Creativity is said to be at its best in times of difficulty; I don’t know if this year has been particularly excellent, for sure the music never leaves us when we need it most, this is my usual unassuming partial list, totally spontaneous, unfortunately, I have the habit of not taking notes from week to week, and widely criticized. I conclude with a quote that is always relevant, especially in these times of sneakingly government repression.
“They can take everything from us, but not the ‘right to dream and raving” (Eduardo Galeano). Happy New Year, we’ll seemingly hear from the next. Many thanks to everyone, Ciao!
- ASKA “út við sundin grá” [Galakthorrö]
To a label with a sober, minimal aesthetic and little media exposure, a rare thing in these times of blank exteriority, where form matters more than content, like Galakthorrö, the ‘Downbeat Coldwave’ solo project by Islandic artist Kristófer Páll could only find its kindred spirit, who returns with his second album after a very long hiatus of about seven years, if you like in an even more laconic, dark and depressing version. Frigid, raw and arid analog sounds accompanied by fragile sad, at times dissonant, melodies that expand, flex, swish and deflagrate seamlessly to engulf the decadence of a chilling reality that is increasingly dystopian and impenetrable.
- BITUMEN “Cleareye Shining” [Heavy Machinery Records / It Records]
After a long gestation, the fiercely impassionate and dramatic sophomore LP from Melbourne‘s buzzy industrialized post-punkers does not disappoint with a near-perfect balance of distortion and harmony, driven by magnetic, sassy and powerful female vocals fighting with a charismatic edge through an abrasive and clattering maelstrom of pummeling rhythms, hook-heavy bassline rumbles, guitars whipped and struck with the frightening intensity of thunders bearing down into an all-engulfing black hole of gloom-induced noise rock. ’80s maximalism meets 90s industrial-electro. Robocop meets Basic Instinct’, still not sure what means, but it’s a cool way to end!
- DUCTAPE “Labirent” [SwissDarkNights]
Already made quite an impression in 2020, we certainly could not forget the thrilling debut album early in the year from the Turkish duo, where the Istanbul based band deliver all their gripping and sparkling darkwave potential amidst driving rhythms, edgy intriguing guitar riffs, post-punk bassline pulses, and both haunted and cold, yet sensual vocalizations, whose shivering passion, angst and rage add further fuel to an already blazing fire. Fresh from an intense live activity that brought them to Mexico, they’re ready to unleash their sophomore LP at the very start of 2022.
- FACTICE FACTORY “Figments” [Holy Hour Records]
The Franco–Belgian band morph their 80s tinged cold post-punk into an overwhelming emotional trip of hazy psychedelic escapism, rife with morose melodic poignancy, lead by relentless somberly pulsing basslines and metronomic rhythms over an immersive backdrop of atmospheric guitar reverbs, glimmering distortions, subtly pervaded by crawling melancholia, against airy washes of keyboard flow, whilst a sway of cold, surreal echoes and warm emotional pensive longings wander aimlessly through sad and hallucinated daydream of uncertainty and fear. An album to wrap yourself in and slowly make it your own.
- GLARING “Nebula” [Wave Tension Records / Peripheral Minimal Records]
Few artists know how to touch me the right chords, able to elicit somber heartfelt emotions, total immersion in the deep darkness of the soul, wandering along dense melancholy and suffering shadows, but from which also faint rays of hope filter, among shimmering atmospheric ripples and oneiric turmoils, generated by heart-beating crispy percussions, solemn bright synth swathe, bleak buzzing basslines, crystalline guitar reverbs, whose already sad evocativeness is sharpened by airy vocalizations full of painful restlessness, gauzy and ethereal, yet so extraordinarily poignant and penetrating. A dark and bewitching record capable of giving us new emotive nuances, after each time of listening.
- GRUNDEIS “Amygdala” [UNDRESSED Records]
A compelling band that stroke me from day one, Hamburg based 4-piece Grundeis weave sombre ghostly post-punk and gothy darkwave, punk in spirit yet immersively atmospheric and articulated in setting, now raw and biting, now disturbing and visionary, exuding meandering tension and great emotional transport, amidst icy, chilling guitars, snaky basslines and obsessive drumming, whilst powerful, emotional, and haunted vocals unbind defiant fear and broken desire into heavy strains of harsh shredding pain. A seductive charismatic voice that strikes at the heart combined with sparkling guitar work and a remarkable songwriting quality make for one of the debuts of the year.
- HANTE. “Morning Tsunami” [Synth Religion]
Parisian one-woman synth extraordinaire perfects the futuristic and dystopic electronic sound design that coats her distinctive haunting vocals to a sharp balance of crystalline production, lush and hypnotic synthetic textures, and propulsive ghostly rhythmic tension rife with vibrating emotional and edgy intensity, to create a visceral magic darkwave universe wreathed in ethereal obscurity and relentless melancholy and desolation, that stir and captivates with a dark, brooding yet seductive allure.
- KOMPROMISSION [KPMN] “Oscillations Urbaines” [IDIO[T]PHONE RECORDS]
Operating on the solid foundations of Post-Industrial edge and Martial aesthetics, the new project of Parisian musician Dullmist, KOMPROMISSION [KPMN], morphs the echoes of his 80s influences into a cloudy maze of colliding bleak emotions to set up minimal, terse and danceable dystopic synthscapes to stir a heartfelt and visceral dialogue between the soul and the machines, delivering a familiar, yet gripping and poignant analog synthetic sound carved in Brutalist geometry and drenched in neon-lit noir existential dread and bitter romanticism.
- MADMOIZEL “Blue” [TONN Recordings]
An artist in constant evolution, Parisian one-woman synth powerhouse returns with her classic yet off-kilter synthetic sound, even more dense and penetrating, pulsating and enveloping that develops in emotional spirals hovering between dark and disturbing traits and moments of thoughtful introversion, vaguely lysergic, on which floats effortlessly dreamy yet raw vocal vibrancy draw majestic breathes of powerful heartfelt emotions through an intoxicating layering of melancholy and passion. Abundant with poignant poetry, angsty sadness and emotional tension, the sound construction is richer and more articulated, whilst constantly swept by Madmoizel‘s unique boundless passion, energy and charm.
- ODONIS ODONIS “Spectrums” [Felte Records]
Since their powerful noise racket blast of a debut in 2011, the creative, imaginative and versatile Canadian band have undertaken a heady evolution through the pursuit for the most disparate sources of sounds in constant mutations and contaminations combining their initial penchant for a distorted loud industrial rock with the new elements of EBM, techno, electro, synthpop, darkwave, breakbeat, with special emphasis for the rhythmic, often highly danceable, solutions, while always preserving a strong punk and melodic attitude. An album difficult to pinpoint in its variety of styles, which has right its strength in this eclecticism, kinetic high energy and insinuating lustful passion, where every single track shines with its own light, albeit at the same striking a miraculous balance. From the Underworld-esque electro-wave of “Shadow Play” to the alluring darkwave of “More”, just to name a few, it’s hard to do better this year.
- POTOCHKINE “Sortilèges” [Young&Cold Records]
Electrifying French dark electronic duo confirms over a long distance all the goodness we have listened to so far.
Thrilling, agonizing, and high-energy gothic-tinged darkwave, which does not lack in melodic quality and punching punk attitude, as dark as it is bold to implement tight and pummelling EBM-fueled rhythmic edge and buzzing bassline oscillations behind sensual, powerful, and haunting vocals unleashing raw angst and stirring passions into a hunting turbulence of unbridled synthetic obsession to build irrepressible dark-club lust.
- REYMOUR “Leviosa” [Knekelhuis Records]
If the intent of the Kraftwerk was to demonstrate the naturalness of a quiet, friendly collaboration between man and machine, the latter as a psychological reflection of our existence, the Swiss bred duo relocated to Brussels, made of life partners Lou Savary and Luc Bersier, is a shining example of a heartfelt, at time playful, contemplative human dance, punctuated by bouncing and robotic synthetic rhythms mixing ‘chansons, synthpop and cute minimal wave’ wrapped in a blanket of sparkling eerie synthesizers that wind sinuously along with poignant aloof and bittersweet vocals, dropping dreamy bilingual reflections into a quirky charming, vaguely psychedelic, soundscape of penetrating warped nostalgia and hazy melancholy. Virtually impossible to come across a disappointing release from Amsterdam‘s Knekelhuis label, again this year, after De Ambassade, another precious little gem.
- RINA PAVAR “Vivid Night” [Grzegorzki Records]
Leipzig based cold synth artist’s debut LP has proved to be one of the most intriguing and alluring debuts of the year, triggering chilly shivers of icy, magnetic and lush nocturnal fascination inebriated by a driving drum machine and an undulating ominous bassline seething with neon-lit darkness, stabbed by swirling blazing synth swathes of enigmatic restlessness and excitement around her entrancing, detached vocalizations able to explore seamlessly different shades of black.
- THE CITY GATES “Age of Resilience” [Velouria Recordz]
In their sophomore LP, inspired by the historical and social realities of the last decades, the Montreal based outfit tune their modern take on guitar-driven sounds rooted in the 80s and early 90s, built on shimmering, and piercing reverberant shoegaze distortion haunted by pervasive bleak post-punk fascinations, in a heady wax and wane of nostalgic introversion glistening with lingering broad melancholia, and impetuous emotional surges, fueled by obsessive tortured ghostly vocals, for an absolutely hypnotic, vibrant, and engaging delivery.
- TRUE FAITH “They Can Always Hurt You More” [à La Carte Records]
Exploring suggestions and elements of great appeal for those like me who grew up musically with a certain style of UK post-punk sound from the early 80s, flourished between Manchester and Liverpool, then passing through Interpol, or Editors, I followed the Boston‘s band with interest since from the uncertain first steps as a trio dating back to the middle of last year, when they were still too much tied of re-propose usual New Order trope, certainly pleasant, but nothing more. Seemingly the expanse to a 5-piece seems to have added new stimuli and cues, as the debut album shows a collective able of balancing all their influences in an articulated yet natural way, sounding absolutely modern and distinctive. Restless and tormented, hauntingly melodic, cloaked in a shroud of angsty melancholy, at times decorated by evocative saxophone blows, whilst dramatic baritone atmospherics drive heady lyrics packed tightly with layer upon layer of obsessive mental wanderings wept in guilt and pain. Excellent debut that with its pulsating creativity showcases a band that rises above and beyond any mere imitative laziness and mediocrity, deserving all attention.
- VARSOVIE “L’Ombre et la Nuit” [Icy Cold Records]
“L’Ombre et la Nuit” is a heartfelt tribute to the ‘damned’ Swiss writer Francis Giauque, who committed suicide after a short life of inner drama and suffering, but as usual, the whole 4th album by the French duo Arnault Destal & Grégory Catherine AKA Varsovie is punctuated by cryptic impressionist literary lyrics perfectly assimilate into the band’s cold yet visceral and energized brand of dark French post-punk, equally passionate and poignant, laced with seething punk foundations, teetering on a heady combination of angsty melancholia and existential romanticism, through nimble and punchy drums driving along the giddy, jittery, ceaseless wanderings of abrasive, at times sharp-edged and angular, ringing guitars riffs, distressingly echoing compelling and impassioned French spoken word vocals, brimming with evocative brooding anger and bitter rousing sorrow.
- XENO & OAKLANDER “Vi/deo” [Dais Records]
Lithe and elegant, unique and nostalgic, bursting with unabating inspiration and emotive tension, intensity and passion, epitomize by striking arrangements, and painstaking attention to details, whilst the noirish mist and the ripples of tensions have with time parted away in favour of an apparent prismatic playfulness and a warm oneiric melancholy, bouncing on crispy, groovy and funky rhythmic patterns along with tinkling and gleaming synth architectures, brimming with retro Pop Française reveries, whilst high strung and dreamy vocals penetrate the intoxicating retro-futuristic outerspace with magnetic and bewildering curiosity. Spellbinding analog synth-pop that melts the soul.
- I close with a heartfelt tribute to the iconic Electronic Body Music (EBM) originators, they also called it ‘Disco Avantgarde’, Gabi Delgado-López & Robert Görl AKA DAF, whose classic analogue distorted basslines and their muscular high energy electro-punk style still and will resound forever. See you on the other side, Gabi!