Here's another musical round-up to keep you occupied while holed up in your pandemic command bunker. The Pitchfork title of this piece is "The 33 Best Industrial Albums of All Time," but homey don't play that horse race. Your mileage may vary. My mileage varies. What would you add to this list?
Chris and Cosey
"Industrial music for us was about being industrious," Cosey Fanni Tutti reflected of her time in the pioneering group Throbbing Gristle. "It wasn't about industrial sounds." Her point was proven when she and bandmate/partner Chris Carter formed a new duo after TG's dissolution, veering away from the group's harsh textures into lighter, more melodic territory. The music that comprises Heartbeat, their debut album, spans multiple genres—minimalist techno, spacey synth-pop, stretches of eerie ambience—while maintaining a rough, corroded edge. From the grinding pulse of opener "Put Yourself in Los Angeles" to the dazzling sci-fi title track, its vision and melding of textures influenced scores of electronic artists; it also provided a path for fellow industrial musicians to maintain their intensity while learning to lighten up and evolve. –Sam Sodomsky
Desecration, self-loathing, flesh, power: This is the scripture of Swans, the infamously loud and transgressive New York noise band led for decades by Michael Gira. By Greed/Holy Money, they had blown up their sound—two bassists, three drummers, the vocalist Jarboe—to become a chamber group of hulking, post-industrial aggression, marching against the bull market of New York's cocaine decadence in the mid-'80s. Swans' songs, especially in this era, are interrogations: of status quo, of fetishes, of patience, of thresholds. With Jarboe's cooling presence coming to the fore, and a cavernous production that reeked of basements and leather, Swans begin to reveal more layers to their compositions, their struggles with religion, and a contrast of light and dark to give their work a full dimension. Grimly, Gira's allegations of sexual abuse later in his career—disappointing for an artist so fixated themes of domination and submission in his songs—now complicate Swans' legacy, offering a darker coda still. –Jeremy D. Larson
Nine Inch Nails
The Downward Spiral
Here's Trent Reznor at his hardest and softest, playing both the big man with a gun and the small man immobilized by existential despair. While Pretty Hate Machine would set the template for Reznor's industrial pop and introduce the genre to the mainstream, The Downward Spiral pushed him to the edges of his range. Pummeling, full-body beats shudder through barnstormers like "March of the Pigs" and "Mr. Self Destruct," which manage to carry violent rage into choruses that function, effectively, as pop hooks. The distorted bass/snare throb of "Closer" is by now as instantly recognizable as the refrain's bestiality-brushing lyrics.
But The Downward Spiral doesn't just show off Reznor's talent as a beatmaker; it leaves space for him to be soft, too. "A Warm Place" and "Hurt" lace overwhelming pain into stirring melodies, presaging the knack for atmosphere that Reznor would bring into his film compositions. As Nine Inch Nails, he often exacerbated the image of the angry white American man to the point of parody, playing out the brittle frustrations of a character who doesn't have the resources to name his pain. On The Downward Spiral, he expends a little color on the pain behind the rage, fleshing out the archetype he'd spend a career illustrating. –Sasha Geffen
20 Jazz Funk Greats
Throbbing Gristle's third studio album, 20 Jazz Funk Greats, is their perfect manifesto. Starting with its eerily bucolic cover art and the false advertising of its title, the record is a collagist landscape of fucked-up rhythms, evocative and intense lyrical imagery (such as "I've got a little biscuit tin/To keep your panties in/Soiled panties"), and severed noise. As a band, Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter, and Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson created an uncanny mix of haunted chants, slurs, and spoken howls amid drifting homemade cassette samplers, phasers, warped cornet, programmed drums, and dislocated guitar. Each member of Throbbing Gristle was a distinct figure, contributing to the charismatic whole. But it always felt like cheating to focus too much attention on who was doing what at any given time. The magical mashup and unknowability was part of the pleasure.
And part of the shock: Just as the listener is getting used to living in Jazz Funk's disemboweled music box, the band serves up the shiny, thumping electro disco of "Hot on the Heels of Love," anchored in Fanni Tutti's breathy whispers, a dance-floor snare, and delicate vibraphone notes. They founded their own world—creating a cracked framework for industrial music, populating it with their own squalor and later side projects, and then tearing it apart with a smile. –Brandon Stosuy
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Image: Album cover art