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It’s not news that popular indie rock got a bit darker in 2010. Look no further than regular topics of conversation around here — Zola Jesus, CREEP, Cold Cave, Salem, Tamaryn, Blessure Grave, Locrian, Gatekeeper, Frank (Just Frank), Crystal Castles, Holy Other, Balam Acab, Minks, oOoOO, Silent Diane, ///▲▲▲\\\, anyone else who got labeled “witch house,” and even the new look Abe Vigoda, etc. I started thinking about this again while writing the Double Take on Liars’ They Were Wrong, though to be fair, it’s something that doesn’t really leave my mind. Things are still definitely drifting into black in 2011, so I thought it made sense to put together a list of some of the best “new” bands making sounds in those shadows. Not all of the groups were formed in 2011, no, but most of them are poised to leave their biggest mark in the coming months. Some will be familiar, others less so. I left off Soft Moon because we included The Soft Moon on our 20 Most Overlooked Albums Of 2010, but consider them honorary members. I also left off a bunch of bands like Sleep ∞ Over because they’re swoony, but not very grim. Speaking of which, I didn’t get into metal or more outsider ambient sounds because (a) I ramble enough about metal elsewhere and (b) it’s always been plenty dark in those parts. (If I had included some of the latter, I would’ve featured awesome new Tri Angle signee Ayshay, shrouded noisemakers Cultus Sabbati, Brooklyn’s Mirrorgate, Mamiffer, and Montreal’s Femminielli [thanks, Ryan, Akitsa/Contrepoison], among others.) I needed to narrow it somehow, so this is “poppier” terrain. Also of note: The following’s in alphabetical order, not in order of darkness.

aTelecine

So far when folks write about electro-industrial quartet aTelecine, they focus on the fact that the group features Sasha Grey (on voice, synth, tape loops, guitar), but hopefully in 2011 people can stand back enough and appreciate these dark, warping, gargling, and drifting, occasionally explosive soundscapes regardless of who helped make them. Expect a new full-length titled The Falcon And The Pod in April and two more records — to create a trilogy — by mid-Summer. They’re also collecting the back catalog/vaulted/vinyl-only tracks and preparing them for digital download.

Austra

We’ve already labeled the Katie Stelmanis-fronted Toronto trio a BTW, but Austra’s self-titled debut is so strong — a shimmering, sufficiently dark goth dance party fronted by a classically trained vocalist who clearly enjoys her Fever Ray — that I thought I should mention it again. One of 2011′s best, it reminds me of Nico’s extremely icy The Marble Index with a warmer new wave pulse.

Chelsea Wolfe

L.A.’s Chelsea Wolfe composes fractured, noisy, abstract, experimental and exploratory gothy doom-folk that reminds me a bit of Portal Of Sorrow, Marissa Nadler’s collaboration with Xasthur. (Not just because she covers Burzum.) Her work, which she’s called “spiritual realm funeral songs” and labeled “Estonian industrial,” features those sorts of blackened atmospherics and fuzz alongside her strong voice and imaginative playing. Wolfe’s debut full-length The Grime And The Glow, out via Pendu Sound, was one of my sleeper favorites in late 2010. But 2011 should be her year.

Craft Spells

Craft Spells is more summery and New Romantic than the rest of the artists on this list, but Seattle-via-California frontman Justin Paul Vallesteros’ voice, sometimes an Ian Curtis-esque whisper, other times a confident croon, nails a sort of ’80s nostalgia that connotes darkness, even when bringing light into the room. It’s the band you retreat to when you need a break from Christian Death or want to find a suitable way to soundtrack an outsider’s love story (hell, they have a song called “Scandinavian Crush”). Captured Tracks has released a 7″ and is set to put out the band’s debut LP Idle Labor next week.

Cult Of Youth

Brooklyn’s Cult Of Youth, primarily the project of multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Sean Ragon, has released home-recorded singles and one limited-edition Dais LP since 2007, but this new self-titled Chris Coady-produced, Kevin McMahon-mixed collection is the first he’s recorded with his proper band. People who pay attention to the neo-folk, pagan folk, and post-industrial scene, wear Death In June/Current 93 shirts, bring up The Wicker Man occasionally in conversation, or frequent Todd Pendu’s gatherings, will likely be familiar with the band, but 2011 seems like the year the rest of the world will get a taste of CoY’s frenetic, powerful energy.

Esben And The Witch

Tribal, atmospheric Brighton post-punk/goth trio Esben And The Witch take their name from a Danish fairytale, one of those stories starring a witch and her oven. The cover art on their full-length debut Violet Cries is reminiscent of Current 93’s Where The Long Shadows Fall (or a purplish take on a nature-worshipping black metal record), but the blustery blend  of guitars, effects, keyboards, tom-tom is more akin to Zola Jesus collaborating with Scott Walker or a bombastic Kate Bush-loving electronic act taking lessons from Mogwai on the art of the deep crescendo. (As far as the overall temperature and spaciousness, you wouldn’t be wrong to think of Portishead.) They’re signed to Matador, who’s clearly giving them a push.

Frank Alpine

After years of home recording, Rich T. Moreno, onetime drummer for L.A.’s New Collapse, released a 2009 Frank Alpine 7″ on Dais. He’s at work now on a full-length debut that we can expect “roughly” in late summer/early fall. As he puts it, “The LP will include new songs with vocals, produced with a higher-fidelity sound, using all analog synths from previous recordings.” His minimal, dark synth sound’s a raucous, wild, hypnotically repetitious, almost ritualistic take on death-rock and post-punk. (You might also think of the Fall — the Mark E. Smith-fronted band, of course, as well as the fall of man, the world’s ultimate collapse.) Here’s an unmastered track from the new album, the fittingly titled “Dark Places”

Horrid Red

Horrid Red is a half-submerged, softly fuzzed darkwave project featuring 3/4 of the Edmund Xavier-fronted Teenage Panzerkorps along with Clay Ruby from Burial Hex. Their Pink Flowers EP is out now via the dependable Soft Abuse. (Also look for TPK’s German Reggae, out via Burundi Cloud/Holidays.) Horrid Red’s touring in June — hopefully they live up to their glam press pics.

Iceage

On the surface, the Copenhagen quartet Iceage are more aligned with Gravity Records than goth, but these kids (aged between 18 and 19) create a kind of punk that’s manic, explosive, poppy, and endlessly dark (post-anarcho? post-Wedding Present?). Their propulsive 12-song, 25-minute debut LP New Brigade surfaces after 2009’s debut Escho 7″. It’s of my favorites of 2011, maybe one of the best albums of its sort in recent memory (as well as a nice kick in the ass when too many kids are busy with business plans and afraid to throw caution into a blender).

Kindest Lines

Dark New Orleans pop trio Kindest Lines are releasing their debut full-length Covered In Dust via Wierd on 6/15. The 11-song collection was produced in Chicago by Alfredo Nogueira and Josh Eustis of Telephone Tel Aviv. It’ll be preceded by a 7″ for second single “Destructive Paths to Live Happily.” The first single, “Baltimore,” premieres below. It’ll give you a sense of their Cure-esque atmospherics blended with a kind of down-home indie-pop and gently wafting post-punk, blending minimal synth with guitar crescendos.

Lost Tribe

Featuring members of Aghast and Helldistort, Richmond, Virginia’s Lost Tribe play an irresistible sort of clamoring death-rock, peace punk, and crust goth. Their self-released five-song New Dawn cassette’s a must for fans of late ’70s L.A., rollicking dark punk, and Joy Division atmospherics. I play this thing on repeat, constantly. Here’s the opener:

Martial Canterel

Longtime fans of minimal synth pop will recognize the name behind Martial Canterel, the solo project Xeno & Oaklander’s Sean McBride. His packed, layered analog songs are noisy, melancholic anthems for hiding out during sleet storms. (And they feature a catchy, clean glossiness that’d fit perfectly in barely-lit clubs.) McBride’s newest effort, You Today, mixes densely spacious analog production, intelligent lyrics, existential loneliness, great hooks.

Mueran Humanos

Berlin via Argentina couple/duo Mueran Humanos don’t stick to one particular style, though through a blend of Krautrock, noise, punk, electronica, industrial, and lyrics sung in Spanish, they maintain a definite atmosphere. Their one-sheet’s description of them as “a garage rock Chris and Cosey” works. The vinyl edition of their self-titled debut’s out via Blind Prophet, the label run by Cult Of Youth’s Sean Ragon, and the first 78 copies arrive(d) with a “randomly selected” card from a German edition of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck.

Raw Moans

Maybe the only band on this list who’d admit to listening to R. Kelly… The San Diego duo of Laotian American fashion reconstructor Joseph Vorachack (who also records with Top Girls and Party Trash as Skylines) and Jeff Graves use the Oakland Raiders’ logo as their own and manage a kind of dark humor in even the bleaker edges of their R&B-meets-goth-industrial pop soundscapes. Raw Moans isn’t dark in the sense of some of the other folks — it’s late night and insular and lonesome, even when it isn’t. Disaro released the double CD-R We Want It Beautiful Not Real and RW RMX at the end of 2010. Here’s a new cover of Lush’s “Tralala” that Vorachack finalized and passed along just in time to be included in this list. He told me he was up all night mixing it– you get that bleary-eyed diligence with most of Raw Moans’ work, one of the things that makes it special.

Soft Kill

Soft Kill is the project of Toby Grave and wife Shiloe Alia (aka “two people playing like five”). We’re told the couple bonded musically over a shared interest in Howard Devoto, the Cure, Wire/Colin Newman, and Killing Joke and that their excellent debut An Open Door’s “an open dialogue love letter in song form.” It’s also a perfect example of romantic, class-sounding death-rock. Fittingly, Peter Murphy did the cover photo for it. (See, also, T and S’s Group Hex.)

Staccato Du Mal

Staccato Du Mal’s the decade-old minimal synth project of Miami-based Ramiro Jeancarlo, one half of industrial/power electronics duo Opus Finis. Right, decade-old, but the gorgeously dire Sin Destino is his first proper full-length. The tracks are shrouded in a cold, claustrophobic atmosphere — like Jeancarlo’s reacting to Southern Florida the way California black metallers shut out their palm trees. As on those projects, you can’t keep the shades shut forever, and moments of warmth do occasionally streak the shadows.

TRUST

We’re told when the Toronto duo TRUST formed in 2009, they focused on “nostalgia, lust, and erotomania.” (An earlier track’s titled “Gloryhole,” Jamie Gillis fans.) On their debut 7″ they keep that dark, “dirty” energy in place and add a bunch of hooks, an ability/knack that separates them from a lot of folks associated with the word “witch.” Sonically, Robert Alfons and Maya Postepski (also of Austra) combine patient, layered synthesizers, live and programmed drums, and processed vocals with a punk attitude and deep sense of spacious, catchy melody.

White Ring

I’ve gone on about how Crystal Castles make me think of WOLD and the black metal connections with Frank (Just Frank) and Zola Jesus, but if you jump around the Internet, you’ll see White Ring themselves mentioning Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Satyricon, Watain, and Liturgy alongside Swans, Death In June, Slowdive, TG, and Coil. This is just part of what makes the male/female Brooklyn duo so interesting. Look for a new tape shortly. Todd Pendu, who’s releasing it, tells me “it’ll have unreleased White Ring tracks along with exclusive remixes etc put together like a classic street hip-hop mixtape.” In 2011 they can shed that “witch house” tag and get back to what they were doing in the first place.

///

Thanks to Caleb, Pieter, and others for insights. It’s worth noting I wrote the bulk of this during a March icestorm. All lists, especially one of this sort, deserve a singing skeleton, so here’s Soft Kill’s “Death In The Family” video to send us into that great night.

Here’s the list again sans blurbs for easier reading, again in alphabetical order:

01 aTelecine
02 Austra
03 Chelsea Wolfe
04 Craft Spells
05 Cult Of Youth
06 Esben And The Witch
07 Frank Alpine
08 Horrid Red
09 Iceage
10 Kindest Lines
11 Lost Tribe
12 Martial Canterel
13 Mueran Humanos
14 Raw Moans
15 Soft Kill
16 Staccato du Mal
17 TRUST
18 White Ring

Comments (69)
  1. i just CAN’T believe that your forgotten Zwischenwelt (a project by henirch mueller (dopplereffekt), beta evers, penelope martin and susana correia) his album paranormale aktivitat will be released in rephlex this year.

  2. I’m giving up on stereogum. brandon has taken over control and it is not good.

  3. Ken McCandless wrote a rather in depth feature about dark music a month ago on MeccaLecca.com that you might find worth checking out. http://meccalecca.com/blog/?p=7686

    Cultus Sabbati and Demdike Stare are both really creative bands you could classify as “dark”
    And Extra Life is really interesting, especially compared to these bands, many of which sound like Joy Division wannabes

    • Cool, will check that out. I’ve written about Extra Life in the past: I called them a Band To Watch in 2008. Good stuff. Have also written about Cultus Sabbati. But they’d more likely show up in my metal column than on this list, which is intended to be bands existing outside of noise, metal, etc.

  4. Hi Brandon. I feel like a dumbass doing this in a comment but I’m not sure how to contact you otherwise. I have some music I’d like you to hear. It’s dark dream pop led by a very accomplished female vocalist (lots of favorable comparisons to Liz Fraser et al). The songs are all about disasters and the band resides in the rainiest city on the continent. I’d like to give you a link to check it out without spamming everybody who reads these comments.

  5. for every kiteorca, there’s gotta be ten of me–people who had all but given up on what passes for music journalism (i.e. gigabytes of copied and pasted pre-fab herd p4k “opinion”) until stereogum started paying attention to real deal shit.

  6. This is not exactly the kind of “dark” I was hoping for.

  7. Don’t listen to the naysayers Brandon! Stereogum’s quickly becoming one of the best places to check for news on this kind of dark music and it’s incredibly refreshing. More please!

  8. i honestly dislike all these bands except craft spells which i think don’t belong on this list anyways.

  9. where are //TENSE//, Sixth June, Violet Tremors, The Present Moment and Octavius? completely missing all the Mannequin rooster guys :-))))

  10. Iceage reminds me a lot of early Killing Joke….

  11. Awesome list. Don’t forget to checkout some of the new PDX bands popping up…Bellicose Minds, Funeral Parade, Moral Hex, Arctic Flowers, Dove Asylum…great stuff happening these days.

  12. Interesting list. I enjoy the variety amongst all the dark material. The lo-fi edge is prominent, but there’s a few types to choose from. Well done.

  13. Where’s Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All?

  14. woozefa  |   Posted on Mar 24th, 2011 +1

    i haven’t heard of ANY of these bands! ;)

  15. No Timber Timbre?

  16. Would This Will Destroy You be considered “dark” in the same vein as the rest of these bands? They’ve done just about everything they can to be distanced from the “clichéd post-rock” scene that they were attached to following their first release, and their new album seems somewhat dark…?

  17. SERIOUSLY lacking some Mater Suspira Vision.

    Like you’re about to drink the thickest blackest tar-like drink, in a flickering fluorescent room, while a ghost whispers words you can’t hear and strokes your cheek with its finger.

  18. Dear Stereogum,

    Your list is fine and dandy but you could’ve topped it at 20 bands just by adding any two of these::

    //TENSE//, Future Blondes, Young Boys, The KVB, Tropic Of Cancer, Six Six Seconds, Lois Magic, Sealings, DVA Damas, Sandra Electronics, Fourier……..

    • Yeah, //TENSE// is a lot of fun — oversight/mindlapse on my part. I had Tropic Of Cancer on there for a bit, but decided they didn’t quite fit…

      Keep the recommendations coming, of course. People will search out the stuff that shows up down here, too.

      • Why Tropic of Cancer didn’t fit? It has the same atmosphere that The Soft Moon has. And if we’re talking about dark stuff, Sandwell District made such a great album of dark endged techno. Juan Mendez from Tropic of Cancer is in the same collective.

        While I’m at it, why no Salem?

        • I’ve written about Salem A LOT on the site previously — wanted to hop into new territory.

          Tropic Of Cancer isn’t as dark (to my ears) as the Soft Moon. Will give more spins.

  19. Ohmy gosh, what amateurs. can’t believe you forgot Hipstercum, Darkwave Nailbiters, Scott Walker is Dead, Ugly Furniture, Biting Bedbugs, and Frogface. Stereogum is OVER.

  20. I really want a proper White Ring LP release this year. And a Zola Jesus one.

  21. Wut? No We Are Hex?! C’mon!!!

  22. Does anybody know where I could find the full 5-song Lost Tribe?

  23. If anyone digs Lost Tribe then you should check out His Electro Blue Voice. Similar feel of that in-between point where post-punk was turning over into deathrock. Their stuff is a little hard to find since they’re Italian, but Sacred Bones has a 7″ of theirs.

  24. White Ring is right up my alley. Thank you for sharing this.

  25. Hey people, check out the awesome track “Christ” by Vagina Vangi, it’s a track from one of the best EPs to be released this year.

    Are we allowed to share links?
    http://www.tinymixtapes.com/chocolate-grinder/listen-vagina-vangi-christ

  26. SVELTA

  27. y’all forgot POWNYLAMB in that list

    http://www.myspace.com/pownylamb

  28. Can anyone tell me who/what ///▲▲▲\\\ is and where I can find some information on them or listen to them? Google isn’t helping…

  29. I only care about the Grave Babies

  30. Couldn’t even get through one of these songs in its entirety. If these are bands to watch in 2011, they’re not bands I’m going to listen to.

    Where is the fucking MUSIC? Have we all lowered our standards so much that this is the best we have to look forward to?

    • i think these bands are probably a cultural response to ‘overproduced mainstream pop music’ or something

      actually let’s just blame this all on the new britney spears album

  31. Brandon is edgy and doesn’t listen to what most people that come to Stereogum listen to, this is his way of trying to “educate the masses”

    :\

  32. Holy fuck, the majority of people on this site that comment are ridiculous.
    This is Brandon’s list, not yours, there’s no reason to make “HOW COULD YOU FORGET ___” post. It’s called “18 dark bands to watch”, not “every dark band making music to watch” and nowhere did he claim that it was a summation of everything gloomy. Recs are cool and appreciated though.

    • I was just going to comment the same. Brandon uses his time to write and share some bands and people go fucking crazy making annoying, shitty comments. They’re completely lacking any positive attitude. And, by the way, DARK music. It absolutely doesn’t mean Heavy Metal, Black Metal, Gothic, nothing of these. It means the music here all have some dark feeling.

      • Then you don’t know how heavily some of these bands are indeed drawing on “dark” music of the past. I hear a lot of rip-off…as for my credentials for making that statement, I’m literally typing this comment from the once-infamous Denton, TX “House of Tinnitus”.

        P.S. “Witchhouse” (if you can really call it a genre on its own) is the worst. Like a shitty, watered-down re-hash of several truly experimental 80′s acts…

        Old-timer goth-industrial chick sez: I’m very disappointed in you hipster shits all up in my scene.

  33. NAKED ON THE VAGUE >

  34. I tried downloading all of the tracks, but some downloaded as “flv” files, not mp3s….what gives?

    (Otherwise, great article. Many of those bands art awesome)

  35. This night in Nottingham plays the kind of newer dark bands on the above list as well as the classics: https://www.facebook.com/DarkEdgeNottingham

  36. sucks to watch all the trust fund kids get all the attention :/

    http://magicks.bandcamp.com

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