One of the (legitimate) criticisms of goths is that we're "stuck in the past", that we want nothing more from life than to wear 80s clothes and sit in dark rooms, listening to early Sisters singles while we crimp our hair and sharpen our feet. And while that certainly sounds like a fun Friday, fans of dark music were treated to a wealth of new records this past year. Here are my favorites of 2015.
13: Killing Joke - Pylon
There was a time, not too long ago, when many regarded KJ frontman Jaz Coleman as a lunatic. A genius, but a lunatic nonetheless. Now, if you've been paying attention to the world around us, it's clear that he's the sanest one of us all. Since reuniting the original lineup, Killing Joke have made a trilogy of records dealing with political and social issues that, while angry, driving and heavy, never lose the melodic elements that first emerged on their brilliant 80s records.
12: The Rope - Waters Rising
I usually don’t include EPs on my year end lists, but I was looking forward to Waters Rising so much, I decided to bend my rules. Here we have, quite simply, 6 tracks of Proper Goth Rock. Nothing fancy, just guitar driven anthems with a baritone voice that never veers into the trap of “over Eldritch-ing”. The Rope is sure to please fans of both 80s and 90s Goth- perhaps we’re in the midst of Third Wave Goth?
11: Chain of Flowers - s/t
It’s a good start when name your band after a gorgeous b-side by the Cure, and it’s even better when you follow up with 8 tracks of heavy shoegaze and anthemic post punk. The band’s influences are apparant- strong notes of JAMC and A Place to Bury Strangers are felt here- but the best part of this record is how big it feels. Drums, bass and vocals are all larger than life and I’m hoping a trip to the states is coming soon so I can hear tracks like Nail Me to Your Cross live. A great debut!
10: King Dude - Songs of Flesh and Blood - In the Key of Light
Taking queues from Death in June, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and even, ironically, gospel, T.J. Cowgill crafted a gorgeous record with a sound as big as a desert sky. While his prior records have all been good, this is where everything has seemed to come together. Cowgill’s lyrics are his best yet, and the feel of his voice and guitar playing evoke classic Southern American Gothic.
9: Drab Majesty - Careless
Musically speaking, the sound of Drab Majesty is what I thought the future would be like when I was a kid in the 80s- cold, dreamy, dancey, dark and seductive. I envisioned myself in a metropolis of skyscrapers, with big hair and even bigger shoulders, dancing the night away at foggy clubs. Drab Majesty would be the perfect soundtrack to that fantasy world, what with their beautiful vocals and their soaring dark wave choruses.
8: Qual - Sable
Qual, the solo project of Lebanon Hanover’s William Maybelline, is pitch black melodrama at it’s best. From the opener, the beautiful dirge-like “Sable”, to the final track, the record is unrelenting in it’s vibes of isolation and darkness. Even on the dancefloor ready “Benevolent Technologies” Qual never strays from the darkest edges of minimal synth and darkwave.
7: The Soft Moon - Deeper
Recorded in the mountains of Italy at a studio called Hate, its no surprise that Deeper is the Soft Moon’s darkest, most nihilistic output yet. While Luis Vasquez has been making synth driven post punk for over 5 years now, Deeper melds together all of the elements he flirted with in the past. You can hear of course minimal synth and post punk, but this time around the influence of early ebm, krautrock and the guitar sound of early goth rock all coalesce into a collection of aggressive songs to dance your angst away to.
6: Lebanon Hanover - Besides the Abyss
William Maybelline and Larissa Iceless specialize in dark romantic isolation and on Besides the Abyss they take their minimal synth sound to the next level. In letting their more post punk side out with the addition of acoustic guitars and sax, the feel of Cold War Europe evoked by Larissa’s voice has small hints of a hope not heard from Lebanon Hanover before. My favorite track is the unexpected “The Moor”- her voice combined with the sax equal their most sexy song yet.
5: Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss
Having been a fan since her debut, The Grime and the Glow, I always eagerly await whatever Chelsea Wolfe puts out next. Since every album is it’s own entity and possesses it’s own sound the danger of her alienating fans is very real, but her constant daring and forages into different music genres are again met with enthusiasm. Toying with black metal, shoegaze (black gaze?), folk, ambient, goth and doom Wolfe makes a vast landscape of gloom inspired by her own battles with sleep paralysis. The result is sometimes terrifying, sometimes melancholy but always captivating.
4: Tamaryn - Cranekiss
While the incarnation that released The Waves and Tender New Signs will always be, for me, a slice of modern perfection in the shoegaze/ dream pop world, for her 3rd record, Tamaryn turned down the haze of guitars and her let her luscious voice come through. With echoes of Kate Bush and a blend of 80s electro pop, this is Tamaryn at her most seductive. The record’s production positively shimmers, reminding me of the Cure’s Wish and the vocals recall later era Cocteau Twins. This drastic risk paid off, for sure.
3: Lycia - A Line That Connects
I’ve long held Lycia to an almost mythic standpoint- to me, they were untouchable in the genre of darkwave/ ethereal. With their return on Quiet Moments, I was thrilled that I heard what I'd been missing from them- cold swirling soundscapes and haunted vocals. But on A Line That Connects Lycia truly show off every facet of their talent with some of the most finely crafted songs since The Burning Circle Then Dust. Of course the slow and heavy songs are present, but with the return of David Galas, there’s yet another layer in the form of The Rain- a straight to the club floor Goth Rock track that came out of nowhere and blew me away. Now if I could only have a vinyl release……
2: Them Are Us Too - Remain
There are some scientists who claim that the music you loved between the ages of 13-15 will always be your favorite. That must be why Remain was on constant repeat for me this year. Evoking the past without copying or mimicry, TAUT’s debut reminds me of my early high school years when, instead of math, my focus was purely on the discovery of music and what record store I’d be digging in after class. It was a magical time in my life and this record filled me with the same kind of excitement. The swirling guitars, lilting synths and lush vocal melodies take the listener on a journey to the heyday of 4AD, Sarah and Creation records and it’s one you’re not eager to return from. It’s a debut of incredible promise and I’m already looking forward to a follow up.
1: The Harrow - Silhouettes
It's said that the addict is forever chasing the feeling of their first high. While I can’t attest to that, I do think the same can be said for the music junkie. Since 1990, I've been chasing the dragon that was the opening strains of Plainsong, forever trying to reawaken my senses to those intense feelings only music can evoke. The single for Love like Shadows certainly did that- feeling somehow both comfortingly familiar, yet still giving me that “hair standing on end” excitement of a new discovery. When the record arrived from the label aufnahme+wiedergabe I spent the evening just flipping it from one side to the other, an endless loop of the beauty and alluring sound. While you can easily hear the influence of Lycia, The Cocteau Twins and both the 4AD and Lively Art labels, there’s also an undercurrent of bands like Sad Lovers and Giants, and Abecedarians that bring a driving edge to the songs. The longing in vocalist Vanessa Irena’s voice floats just above the lush and haunting music- the ringing guitars, the warmth of the synths, the cavernous bass lines. All in all, I couldn’t have imagined a record that captivated me more than Silhouettes has, from start to finish.
For an added treat, check out the band’s amazing cover of the Glove’s Mouth to Mouth, available free from Everything is Chemical .
-Michelle has been into Goth culture since that fateful day in 1990 when she first heard Disintegration. Since then, she’s been owning all her cliches proudly. You can find her on tumblr, where she tries to keep goth “Goth” or crate digging at any number of local NYC record shops.