My Top 10 albums list for 2009 (along with Top 5 songs) is included in the online results for the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll. This past year many groups that could loosely be put under the Goth/industrial/darkwave umbrella captured my attention; specifically here, slots #1, 2, 3 and 8. I’ve been wondering when we might see a Goth revival in the mainstream, and given the recent co-opting of its image by the emo scene, the popularity of dark fashions and the return of post-punk and New Wave musical aesthetics, I think it might finally be due.
As anticipated, the Pazz & Jop 2009 results were compiled and analyzed by a site called Furialog to compare critics’ choices in terms of how they voted and how their choices compared with each other and rated in terms of the top ranked albums in the poll. With regards to how I compared with the overall critics pool in terms of centricity, I ranked #676 out of 692. (Usually I hit the Bottom 10; hey, I rose out of it this year!) What does this mean? Simply that my choices are very individualistic and not aligned with the mainstream, which is fine by me. While some of my choices are on major labels, they are not typical Top 40 fare. And isn’t exploring and exposing people to new things what being a music journalist is all about? It’s not just about what’s popular or a name brand; it’s about what each of us thinks is good.
Here are the albums that rocked my world in 2009. Video clips for each release are collected here.
1. APOPTYGMA BERZERK Rocket Science (Sony Germany) — Apop’s last couple of albums have leaned in a strong synth-rock direction that is a change in trajectory from their original EBM-based sound. While some long-time fans are allegedly unhappy with that shift, I’m enjoying it immensely. This album’s a bit angrier (fallout from divorce, concern over world affairs) but still catchy as all hell, and the guest vocal appearances from Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden and the Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer are interesting and apropos choices. (ADD feature on Apop here.)
2. FAITH AND THE MUSE :ankoku butoh: (Mercyground) — Inspired by Japanese folklore and art, the first album in six years from this dynamic dark duo is one of their best works yet. It combines their penchant for interweaving Goth, post-punk and folk sounds, not to mention Monica Richard’s occasionally ethereal vocals, and adding in a great new element: Japanese taiko drumming! Add a book and a DVD culling live and promo clips along with interviews, and you’ve got a delicious package to go along with the fantastic music. (ADD feature coming soon.)
3. EMILIE AUTUMN Opheliac [Deluxe Edition] (The End) — She’s the current darling of the Goth/dark music underworld, even though she would never label herself Goth. It’s not easy to categorize what vocalist/violinist Emilie does; suffice to say it is a mesmerizing, often aggressive collision of rock, pop, Goth and classical sensibilities spiced with lyrics about bipolar disorder, abuse, self-mutilation and more. You know, the happy stuff. She also puts on a wild show. (ADD feature on Emilie Autumn here.)
4. JOHN GORKA So Dark You See (Red House) — While Gorka is my favorite folk singer (I’ve seen him eight times in concert), I confess that I’ve fallen behind on his recent releases. When I picked this one up last Thanksgiving weekend, I found that he had not lost any of the charm, insight or whimsy that have characterized his work over the last 25 years, and he still offers a nice turn of phrase at pivotal moments. From delicate ballads to bluesy numbers, Gorka knows how to bring the pathos. And some funny.
5. LEAVES’ EYES Njord (Napalm) — The third album from this German metal ensemble (with Norwegian siren Liv Kristine at the helm) proves that they are still the best of the Goth/symphonic metal bands out of Europe. Fueled by passion and romanticism while walking the line between musical beauty and brawn, this larger-than-life album will transport you back into the age of the Vikings without the cheesiness commonly associated with power metal. (ADD feature coming soon.)
6. MUSE The Resistance (Warner Bros.) — Small group, immense sound. Inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, album number five from these British successors to Queen is as grandiose, epic and hard rockin’ as their last two efforts. The new wrinkle this time is the three-part, neo-classical “Exogenesis: Symphony” suite that closes the album and summons the spirit of Mozart. It’s no surprise that this super power trio was asked to open up for U2 last fall.
7. KRISTEEN YOUNG Music For Strippers, Hookers, And The Odd On-Looker (Tony Visconti Productions) — I hear that singer/pianist Young hates comparisons in relation to her music. Fair enough. Her manic, powerful, confrontational performance style — sample song title: “He’s Sickened By My Crude Emotion” — gives this album a special life of its own, enhanced by Tony Visconti’s buoyant production. (He worked with Bowie back in the day.) But if I have to be annoying about it, I’d say think Kate Bush on overdrive with Keith Moon on drums. And then some. Young’s piano-fueled fury is not for lightweights.
8. COLLIDE These Eyes Before (Noiseplus) — A long-time staple of the Goth-industrial underground, this L.A.-based duo finally unleashed a full-blown covers album. Yeah, many bands use this concept as a stop-gap release for when they’re out of ideas, but I feel like Collide got their rock back with this one, serving up engaging takes on tunes by Pink Floyd, Chris Isaak and The Beatles, among others. Plus there’s a great version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” complete with marching band. (ADD feature on Collide here.)
9. DEAD BY SUNRISE Out Of Ashes (Warner Bros.) — Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington has concocted a solid side project. Meshing elements of pop, metal, punk and grunge, this album encompasses all of the anguished themes that the singer has brought to his main group, but with a refreshing variety of styles performed adeptly by a backing band that includes members of retro ’80s rockers Orgy and Julien-K. (ADD feature on Dead By Sunrise here.)
10. STEVEN WILSON Insurgentes (K-Scope) — The mastermind/frontman behind modern prog heroes Porcupine Tree, Wilson takes a more atmospheric, ambient turn on this solo album without losing the great mixture of intellectual ruminations and tasty rock riffs that have always characterized P-Tree’s body of work. Wilson proves that he can wield just as much power with a long, dissonant guitar or keyboard chord as he can with more complicated melody lines. (ADD feature on Steven Wilson here.)