of distorted synths and vocals so brilliantly on Death Bed. Bloom Offering first came to my attention with a release on Plush Organics and quickly worked its way into my consciousness. This tape is a regular evening listen for me, especially the song “I Killed (A Man),” which is one of the coolest songs I’ve heard in ages. One of my only concert regrets in 2015 is missing Bloom Offering playing here in Portland while I was toiling away at my day job.
Heavy dub bass mixes with darkwave to make some of the most twisted and memorable music. This is a bit poppier than prior works, yet it’s a richer and broader experience because of it. It’s like being seduced by a black hole or an undercurrent. Submitting to beautiful destruction rarely comes as naturally as this, but why fight it?
Captive- Black Leather Glove
Black Leather Glove might be the one tape I listened to the most in 2015. There aren’t words for how much I enjoyed this. Sometimes I find that the more something moves me, the less I know how to give it a description. I’d list the classics this reminds me of, but it wouldn’t be fair or right. I never would’ve thought that Rusty Kelley of Breathing Problem & Total Abuse would be a perfect post-punk frontman but this is as well formed as one could ever expect.
Corinthian- Kathryne Keyron
There’s a fine line between static uncertainty and artistic expansion. With Kathryne Keyron, Corinthian walks it perfectly, hitting so many different moods and visiting so many different places in the world of sound exploration while still retaining a firm grasp on direction. This is focused and free all at once. One of Aught Void’s biggest successes in 2015, and that’s really saying something.
Philipp Bückle- Blanket for a Cold Seabed
Expressive and empty, Blanket for a Cold Seabed takes me to places that are intangible in any form other than sound. This was a very late entry for me, yet it’s been in near-constant rotation since it arrived. It hits me when I least expect it, even when I know exactly what comes next.
Pure motion from this Summer Isle artist who used to perform as RM. This varies from danceworthy to pensive, but it’s a short and sweet tape that warrants many listens. One of my favorite little surprises to pop up this year. I can’t get enough of her work, and pretty much anything with the E-Sagilla or RM name is worth your time and attention. If you’ve got the time, at least listen to “Masks of Evidence” and get lost in the unfolding layers of melody and percussion.
Christopher Elmore- I Am Still Alive
While this arrived so late in the year that it may as well be part of 2016’s music, this album is a focused meditation on the very essence of survival itself. Released on the year anniversary of Elmore’s decision to remain alive instead of making a premature departure, this is more of a stern and relieved look at life than a celebration of it. Lightness hasn’t quite entered the frame yet, but the cathartic determination here is poignant.
Purple Light- Crying Tears of Purple Light
This leaves me wordless. It says what it needs to say without me speaking for it. If every album I heard was this raw and open, I’d be out a “job” with this writing business. If it was all this good, we’d all be better off. It’s basically a culmination of the emotions and intensity I’ve enjoyed about Damian Master’s works in multiple projects, touching on all the longing and passion while allowing aggression to take the passenger’s seat. This sends shivers down my spine. Perhaps it might tell you some of its secrets if you listen carefully.
Publicist UK- Forgive Yourself
I don’t know what to say about this that I didn’t already say in my massive post about this album and its meaning to me. I’m not the type to just peg any one album as an album of the year, but this sits so heavily in the more private recesses of my head that it’s hard to imagine something challenging this . The lyrics alone hit like the ugliest fucking feelings I’ve ever felt, but when paired with the endlessly huge songwriting it’s just so painfully cathartic. I’ll probably lose myself in a good (or maybe bad) way if I ever actually get to see these guys live.