Famous Last Words (FLW) Top 20 Records 2013
In a truly exceptional year of music, Famous Last Words (FLW) has complied its twenty best albums (with one notable exception being an EP) of 2013. Compiling this list has by no means been an easy task as albums by Lissie, Melissa Horn, Israel Nash Gripka, Steve Earle, The Cheaterslicks, Alfred Hall, Rudimental, Kat Edmonson, Sam Amidon, A$AP Ferg, Lisa Nilsson to name but a few impressed on many levels but there was simply no room to accommodate every single album due to this being a Top 20 list only. So without further ado, here are the twenty records which stirred the emotions in 2013.
20 Thomas Dybdahl ‘What’s Left Is Forever’ (Petroleum Records / Sony Music)
Relinquishing control over production duties and introducing legendary producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell fame) proved a masterstroke for Thomas Dybdahl as latest album ‘What’s Left Is Forever’ is the sound of an artist being able to really concentrate on the song writing and, in the process, open the doorway to further exploration. Such examples can be heard with the experimental approach to ‘Running On Fumes’ and the ethereal qualities of ‘Easy Tiger’, as both songs display a willingness to explore other avenues. Hopefully, ‘What’s Left Is Forever’ is the start of a new chapter in the work of Thomas Dybdahl that will transmit to the next project when the time is due.
Key tracks: ‘Easy Tiger’, ‘Running On Fumes’, ‘Shine’, ‘Man On A Wire’
19 Old Gray ‘An Autobiography’ (Dog Knights Productions)
Old Gray stepped forward with an accomplished debut album that managed to see its way to the end despite an impending level of anxiety threatening to bring a halt to proceedings due to songs mulling over such cheery subject matter as a fear of dying. More important than perhaps they realise, Old Gray is steadily emerging to be one of the finest bands, in a clustered field of contemporaries, when it comes to expressing raw and honest emotions.
Key tracks: ‘Wolves’, ‘Coventry’, ‘The Graduate’, ‘I Still Think About Who I Was Last Summer’
18 Bird Doggin’ Daddies ‘We Got The Bug!’ (Rhythm Bomb)
The Bird Doggin’ Daddies ‘We Got The Bug!’ screamed out from the FLW player earlier in the year and left the majority of us gobsmacked at the manner in which this German four piece attacked various cover versions and, in the process, nearly claimed the end credits such was the level of confidence and musicianship on display. But that was not all, however, as The Bird Doggin’ Daddies revealed a string of fine original compositions with the likes of the guitar pickin’ belter ‘Better Be Gone’ and wonderful deep portrayal of ‘Crossbone Jim (Mystery Lane)’ as particular highlights.
Key tracks: ‘We’re Gonna Rock It’, ‘Better Be Gone’, ‘Crossbone Jim (Mystery Lane)’
17 Beast Milk ‘Climax’ (Svart Records)
A late entry but one that deserves its placing due to possessing a glut of quality from start to finish. From the blazing opening ‘Death Reflects Us’ to the claustrophobic finale ‘Strange Attractors’, ‘Climax’ is a timely reminder for those missing the likes of Joy Division, Bauhaus and more recently Interpol.
Key tracks: ‘Death Reflects Us’, ‘The Wind Blows Through Their Skulls’, ‘Fear Your Mind’
16 They Might Be Giants ‘Nanobots’ (Lojinx)
Use of the term ‘return to form’ can be applied here, as They Might Be Giants came up trumps with album number sixteen, ‘Nanobots’. With yet more tales of the eccentric often wrapped in sweetly addictive choruses, it was business as usual for They Might Be Giants. There was also evidence that the band can play it straight when they’re in the mood (‘Sometimes A Lonely Way’) which can only be a good thing when album number seventeen is under consideration.
Key tracks: ‘You’re On Fire’, ‘Nanobots’, ‘Circular Karate Chop’, ‘Sometimes A Lonely Way’
15 Disembarked ‘I Do Nothing But Regret The Fact That I Left’ (Dog Knights Productions)
Raw honesty of the highest order as Disembarked left their mark in a full onslaught of guitars and a passionate vocal that screamed from the very rooftops. ‘I Do Nothing But Regret The Fact That I Left’ is the sound of a band teetering on the edge such is the desperate pleas at the heart of this record. A deeply personal and extremely impressive offering that earmarks Disembarked as ones to watch in 2014.
Key tracks: ‘Abscond’, ‘Bewildered’
14 Kim Richey ‘Thorn In My Heart’ (Lojinx)
A sense of longing for change coupled with bouts of loneliness permeated throughout Kim Richey’s return to the fray with the quite exquisite ‘Thorn In My Heart’. With a host of guests ranging from Jason Isbell to Pat Sansone (Wilco), ‘Thorn In My Heart’ delivered in style with a roots-country feel that won many new admirers.
Key tracks: ‘Thorn In My Heart’, ‘London Town’, ‘Something More’, ‘Come On’
13 Manic Street Preachers ‘Rewind The Film’ (Columbia)
The post punk sounds of their early recordings are but distant memories when listening to the Manic’s latest effort ‘Rewind The Film’. Proving to be more minimalist in its approach than previous albums, ‘Rewind The Film’ is possibly the Manic’s swansong or the first steps towards a new direction, judging by the uncharacteristic and warped sounds of nearly instrumental ‘Manorbier’. It was left, however, to Richard Hawley’s baritone vocal during the album’s title track to steal the overall plaudits.
Key tracks: ‘Rewind The Film’, ‘Manorbier’ ‘Running Out Of Fantasy’, ‘Show Me The Wonder’
12 Danny & The Champions of The World ‘Stay True’ (Loose Music)
It was a true honour to interview Danny George Wilson for the pages of FLW not only to hear about how his merry band of musicians got together to become Danny & The Champions of the World, but also to learn of the stories that inspired the songs making up this year’s ‘Stay True’. With an appropriate warm nostalgia surrounding ‘(Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket’ to the compelling soulful delivery of ‘Stop Thief!’ it came as no surprise that Danny & The Champions of the World were on the receiving end of some very high praise from various music critics as ‘Stay True’ is quite possibly their best album to date.
Key tracks: ‘(Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket’, ‘Stop Thief!’, ‘Darlin’ Won’t You Come In From The Cold, ‘Talkin’ About The Weather’
11 Ralph Myerz ‘Supersonic Pulse’ (Sony Music)
‘Supersonic Pulse’ really caught us unawares as the gorgeous tones of vocalist Annie swept past via the somewhat darker ‘Take A Look At The World’. From then on there was only one way to go and that was to succumb to the wonderful array of sounds making up ‘Supersonic Pulse’. With a gestation period of four years and various collaborators making this project possible, Ralph Myerz turned back the years, especially during the reflective and central narrative of ‘A Dream You Can Feel’ deftly brought to life by Da Youngfellaz and K-Quick. Elsewhere, David Banner’s gruff vocal added another dimension during the forceful ‘So Romantic’ before meeting its match with polar opposite ‘Something New’ featuring Diana Ross and The Supremes. ‘Supersonic Pulse’ proved to be a surprise of quite magnificent proportions leaving FLW to utter once more, “We’re not worthy!”
Key tracks: ‘So Romantic’, ‘A Dream You Can Feel’, ‘Do The Damn Thang’, ‘Take A Look At The World’
10 Robert Post ‘The Button Moulder’ (Bobfloat Music)
Still Norway’s closest living artist to the genius that is Neil Finn, Robert Post is firmly back on Norwegian soil after truly leaving behind his eponymously titled major label debut. With a sound that has evolved considerably, and in conjunction with life’s changes, latest album ‘The Button Moulder’ is full of reflection and compellingly told via an almost stripped-back sound and unique vocal that is best served during the folk-inspired ‘Feeler’ and rolling guitar of ‘The Frost’. It is hoped, however, that Mr Post revisits the atmospheric instrumental ‘The Button Moulder’s Walk’ due to unfinished business and considering the reworked version of the formerly released song ‘My Body’. All in all, ‘The Button Moulder’ has taken another step towards Robert Post receiving the kind of recognition his talents deserve.
Key tracks: ‘Safe and Sound’, ‘My Body’, ‘The Button Moulder’s Walk’, ‘Feeler’, ‘The Frost’
9 The Bullets ‘Sons Of The Gun‘ (Western Star)
After receiving a firm recommendation from Western Star Records, FLW is highly grateful that we heeded such advice as The Bullets delivered a memorable set of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll numbers that has been ever-present since ‘Sons Of the Gun’ was released. It’s just the sheer raw energy of songs such as ‘Jump When I Want’ and ‘Mean To Me Baby’ that immediately arouse the senses, only to be further enticed with the delightfully petulant ‘I Don’t Wanna’ and rather naughty and rockin’ ‘The Beast In Me’ with its liking for Johnny Burnette and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio. If The Bullets can maintain the level of consistency shown here, then their second album promises to be something special as ‘Sons Of The Gun’ is a difficult act to follow.
Key tracks: ‘Jump When I Want’, ‘Mean To Me Baby’, ‘I Don’t Wanna’, ‘The Beast In Me’, ‘Desperate Man’
8 Christel Alsos ‘Presence‘ (Sony Music)
‘Presence’ saw a rejuvenated Christel Alsos return with arguably her best album to date. Despite a more relaxed feel to the recordings, the same atmosphere did not extended to the emotions on display as heart was clearly paraded on sleeve reflecting on the remnants of relationships long since departed. With shades of Portishead during ‘Remember It Now’ and ‘Conquer’ helping to relive fond memories of the much touted trip-hop scene during the 90s, it was left to one song in particular to claim first prize with the quite sublime ‘Found’ that brought this body of work emotionally to its knees due to capturing a moment in time that is truly exceptional.
Key Tracks: ‘Always Hoping’, ‘Remember It Now’, ‘Conquer’, ‘Let’s Pretend’, ‘Found’
7 Halden Electric ‘Women‘ (Home On The Range Records / Rootsy)
Unknown to FLW until recently, Halden Electric has emerged as something of a hero on these shores due to the mammoth collection of songs spanning over two albums that is ‘Women’. Trawling a variety of emotions ranging from heartbreak and loss before coming full circle to a notion of hope (‘Trust Your Love’), Halden Electric set about this epic journey by writing an album of two halves consisting of one side acoustic and the other electric, despite this not being the original intentions. Thankfully, fate played a hand as various delays meant that such wondrous songs as the mandolin driven ‘Loving Coming To Life’ and the dirty guitars of ‘These Wounds’ with its memorable line, “There’s a barroom in hell where you can go to dance” were brought to life. Holding a strong work ethic and more than enough material to keep himself busy for the foreseeable future, the name Halden Electric is likely to be even more prominent this time next year.
Key tracks: ‘Loving Comes To Life’, ‘Always You’, ‘Light Your Lantern’, ‘I Don’t Think It’s Funny’, ‘No More Love’, ‘These Wounds’, ‘Trust Your Love’
6 Fjorden Baby! ‘Fjordkloden’ (Columbia)
Possessing a real hotchpotch of musical references, ‘Fjordkloden’ surprisingly functioned as a whole. Whether calling on New Order (‘Tingene’), Spacemen 3 (‘Verden e du’) or elements of dub coupled with a mild rap (’11 etasje’) this west coast band from Norway crafted a truly beguiling collection of songs that will no doubt see them winning many new admirers once the end of year polls are calculated as Fjorden Baby! remain in a class of their own.
Key tracks: ‘Verden e du’, ‘Tingene’, ‘Nattåpent’, ‘Shanghai express’, ‘Vinduene’
5 Carolina & her Rhythm Rockets ‘Carolina & her Rhythm Rockets’ (Rhythm Bomb)
Fourteen tracks of authentic rockabilly – thirteen of which are self-penned – new recruits to the Rhythm Bomb label, Carolina & her Rhythm Rockets entered our lives and stole our hearts with this eponymously titled debut. Sounding as if they had been holed up a lot longer than it took to put the components of this record together, such is their aptitude for songwriting that belies their tender years, ‘Carolina & her Rhythm Rockets’ begins with the appropriate ‘Walk With Me’ that takes the listener to its very core with the occasional vocal hiccups and handclaps providing company along the way. It is that vocal, however, that really defines this four-piece band due to its immense power that clearly states its intent during ‘Be Mine’ and crystal-clear demands of ‘Treat Me Right’ (“Well if you want me, don’t be bad”). The momentum is maintained with the irresistible ‘Can’t Stop Boppin’ and pent-up frustrations of ‘Leave This Town’ before succumbing to the slower yet equally compelling ‘Give Me Love’. If this is the sound of the underground when it comes to new rockabilly talent, then the future looks extremely promising for this genre of music.
Key tracks: ‘Walk With Me’, ‘Turn Around Baby’, ‘Back Home’, ‘Can’t Stop Boppin’, ‘Give Me Love’
4 Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers ‘Live Love, Give Love’ (Enviken)
Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers ‘Live Love, Give Love’ was not only a great testament to the band’s inner strength considering various personal circumstances threatening to seriously derail this debut, but ‘Live Love, Give Love’ was also the perfect example of how to craft an album within a specific genre which, at the same time, borrowed elements from other sources that provided this record with far greater appeal. Stemming from just over the Scandinavian pond – Sweden to be exact – Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers delivered thirteen songs ranging from rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll with moments of added swing to a knowing pop sensibility clearly signposted in songs such as ‘Condition Unknown’ and the ballad-esque ‘Rocket Scientist’. There were moments of genuine respect with ‘Can’t Stand Your Love’ taking a leaf out of Buddy Holly’s book to more straightforward examples with a cover of Bobby Darin’s ‘Dream Lover’. Elsewhere, the more familiar sounding ‘Right Here Again’ and the catchy soda pop feel of ‘Hipshakin’ were finely balanced with less obvious compositions such as the solemn yet absorbing ‘Stand Up’ that closes this long player in dramatic fashion. This is why Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers matter so much because ‘Live Love, Give Love’ is a prime example of a band leaning on the past yet equally at home in the present and in the process coming up with the right results. Truly magnificent.
Key tracks: ‘Sunny Day’, ‘Condition Unknown’, ‘A Place In My Heart’, ‘Right Here Again’, ‘Stand Up’
3 Depeche Mode ‘Delta Machine’ (Columbia)
“All the drama queens are gone” opened the song ‘Welcome To My World’ that was nicely restrained in its execution before giving way to more familiar hallmarks when it comes to Depeche Mode and their 13th studio album. Martin Gore even referred to this latest addition as a fusion of the band’s masterpiece ‘Violator’ with ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ which was an accurate description when hearing songs such as ‘Angel’ and ‘Secret To the End’. It was the understated tone of ‘Delta Machine’ that really set it apart, however, with examples ranging from the skeletal electronica of ‘My Little Universe’ and swamp rock influence of ‘Slow’ that provided a freshening of the DM palette. ‘Delta Machine’ may require a tad more patience compared to previous offerings, but persist and you will be rewarded as album number thirteen is truly exceptional on all levels.
Key tracks: ‘Welcome To My World’, ‘Angel’, ‘Heaven’, ‘Soft Touch / Raw Nerve’
2 Jonas Fjeld & The Chatham County Line ‘Western Harmonies’ (Sony Music)
Whether it was the scenic train journey to his home town of Drammen and/or a longstanding love of bluegrass and Americana music that helped inspire the sounds of ‘Western Harmonies’ then only the man at the helm – Jonas Fjeld – is truly in the know. Whatever the reasons for this crossing back and forth between Norwegian and English borders, Jonas Fjeld & The Chatham County Line made a welcome return with latest album ‘Western Harmonies’. Warm vocal harmonies and a country turn with elements of bluegrass litter this album throughout, with such wonderful moments as the wishful desires of ‘Boy’. The mother tongue rolls to great effect during ‘Skulle jeg bli blind’ before picking its way along the dust and grime of the old ‘Railroad’ of the west rather than anything lying to the north. The (almost) hoedown feel of ‘Hallingkast Breakdown’ gives further suggestion that Jonas Fjeld should really consider the origin of his native roots such is the authenticity of the delivery. The grizzled excellence of ‘Gitar’ and lonely trawl of ‘En gammel mann’ provides further evidence of the quality at work here, and further proof that ‘Western Harmonies’ is a master class within its field.
Key tracks: ‘Boy’, ‘Skulle jeg bli blind’, ‘Railroad’, ‘Hallingkast Breakdown’, ‘Brevet’, ‘En gammel mann’
1 Willard Grant Conspiracy ‘Ghost Republic’ (Loose Music)
Recorded in Massachusetts and utilising the barest of instruments, Willard Grant Conspiracy set about their business in order to create the dark atmospheric masterpiece that is ‘Ghost Republic’. With a genuine live feel to the whole album, the majority of songs are expressed in fragile hushed tones such as the compelling ‘Rattle and Hiss’ and ‘Take No Place’ only to breakout into occasional fits of noise during the creeping tension of ‘The Early Hour’ and more irritable duo of ‘Incident At Mono Lake’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’ bringing to mind Talk Talk’s swansong ‘Laughing Stock’ due to similar improvised instrumentation. It was highly appropriate that Willard Grant Conspiracy set this collection of songs to visual imagery during recent live performances as ‘Ghost Republic’ is equally at home as a soundtrack for a film where only desolate landscapes exist. As it stands, the dark atmospheric tales making up this album continue to conjure up fresh surprises with each and every listen making it FLWs’ Album of the Year by a country mile.
Key tracks: ‘Parsons Gate Reunion’, ‘Ghost Republic’, ‘Rattle & Hiss’, ‘Good Morning Wadlow’, ‘The Early Hour’, ‘Incident At Mono Lake’