Presenting the fifth installment in this ongoing, self-obsessed series. A Spotify playlist featuring all available recommended tracks is being built daily alongside the list, and can be found by clicking here.
Sometimes an album doesn’t have to take great artistic strides or make an interesting progression to be a damn good album. ‘Gelb’ is a case in point. In many ways it’s simply stock futurepop, standard melodic electronic fare with slightly strained, energetic vocals. But it is just executed so well that it lifts itself above the common herd – the slower more ballad-esque numbers are sufficiently soothing, the faster dancefloor numbers are suitably stompy. Even the Euro-English lyrics have a loveable incoherence from time to time. Plus Neuroticfish mastermind Sascha Mario Klein has the guts to cover “They’re Coming To Take Me Away” on it, which has to earn him some points.
Recommended Tracks: “The Bomb”, “Waving Hands”, “Suffocating Right”
Gallows’ second release takes everything that their debut 2006 ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’ did and turns it up to 11 - and what it loses in youthful chaos it more than gains in consistency. Frank Carter’s hurled lyrical venom finds a suitable target in the form of 21st century Britain, and it’s safe to say he finds it lacking. After listening to this, you probably will too. Each track sketches out a pale urban nightmare of disillusionment and barely restrained violence. This is hardcore punk at its most dynamic and vital, with every single instrument sounding like it is playing through an encrusted layer of blood and spit. When the UK riots took place earlier this year, all you saw when clicking through TV channels was flaming buildings and masked kids throwing bricks at riot police. And pretty much all I had running through my head was this album, and especially the track “Misery” with its closing gang vocal refrain. “Misery fucking loves us… and we love her too…”
Recommended Tracks: “Leeches”, “I Dread The Night”, “Misery”
Melodic punk rock doesn’t really come any more fresh and mature than Hot Water Music, and 2004’s ‘A Flight And A Crash’ carried on with the slow evolution of their sound that ran over the length of their initial career. It’s somewhat slicker than what came before, but not to the point where you can’t hear the physicality of every chord and drum hit. The dual vocals of Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard are dialled back somewhat, which gives the instrumentation plenty of room to breathe. Unlike a lot of other bands that try to carry their music along with intense emotion, HWM aren’t limited to one or two of them. Sometimes they’re angry, sometimes they’re in love, sometimes they’re nostalgic, sometimes they are a thousand other things. Sometimes all in one song. It’s what drives their records home with a sense of real honesty.
Recommended Tracks: “Jack Of All Trades”, “Paper Thin”, “Choked And Separated”
57. Covenant – ‘Northern Light’ (2002)
This album would probably make it into the list if all it had was the standout single “Call The Ships To Port” backed up by 10 tracks of hissing white noise. The song absorbs all the ingredients of the slowly fading futurepop scene and distills them into a perfect dancefloor anthem that manages to feel retro and futuristic at once. I think the term for that is ‘timeless’. Fortunate then for Covenant’s list placing that it isn’t the only decent song on the release. There is plenty more strong material here, both synthpop-style measured pieces and heart-pounding electronic rhythms – the former in particular tend to show off Eskil Simonsson’s cold vocal delivery, which always provide an arctic heart for the synthlines and beats to flow past. It’s a testament to the staying power of some futurepop artists that while the glory days of the genre are long gone, bands like Covenant keep on filling glowstick-lit dancefloors the world over.
Recommended Tracks: “Call The Ships To Port”, “Bullet”, “We Stand Alone”
Drawing a fine line between industrial and power noise, ESA ‘s “The Sea And The Silence” provides dank, dark electronic sounds backed by evil beats and vocals that veer between a female attitude-swamped punk rock delivery and male metal growls. It’s a unique sound, if at times not too listener-friendly for the more simplistic rivetheads on the scene. But y’know, fuck them. This is what I want to listen to. Tracks that feel like they’ve been composed for serial killer raves held in abandoned warehouses littered with mouldy occult paraphernalia and used needles. A vast improvement over the satisfying but uninspiring debut record “Devotion, Discipline And Denial”, this album could have been tailor-made for me to listen to with headphones while walking around town at night, glaring at people queueing outside trendy nightclubs. With my hood up. And a butcher’s knife concealed about my person.
Recommended Tracks: “The Sea And The Silence Part 1: The Sea”, “Dead Fucking Desire”, “Your Anger Is A Gift”
55. Spinnerette – ‘Spinnerette” (2009)
Performing a punk rock U-turn away from The Distillers, Brody Dalle led Spinnerette firmly into alt./indie rock territory and probably surprised a lot of people by putting out a really quite impressive debut. Grunge and stoner rock influences pervade throughout, and while this isn’t a million miles away from the later, more melodic Distillers material it does betray a maturity and songwriting competence that her former band only occasionally showed. Her voice, while softened, retains a gravel-swilling roar that peeks over the ramparts now and then to provide a satisfying edge that balances what could otherwise be quite mainstream songs.
Recommended Tracks: “All Babes Are Wolves”, “Driving Song”, “Impaler”
54. AFI – ‘Sing The Sorrow’ (2003)
Refining their goth-punk sound further from their breakthrough album “The Art Of Drowning”, AFI produced an album that tries to push a sense of failed majesty and delicate loss on the listener – it mostly manages it, too. While most of it discards the speedy horror punk riffs that previous releases had proudly displayed, The band more than make up for this by weaving a strong pop sensibility and varied songwriting into the tracks. Gang vocals are transformed into choral backing, the fast rhythm section becomes a countdown to the end rather than an adrenalised push. It’s quite possible that the atmosphere of this LP is what carries it forward, more so than the quality of the songs themselves. In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s a difficult thing to maintain. The albums that followed would go way too far in the same direction until most of what appealed about AFI vanished in a blur of eyeliner and trendy emo stylings, but “Sing The Sorrow” remains as a remnant of an exciting and distinct punk experiment just before it fell over the edge.
Recommended Tracks: “Bleed Black”, “Girl’s Not Grey”, “…but home is nowhere”
53. M83 – ‘Saturdays = Youth’ (2008)
Anthony Gonzalez runs a tight ship of pseudo-shoegazing electronic dream pop, and while previous albums had been both strong and laden with lush synthetic sounds ‘Saturdays = Youth’ marked the first time you felt that songs could be stripped out of their context and really stand on their own. Ably backed by some strong female vocal performances by Morgan Kibby, Gonzalez whispers bittersweet teenage tales over the top of his ephemeral keyboards and ‘80s electro percussion. Unafraid to swing between anthemic synthpop grandeur and more drone-like electronic hypnosis, this confidence is what lures you in onto a bed on soft glowing clouds - it’s very much an album to lose yourself in, but without the lack of accessibility that can denote.
Recommended Tracks: “Kim & Jessie”, “Skin Of The Night”, “Graveyard Girl”
52. Neon Neon – ‘Stainless Style’ (2008)
Unlike most albums, ‘Stainless Style’ is a synthpop/hip-hop concept album about a motor company business pioneer written by a Welsh psychedelic indie musician. Off the top of my head, I can only think of three or four other albums like that. Many of the tracks on this album are so retro and ‘80s that on first listen they genuinely sound like you heard them on the radio when you were growing up (assuming you grew up in an era of shoulderpads and Global Hypercolor). It’s disconcerting and immensely satisfying at the same time, even if the more poppy, electronic songs stand head and shoulders above the slightly misguided efforts at including hip-hop and MCs into the mix. If the rumoured sequel to The Goonies ever sees the light of day, I sincerely hope the soundtrack is written in its entirety by Neon Neon. With Cyndi Lauper guesting.
Recommended Tracks: “Dream Cars”, “I Told Her On Alderaan”, “Raquel”
51. Onedice – ‘Life’ (2001)
‘Life’ is a speeding freight rig straight to the solar plexus, a corroded chrome monster cooked up from equal parts thrash, grind and good old fashioned power groove metal. It’s not subtle or particularly original stuff, but it is outrageously good at what it does provide. Onedice were a British band who never seemed to get any attention from the metal press other than the occasional mention in a gig review, but that’s hardly surprising since British music journalism is more concerned with who will buy them drinks than with quality. They fired off this one album like an omnipotent middle finger then vanished. Find it somewhere, listen to it and raise your horns in a tearful salute.
Recommended Tracks: “Twice As Sick”, “Know Your Role”, “Crying Vein”