Presenting the seventh 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.
Cyclefly’s 1999 debut ‘Generation Sap’ was a glam-tinged alt. rock gem that went undiscovered by many, and this follow-up certainly went in a slightly more mainstream direction. It’s a weaker record but still packed with a blend of ideas and sounds that carries on sounding fresh nine years later. Declan O’Shea’s pinched vocals bring to mind the likes of Billy Corgan and Brian Molko, and while a musical comparison to Smashing Pumpkins and Placebo overall would not be entirely unbelievable Cyclefly carved out their own niche confidently. Indeed, it is interesting to note – spoiler alert - that neither of those bands released anything in this decade decent enough to make this list. I can also confidently spoil that this is the only album on this list to feature a guest performance from Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. What a shocker.
Recommended Tracks: “Selophane Fixtures”, “Drive”, “Crowns”
Seabound specialise in bright, glittering electropop that can occasionally pump out fast-paced floorfillers but it mostly comfortable with more measured, sombre songs that manage to steer clear of the term ‘ballad’. ‘Double-Crosser’ fine-tuned their sound – and while their releases are always subtle displays of excellence rather than proud, forceful anthems, the tracks collected here brought Seabound to a potential push through to the higher echelon of electro acts. The vocals are warmer than most of their peers, and their synthlines wash beneath them like an underground silken sea. One of the most consistent albums on this list, this is end-to-end quality blissed electronica.
Recommended Tracks: “Doubleplusungood”, “Domination”, “Castaway”
Iron & Wine is the country-folk musings of Samuel Beam, a man with prodigious talent and an even more prodigious beard. ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is a stripped-back release that is mostly acoustic guitar and his semi-whispered vocals, weaving simple images and experiences together into spellbinding songs that linger in your head long after they have any right to be there. Listening to this LP comes pretty close to glimpsing a gleam of sunshine through rustling summer leaves. It’s always gentle, but it is a gentleness that carries a power with it that can put other, more intense records to shame.
Recommended Tracks: “Naked As We Came”, “Love And Some Verses”, “Passing Afternoon”
37. Therapy? – ‘Never Apologise Never Explain’ (2004)
While Therapy?’s 21st century output has been inconsistent to say the least, ‘Never Apologise Never Explain’ rose above this inconsistency to provide a solid dark punk rock record. The tempo is sped up from their previous couple of albums and the bleak n’ roll trio get settled into some good old-fashioned sonic abuse. It’s not exactly a harrowing piece of work, since audience-bating anthems like “Rock You Monkeys” sit alongside the more claustrophobic urgency of “Polar Bear” – but then most of their best work has been built on the teetering brink between blind grinning optimism and utter cataclysmic despair. That’s where Therapy? live and breathe, and it’s a damn fun place to visit.
Recommended Tracks: “Die Like A Motherfucker”, “Long Distance”, “This Ship Is Sinking”
The second mclusky sequel act on this list, and one a lot closer in sound to the Welsh bile-rockers. More driven and less angular than their 2007 debut ‘Curses’, this record is pretty close to the feeling you get when a complete stranger comes to within two inches of your face and does an uninterrupted ten-second scream at the top of their lungs. While touching you inappropriately. A mixture of punky body-popping spasms and oddball keyboard-accentuated tics, one cannot completely ignore an album that contains a song confronting the dilemma that Satanists face when trying to get decent babysitting for their nights of wild devil-worship. ‘Travels With Myself And Another’ leaves you giggling in a worryingly high pitch, banging your head violently and wrinkling your forehead in disgust at the same time. That’s a good night out by anyone’s standards.
Recommended Tracks: “Arming Eritrea”, “Throwing Bricks At Trains”, “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You”
35. Rammstein – ‘Mutter’ (2001)
‘Mutter’ saw Rammstein expand the operatic bombast of their definitive Neue Deutsche Härte to defy the usual boundaries of English-speaking metal/rivetheads worldwide and deliver a breakout release that capitalised on the increased success of previous album ‘Sehnsucht’ to plant them – sweating, dirty and immolated – front and centre on the world stage of heavy music. It’s a tribute to their ability to spot-weld punishing riffs, stomping drums and booming vocals together, and this is displayed in fine form on this LP. It picks up the raw phosphorescent energy of Rammstein on stage and flings it at the listener, pounding its fists firmly into its chest before barking a single Teutonic command at you for which there is no safeword. To this day, I cannot think of a single other rock/metal act singing in a non-English language who can fill a dancefloor or a stadium in the English-speaking world. In itself that is wretched, but it also shows just how damn good Rammstein are at what they do.
Recommended Tracks: “Mein Herz Brennt”, “Sonne”, “Ich Will”
34. System Of A Down – ‘Toxicity’ (2001)
I still can’t quite believe that music as interesting and vital as System Of A Down actually broke through to the alternative mainstream, but with ‘Toxicity’ they did just that – exposing millions to their epileptic Armenian metal grind. It builds on the Middle Eastern-flavoured political thrust of their debut while packing in as many hook-laden riffs and quirky vocal freakouts as possible. It’s also head and shoulders above everything the band have released since, with their second best from this decade being a collection of songs stripped out of the ‘Toxicity’ sessions. There are slight reference points throughout the LP to link into the sounds of other bands (the angularity of Fugazi, the precision of Helmet) but really System Of A Down stand on their own as a sub-genre of one. For a band as popular as they are, that is almost unheard of.
Recommended Tracks: “Prison Song”, “Needles”, “Jet Pilot”
33. Million Dead – ‘A Song To Ruin’ (2003)
Nowadays vocalist Frank Turner is much more well-known for his solo work, but in the early 2000s he fronted melodic garage punkers Million Dead – political commentary equally sang and screamed over the top of crackling riffs and a measured rhythm section. Far superior to the concluding release that followed in 2005, ‘A Song To Ruin’ is a raw and blistering mix of the abstract and physical. Squirming with youthful frustration and quashed rebellion, it’s surprising how listening to this in 2011 makes no difference to listening to it at the time of release. The vitriol and energy is still apt, still honest and still damaging. Good for Million Dead, bad for how little we have progressed.
Recommended Tracks: “Pornography For Cowards”, “Charlie & The Propaganda Myth Machine”, “A Song To Ruin”
Deftones had long left behind their completely inaccurate labelling of ‘nu-metal’ by the time this record hit the shelves, but if anyone had any remote doubts left then a mix of crushingly heavy guitars and sublimely ethereal shoegazing was sure to do the trick. Chino Moreno’s vocals are far from the only appeal of Deftones, but they truly excel here. At times a ragged stream-of-consciousness croon, at others a gutwrenching scream of loving and sinful anguish. The guitars, bass and soundscapes all wash over the percussion and vocals like a multi-coloured glistening tide that leaves you gasping for air, stranded in some beautiful alien land. This eponymous release faced stiff competition from 2010’s return to form ‘Diamond Eyes’, but in the end this is the more solid and consistent release.
Recommended Tracks: “Minerva”, “Good Morning Beautiful”, “When Girls Telephone Boys”
Kings of the futurepop genre, Anglo-Irish duo VNV Nation have spent most of the last ten years meandering through electroclash and EBM with only one foot placed in their glory days. That’s not to say they have dwindled in popularity or record sales – I am sure the opposite is true – but it feels like the last truly fresh and necessary release they made was ‘Futureperfect’. It carries the counter-Imperialistic mix of classical and electronic influences that catapulted them into such a striking but divisive position amongst electroheads worldwide. There are storming dancefloor monsters alongside softer, twinkling creatures of dust and starlight. What marks this album out beyond others of the genre is how well these styles are blended together into a coherent whole by the lyrical themes and performance of Ronan Harris.
Recommended Tracks: “Epicentre”, “Electronaut”, “Beloved”