We have returned to the Sounds and Shadows Darkscene singles chart. This month I have combined April and May but we have had the most votes cast to date. 2081 votes from our group of Bands, Djs, Reviewers, Promotors, and Superfans. These were all singles released in April/May of 2023 in the loose “Darkscene” genre. If you have a single out in June or know someone who does please add it to the Sounds and Shadows Facebook group poll, or become a Patron Subscriber. All the songs here are bangers, so please give a listen, support underground music, and tell us about your favorites.
Ground Nero – Stars
Leathers – Fascination
The Bellwether Syndicate – Noir Thing
Health – Hateful
Bellhead – Bad Taste
Bara Hari – Agoraphobic
Vaselyne – Under Your Skin
Self Titled Album – Haunted Chuck E Cheese
Danny Blu + Moris Blak – Cover of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation“
CARV.R feat (Mari Kattman) – Deflect
Ego Likeness – Cover of Madonna “Live To Tell”
Ground Nero – Stars – April 2023 release out of Belgium from Mark Sayles (Mark E Moon) , Peter Philtjens, and Peter Smeets. The first thing I notice, glorious organic drum beats which make this feel more old school than any guitar riff could. Mark’s vocals growl like a lean wolf stalking under a full moon. The chorus opens with a captivating hook worthy of the Mission. It’s a modern day anthem plucked straight from the 80s.
2) Leathers – Fascination – Another April release from Vancouver Canada synthstarlight project of Actors member Shannon Hemmett. Every single released gets more sparkling and elegant. Shannon’s voice burns braver. I love the jet set Duran Duran 80’s opulence in every molecule of this sound.
3) The Bellwether Syndicate – Noir Thing – I waited so long for this album and single from the Chicago legends. They just returned from a tour and trip to Germany. This whole record is produced within an inch of it’s life. This single is a furious rampage let off the leash. William Faith has a lip curl snarl in his voice. Blistering Sigue Sigue Sputnik time changes and Jesus and Mary Chain rockabilly bassline. If you have never witnessed this live you desperately need to.
4) HEALTH – Hateful – LA Electronica demolition experts with an explosive new single. This intro absolutely sizzles. Listening to it makes me want to plan a jewel heist. It crackles with danger, it drips with sensuality, it swirls with deception. There is a reason EVERYONE in modern electronica is raving about this trio.
5) Bellhead – Bad Taste – Chicago bass duo keeps rolling out tension narratives of undefinable indie darkness that continue to be unnerving, captivating, and fresh. The vocals between Karen and Ivan are a dialog between thunderous baselines and slashing guitars. This is a dark star rising before our eyes.
6) Bara Hari – Agoraphobic – LA based theatrical dark pop with this shock whip April single. I just had an interview with Sam about this single and video. She really captured the national emotion during the pandemic of the walls closing in. Powerful delivery on a slinky dance beat and sword strike guitar riffs.
7) Vaselyne – Under Your Skin – The Dutch Duo of Yvette Winkler and Frank Weyzig on COP International return to our chart once again. Beautiful, delicate, haunting that organic connection of plucked acoustic strings against Yvette’s mournful plead. Around 2:40 the sky opens up with a sky fire guitar solo and vocal harmony. Raw emotion that gets under your skin.
8) Self Titled Album – Haunted Chuck E Cheese – Once again Utah based shadowdelic band of Rob Fkin Varney, Josh Hollar, and Tim Hall grace our chart. It’s always difficult to put words to the slushy decay and electronic assault. This track has a wonderful 90s alt rock hook that really captures the nostalgia of anyone who was abandoned in the animatronic capitalistic horror show that is Chuck E Cheese.
9) Danny Blu + Moris Blak – Cover of Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson – I just saw this amazing tour a few weeks ago and the chemistry between these two top tier artists is a blessing for us all. I have long held that the Rhythm nation album was always an industrial pop record which defined the genre before we had a word for it. I love how this cover brings the best of both artists. Danny’s cadence is sharp and throws sparks with every steel foot stomp. The backing music is crackling precision and mysterious twists you can never quite predict. If you still have a chance to see this tour it was one of the most exciting things I have seen live in a long while.
10) CARV.R Feat Mari Kattman – Deflect – East coast team up of Cristian Carver and Mari Kattman two veteran performer/producers which united to unleash this jam. New England Poltergiest Disco at it’s finest. The percussion is such a cascading tight spiral which Mari’s voice dances on like a ballerina. I love everything about this pairing and hope there is more to come.
Sometimes the right thing to get the creative juices flowing is to take an existing and influential song, put one’s own spin on it, and unleash it upon an unsuspecting fanbase. Whether taking a page of a genre playbook similar to one’s own or covering a track clear out of left field, why not shake shit up here and there? Within the last few weeks, the alternative world has seen a number of its best and bleakest offer up their interpretations of some popular tracks, ranging from a Nine Inch Nails Grammy winner to a cut from the Queen of Pop.
Poppy modernizes nu metal darlings Kittie’s first salvo “Spit” from 1999 debut
The post-genre princess known simply as Poppy has paid homage to the women that have rocked before her, namely t.A.T.u (“All The Things She Said”) and Jack Off Jill (“Fear of Dying”), but the once-YouTube sensation tends to wear her musical influences on her sleeve. The title track from Kittie’s 1999 debut album was a rattling of the metal cages, as the Canadian four-piece challenged the entire concept of women in heavy music in a way that hadn’t been done since the heyday of Doro Pesch. A shame it may be that the lyrics of “Spit” are still relevant nearly a quarter of a century after its initial release,
Poppy’s update picks up the pace and adds in more electronic elements, making what was already a mosh-ready track a mule kick to the teeth. If Kittie’s original was pissed off, Poppy’s is an exasperated, infuriated howl along the lines of “god damn it, we’re still debating this shit?!” It’s urgent, dangerous, and an improvement on an iconic song from the heart of the nu metal era, and for that Poppy should be proud.
Danny Blu & Moris Blak confirm what we all knew: Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” is, in fact, industrial
In 1989, Janet Jackson invited us all to join a nation without geographic boundaries, united by a common mission. The title track from her landmark fourth album was set to bring people together through the power of music, addressing social calamities in a concept album for which Jackson fought tooth and nail to maintain creative control over. Given the rising influence of industrial music in the late Eighties, some have quipped, albeit only semi-seriously, that Rhythm Nation 1814 is an industrial album, but leave it to two of today’s best and brightest in the game to take that and run with it.
The SHVDOW Records duo of singer Danny Blu and producer Moris Blak bring the legendary track into modern times, tweaking the lyrics ever so slightly to reflect the problem du jour (namely, “with music by our side, to break the gender lines,” whereas the original named “color lines”). The live out loud mantra and attitude of Blu, with the pounding rhythms and thought-out production and arrangement by Blak, amounts to a smash for both. May this collaboration never end, and may the Rhythm Nation never stop.
We found Garbage hiding, and they finally uncovered their take on Siouxsie and The Banshees’ “Cities in Dust”
The godmother of goth that is Siouxsie Sioux championed the post-punk sound that populated the Seventies and Eighties, influencing innumerable alternative music acts for decades to come. The Madison, WI quartet Garbage has gone on record saying that the Banshees frontwoman was integral to their sound from moment one, and as a loving tribute, the band’s recent Record Store Day special Witness to Your Love EP included a version of “Cities in Dust.” Part electropop, part noise rock, and all driven by Shirley Manson’s smooth yet commanding voice, this cover may take a bit to grow on the more diehard Siouxsie fans, but such a careful and thought-out tribute cannot go unnoticed.
Ego Likeness mark their return with a rendition of Madonna’s “Live to Tell”
Madonna is an artist that invokes an old adage from wrestling manager extraordinaire Captain Lou Albano: often imitated, never duplicated. The Queen of Pop has a body of work and a sound all her own, making any artist’s go at reimagining one of her songs a tall task. Leave it to the seasoned Ego Likeness, breaking their yearslong silence following the reissue of their Dragonfly album and the release of their Wolves EP, to put the “power” into a power ballad. Donna Lynch’s dynamic and haunting vocals with the instrumentation and production of the multi-talented Steven Archer give this song about lies and mistrust an even darker, more ominous cloud to hang over it.
Otep’s take on Billie Eilish’s “you should see me in a crown” rules with an iron fist
The music of Otep Shamaya has always been confrontational and boundary-challenging, and her handling of covers has been no different. Be it her faithful cover of Nirvana’s “Breed” or even the transformation of Lorde’s bedroom pop smash “Royals” into an alt-metal banger that begs to be belted, the edge which Otep adds is one that is razor-sharp. On her first studio release since 2018’s Kult 45, Otep tackles Billie Eilish’s “you should see me in a crown,” one of the anchoring singles from the young singer’s debut full-length. Through death-growled choruses and gritted teeth, Otep adds plenty of bite to the track, going for aggressive where Eilish’s original approach was more understated.
Tony Hawk enlists a bevy of heavy to cover Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish”
If you had “Tony Hawk sings Nine Inch Nails” on your 2023 bingo card, no you didn’t, you fucking liar. Fairmounts frontman Mike Hawdon hosts “Mikey and His Uke” on YouTube, a music show featuring a who’s who in music creating all-star covers of rock and metal classics. For a more recent video, Mikey recruited Tony Hawk, who I’m convinced still doesn’t know how famous he really is, along with guitarist Ben Weinman (ex-Dillinger Escape Plan, Suicidal Tendencies), bassist Brad Magers (The Bronx), keyboardist Kat Lucas (ex-P!nk, stormylovechild), and drummer Ryan “Legs” Leger (ex-Norma Jean, ex-Every Time I Die), to cover a song which Hawdon himself always wanted covered on his show: Nine Inch Nails’ 1992 smash “Wish.” In the music video, Trent Reznor himself makes a brief cameo, giving an emphasis to the phrase “fist fuck” while still keeping well within YouTube terms and conditions. The cover itself is crunchier and more guitar-forward, with Hawk’s vocals staying faithful to Reznor’s original takes, albeit with a bit less inflection than the genuine article.
Part 3 of this series might have been the toughest to write. There was such a wealth of great new albums in this genre I found myself at a loss to pick and choose my favorites. However tough choices need to get made. These are all records released in 2020 and not singles. I feel like everyone on this list did something very profound.
Black Rose Burning – Open the Gates – George Grant is doing amazing things using stripped down elements of dark post punk concepts. His voice has this scintillating David Bryne expressive lilt. It harnesses such energy with an acoustic guitar and a percussive gate. It’s romantic, not like a relationship, but the way Star Trek is romantic about the love of stars and exploration. I find myself constantly lost in the beauty of it.
Scenius – Enough Fears – I found this album at the very end of the year but I have a feeling this will be on my heavy rotation the next few months. The Leeds band is a bending maze of emotion and turns that I found myself deeply immersed in. The vocals from Fab Nau were so original and cutting. Perfect dark trance resonance and endless builds. This is a band I will be paying close attention to in 2021. I feel the beginning of something beautiful starting.
Vlimmer – XIIIIIIII – This series of albums reaches it’s conclusion in glorious and staggering fashion. Alexander Donat has an amazing gift to take emotion and transfer it into sound seamlessly. Taking a tiny burning ember of idea and gentle blowing on that fire until it swells into a blaze. Truly a criminally underrated talent in modern artistic expression through sound.
White Mansion – Human – Arkansas brings us this strong front to back traditional post punk. I love the bold transitions here and open air vocals. I think the name Human was perfect for this record because it is all about relationships. You can really follow the story. It’s organic, full of heart, and makes a connection.
The Secret French Post Cards – Colors – More glorious post punk darkness this time mixed and mastered by Pedro Code (Iamtheshadow). This record is so understated and comes at you in subtle ways. Olli Ohlander has a ringing and smoky delivery that chews up scenery like a master actor. Blended reverb and echo makes the guitar build tension that pulls you into the moment. Paint a picture in your mind with this record. Another Cold Transmission band.
Danny Blu – The Pale Horse – Crackling energy and neck grabbing hooks from NYC. Personal soul threaded into club kid sleek trance. This record is everything cool I want to give off. The smoky saxophone trills add a beautiful contrast note. The cadence they lyrics are delivered with are an extra percussion and rhythm. It leaves me longing for more.
Elz and the Cult – Bloodlines – Elz is one of those beautiful and unique humans that takes their internal light and bleeds it into every track they make. It has such a genuine and soulful flavor which modern darkpop is so hungry for. It is a record of personal intensity that stands out in the landscape. A true gamechanger record that everyone should experience. On Cold Transmission Music.
Korine – The Night We Raise – Philly based band that is taking the scene by storm for good reason. They have such a glamourous beauty. While the lyrics are full of edge and venom. They truly have mastered the idea of taking two things you wouldn’t think would make sense together and then synthesizing it perfectly. It’s elegant, profound, and makes you feel like you are on the inside of secret. Also it has that glorious shake that ass factor. You will dance to this record all night long. On Born Loser Records now.
Panic Priest – Second Seduction – Chicago based Jack Armondo finds himself once again on my albums of the year. This sophomore album uses his rich and powerful baritone to great effect but softens the edges of the guitars in the first album. Putting the synths forward really captures the neon industrial aspects of his city. I love the way he captured the concept of isolation in the middle of a populated concrete jungle that became so relevant to us all in 2020. An impressive offering both in connection and execution on Negative Gain Records.
Soft Kill – Dead Kids R.I.P. City – Portland postwave glory with gorgeous and rich vocals and rainy flowing waves of synth sound. This record is so efficient and full of intention. This is one of those records it’s never a bad time for. It has that voice of a generation The Smiths sound but with a speed and energy of the modern era.
Idles – Ultra Mono – I love this album for the punk side of post punk. It’s intelligent, political, smash your fucking teeth in complex blasting rock. It has the true core of Fugazi. I wasn’t quite sure where to put this under but it belongs on some list.
Kiss of the Whip – We’re Not Here – Baltimore is doing some amazing things in the current scene and KOTW are near the top of that list. There is an amazing feeling when someone has such a wizardry of an instrument that it transcends and lefts everything in the song around it. That’s how I feel when Tristan Victor plays keyboards. The wide open textures and landscapes that flow through your mind at razor speed. His melodic whisper growl vocals really draw you in and let those complex synth changes do their work. I continue to be impressed with every new growth.
Spectres – Nostalgia – Sometimes I want a record that really pushes the edges of a genre. Sometimes I take comfort in bands that do a familiar sound with perfect execution. This album is so full of feelings that transport me back. Each song is original and new but the pallet of colors is brilliant with New Order, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen. The heartfelt homage to the music I grew up on cleaned and washed and sent straight to my heartstrings.
Loveblind – Sleeping Visions – What happens when a traditionally shoegaze label like Saint Marie Records puts together a superband of Shoegaze talent to make a darkpop album. In this case what happens is one of the most textural beautiful records of the year. Dorian Electique has a stunning and haunting vocal quality that floats on the waves of slushy wave crash guitars and striking drum beats. Every time I play this record I picture silk scarves flowing in my wake. it just makes life a little more beautiful.
Black Nail Caberet – God’s Verging On Sanity – This band from Hungary has been on my constant playlist. They had an album in my top list of 2019 as well. I love that they don’t sit idle and instead explore a new aspect of darkpop. Emese has a remarkable strength and depth to her voice that reminds me of Annie Lennox. The dance beats are a force to be reckoned with and are like a shot of energy in the arm. When I need to find a little something extra within myself this is the record I reach for.
Algiers – There is No Year– If you have never witnessed Algiers live, once the world reopens that should be the top of your to do list. They are the best live show I have seen in the past 20 years. It’s breathtaking to behold. They are another band hard to put in a box in the most amazing away. Notes of Motown/Gospel/Post Punk/Electronica. It’s all thrown in the blender and spun to a smooth creamy glory. The lyrics are poignant, fresh, and delivered with a voice sorely lacking in this scene. This record is such an up and down journey through culture, injustice, and personal revelation. I really can’t stress the importance of this band enough.
Then Comes Silence – Machine – Swedish based dark rockers put out this album in March and I listened to it many times in it’s entirety. The single We Lose the Night is such a perfect jam it has to be my most earworm song of the year. Just walking through the world I found it constantly popping into my head. This record has what I think of as true Post Punk vibes. The bass is thunderous and driving. Vocals are enchanting and full of warm and captivating feeling. Also the track Ritual feat: Karolina Engdahl is a perfect duet to blend beauty and razor cuts. I was an instant fan for life.
Bootblacks – Thin Skies – NYC post punk stars took a giant leap forward in their evolution for this album. It truly takes it’s own life and direction. Adding on Jason Corbett (Actors) to chisel and magnify a sound that already had such a unique and dangerous flavor. It is sleek, mysterious, and is my number one soundtrack if I ever pull an elaborate jewel heist and car chase in the heart of New York City. I think the most magnificent part of this album is that it really took “Post Punk” someplace new. It’s easy to get hung up on nostalgia, and there is some of that here. There is also a sound so sensual and fresh. I can just smell the musk of this album. You need to feel it on your skin.
Empathy Test – Monsters – This album was my most played on bandcamp this year. I just couldn’t stop coming back to it. It holds a beauty and quality that touches on so many genres. It’s personal and full of imagery that transports you into a movie. Isaac has one of those once in a generation voices that speaks right to your heart. This record just struck a chord inside me like the first time I heard RadioheadThe Bends. That feeling of dramatic intensity that makes me think of youth while the refined craftsmanship spoke to my changed perspective. This is a young band, and their potential to grow and make art on another level seems limitless.
Today is the day when Bandcamp (The one music streaming and distribution company that seems to care an iota for musician’s) waives it’s fees and gives everything spent, to those making the music. It’s been a tough few months in particular and I am in the middle of Sotember (The month each year where I recharge and drink nothing stronger than Earl Grey tea)
Death Loves Veronica : In The Silence
Newest single from Texas darkwave sultry star Veronica Campbell. This song has a brighter more open tone than previous offerings. It really highlights the elegant purity of her voice. Also included is a beautiful synth rich remix of “In The Silence”. A cascading waterfall of cool crystal sound.
I have been waiting for someone to put raw emotion and sass back into the darkpop genre. This album crackles with mid tempo dance beats to fill the back walls of the club. The lyrics are an inward journey with an 80’s Madonna soul. Beautiful modern layered vocals to create movement and build. It’s one of those sounds that flows through your earbuds and into your nervous system and flexes attitude through your body. I feel like other people can hear these songs through my movements when I listen.
Chicago retro-synth dreamboats Wingtips have done this fitting tribute to criminally underrated 90’s Aussie pop band Savage Garden. I love the interlocking vocal duet here. The frosting sweet swirl of keyboards and chimes on this song make my heart dance with delight.
Firebrand driving doom dance with a nice sprinkle of Industrial guitar and finger firework keyboard work. I really like the effective chanting vocals which hit right on the needle of what I want from a club jam. Extra bonus remix layers on some teeth and glitch for a aggro feel. Stomp your feet and scream obscenity.
Listen to Klack or I will attack, and you don’t want that. A fresh new feel here from Matt and Eric. I really have enjoyed every evolution of this project. This has a Construction Time Again DM flavor. It has clever carefully placed samples. The beats have a real shake that ass groove. The keyboard melody lines are beautiful retro hooks. I really fell hard for these breathy cleanly delivered vocals. It’s something I hadn’t heard from them before and immediately wanted more of. The lyrics really became a strong suit here. This is an album plucked out of the timestream and dropped hard in 2020.
Kim Bell and company have released this lovely shadowpop with misty daybreak darkness. It has a dreamlike quality, with a Til Tuesday retro flow. I really like the front edge of Kim’s delivery on the vocals. This really gets me excited for the future direction of the project. Now on Swiss Dark Nights
I will always buy every GoFight release. I will never regret my decision. Jim Marcus understands the blending of body gyrating dance music in the way an Indian executive chef understands the blending of spice. The layering of elements allows you to get lost in what kind of a song you are listening to. His voice is that perfect growling beauty snapping at your heart with desire and terror. Another single, another home run.
I think this band from Toronto now on Cold Transmission takes the award of the day for something I had no idea I needed and now can’t live without. The scope of tempos here run from blistering car chase to lullaby shouting fuck. Gorgeous dreamy vocals that would make Robert Smith raise an eyebrow. I’m not sure where this was hiding but it just took my 2020 by storm.