Famous Last Words Top 50 Albums 2014
It has been another exceptional year for album releases as Famous Last Words (FLW) received a hefty number of new releases to review throughout 2014. The task of compiling a Top 50 list has been extremely difficult due to the sheer amount of albums reviewed in these pages during 2014, but also due to the high level of quality of most of the album releases. So, without further ado, here is FLWs’ Top 50 Albums list for 2014.
50. Great Sale Day ‘Wild & Chunky’ (Close To Home Records)
With coarse guitars churning out melodic tunes and reviving a 90s alt-rock sound, Great Sale Day should consider another outing with this quickly assembled project because it’s something a lot more serious than the band’s own admission of frivolous fun.
49. Karin Wright ‘You Got The Silver’ (Rootsy)
48. Siri Vølstad Jensen ‘Coming Home’ (Playroom Music AS)
Mixing conventional country with elements of pop music, Siri Vølstad Jensen is the latest addition to a growing trend of pop-country crossovers but one that is handled expertly via the impressive ‘Coming Home’.
47. Tim McGraw ‘Sundown Heaven Town’ (Big Machine Records/Universal Music)
Spanning a total of eighteen tracks, ‘Sundown Heaven Town’ is a mammoth proposition to digest in one sitting but one that is made all the more manageable due to McGraw’s ability to conjure up infectious melodies that get straight to the point, but also for allowing for experimentation with songs such as ‘The View’ and ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’.
46. Lady Antebellum ‘747’ (Capitol Records Nashville/Universal Music)
45. Spymob ‘Memphis’ (Spymob Records)
44. Paloma Faith ‘A Perfect Contradiction’ (RCA)
Not everything was perfect here, but the old school dance beats of the collaborative effort with Pharrel Williams ‘Can’t Rely On You’; 80s pop of ‘Mouth To Mouth’ and Motown inspired ‘Take Me’ provided enough reasons as to why ‘A Perfect Contradiction’ is Paloma Faith’s best work to date.
43. A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen ‘The History Of Music: A Mosaic’ (Jezus Factory)
‘The History Of Music: A Mosaic’ is a record to be applauded for its daring approach of casting aside any given rules and instead following its own convictions and allowing for free expression to reign. A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen unravel an expansive collage of post-rock, free form jazz and psychedelic experimentation that is also full of intricate details.
42. Mathias Lilja ‘ Mathias Lilja’ (Rootsy)
With its alt-country sound by way of Sweden, Mathias Lilja’s self-titled debut solo album is an impassioned affair with songs reflecting upon a series of bad luck episodes when it comes to love and relationships. Highly accomplished and definitely worth investigating, Mathias Lilja has set a strong precedent for other artists to follow when considering the solo route.
41. Side Effects ‘A Walk In The Space Between Us’ (Sony Music Norway)
Mining a similar path to a 90s indie sound consisting of Super Fury Animals, The Coral and a latter-day CAST, Side Effects made a large impression with their penchant for psychedelic rock and hazy pop to help accompany their afternoon tea with first album ‘A Walk In The Space Between Us’.
40. Charlie Rackstead & The Sticklesbergen Ramblers ‘Norwegian Classics’ (Ramalama Production)
Picking out a number of Norwegian classic compositions and setting them to a bluegrass and country backbeat with an English translation proved an inspired move for Charlie Rackstead & The Sticklesbergen Ramblers. ‘Norwegian Classics’ lives up to its title by containing a measured amount of humour, eccentricity, sincerity and undisputed talent.
39. In Flames ‘Siren Charms’ (Sony Music)
Changing track slightly, In Flames drummed up a more accessible proposition with songs such as ‘Dead Eyes’, ‘Paralyzed’ and ‘Through Oblivion’ which, along with their trademark heavier riffs, should appeal to both old supporters as well as enticing newer supporters to their ranks.
38. Benjamin Finger ‘The Bet’ (Watery Starve)
There is a great sense of mystery surrounding the musical compositions making up ‘The Bet’ as there is regarding central composer Benjamin Finger. By applying a minimalist, ambient approach, the songs serve as a succession of musical passages rather than anything conventional, thus making ‘The Bet’ a highly attractive package indeed.
37. Mando Diao ‘Aelita’ (Musica de la Santa/Sony Music)
A perfect representation of 80s electronica and guitar based sounds marked out a new dimension for Sweden’s Mando Diao and their seventh long player ‘Aelita’. With former single ‘Black Saturday’ being among the highlights here, with its Flock of Seagulls inspired entrance, the fresh element applied to the Mando Diao sound is one that is highly welcomed.
36. Up River ‘Undertow’ (Holy Roar Records)
35. Hege Brynildsen ‘Till Harry’ (Rootsy)
It has been a year for bold decisions in terms of artists and their music and Hege Brynildsen is no exception. Being Norwegian and deciding to sing your latest album in Swedish probably qualifies as sheer madness for some people, but not if you’re Hege Brynildsen who constructed a compelling collection of songs, often piano led and given a late-night feel, that was the perfect tribute to one family member in particular.
34. Three Winters ‘Chroma’ (Termo Records)
Doom-laden synths were the order of the day for Three Winters and their album ‘Chroma’. By saturating their sound in bleak and claustrophobic electronic sounds with only the occasional hint of optimism, Three Winters created a predominately instrumental soundscape that is a suitable ally for film score music.
33. Basko Believes ‘Idiot’s Hill’ (Rootsy)
There’s a genuine personal touch to Basko Believes’ ‘Idiot’s Hill’ having dipped into his own savings to make the trip to Denton, Texas, in order to set his creative thoughts to tape. The end result was a resounding success as ‘Idiot’s Hill’ is a sensitive and thought-provoking album that nestles in the Americana bracket.
32. She & Him ‘Classics’ (Sony Music)
Tender renditions of a range of standards dating from the 1930s and ending up somewhere in the 1970s, indie duo Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward reveal their musical qualities with latest album ‘Classics’.
31. Bøgdabråk ‘Gå som det her’ (Bøgdabråk Records)
Hailing from the Norwegian county of south Trøndelag, Bøgdabråk set forth album number three ‘Gå som det her’. Consisting of eleven songs delivered in a specific dialect attached to the band’s place of residency, creative lynchpin and vocalist Leif Inge Hopstad found the right ingredients to produce a fine mix of energetic and hook-laden country rock songs with a light peppering of ballads that are rather exceptional.
30. Angels & Airwaves ‘The Dream Walker’ (To The Stars)
Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 fame returned with his other band Angels & Airwaves and recent album ‘The Dream Walker’. Released as part of a multimedia package consisting of an animated film and graphic novel, ‘The Dream Walker’ draws on a number of influences to produce an indie-rock album that is full of anxieties and reflects on personal losses.
29. Marc & the Wild Ones ‘She Put A Spell On Me’ (Rhythm Bomb)
With a noticeable maturing in sound, but still managing to hang on to their rebellious side, Marc & the Wild Ones blew open the gates for a second time with sophomore album ‘She Put A Spell On Me’. In addition, the creative button was pushed more than once with brass instrumentation introduced, which is something to be encouraged when the band reconvene for album number three.
28. Haraball ‘Half Tux’ (Fysisk Format)
Underneath the raging post-punk and hardcore noise stemming from Haraball’s ‘Half Tux’, there is enough evidence to suggest that the band is working towards a much broader agenda as far as their sound goes, judging by the number of subtleties at work here. In the meantime, there is much to savour regarding ‘Half Tux’ with the intriguingly titled ‘Mallcop Dungeon’, mischievous tendencies of ‘Sack of Onions’ and blistering rhythm of ‘The House That Builds Itself’.
27. Martin Hagfors ‘Producers Politics Passion’ (Me Records)
‘Producers Politics Passion’ is based on an old-fashioned recipe of intelligent, insightful pop music laced with a number of peculiarities the kind of which used to infiltrate the mainstream on a more frequent basis. As it stands, Martin Hagfors continues a lone struggle, and knowingly so, with such observations as “I might sound out of date” (‘Leaning To The Left’) when trying to reintroduce to the world the art of song writing.
26. Various Artists ‘Speechless: Half A Ton Of Rockin’ Instrumentals’ (Western Star)
An impressive cast list assembled over a two-disc set, ‘Speechless: Half A Ton Of Rockin’ Instrumentals’ serves as a reminder of just how exhilaratingly good a few chords of a guitar with additional percussive trimmings can sound judging by the variety of songs on offer. From tough guitar strollers via The Sharks’ ‘Hell Riders’ to use of samples with the highly eccentric ‘Hot Dang Hee Haw’ by The Chills, much consideration has been given to this instrumental compilation in order to appeal to a broad number of tastes.
25. Rhythm River Trio ‘Just Honky Tonkin Around!’ (Rhythm Bomb)
Experts in their field when it comes to capturing an authentic fifties sound, the Rhythm River Trio returned with a set of covers and self-penned numbers reflecting both country and rockabilly influences. It’s the final two forays of ‘Gone And Left Me Blues’ and ‘I’ll Go My Way’ which manages to stir the deepest of emotions and steal the overall plaudits, despite the general consistency and quality of ‘Just Honky Tonkin Around!’ being supremely high.
24. The SideWynders ‘Let’s Go Sparkin’ With…’ (Rhythm Bomb)
Living up to their latest album title with much energy fizzing between the grooves of the majority of tracks, The SideWynders offer a rockabilly sound, with lyrics reflecting the downside of relationships. Despite such heartache, it remains a source of inspiration for the compelling songs constructed here, and one that should not be meddled with such is its winning formula. It looks like The SideWynders are going to have to remain unlucky in love for some considerable time if they’re to repeat the achievements of ‘Let’s Go Sparkin’ With…’
23. Vidar Ruud ‘Following Dreams’ (Ruud Music)
A career changing decision gave way to the blues rock and pop songs littered throughout Vidar Ruud’s debut album ‘Following Dreams’. The clues are there for all to decipher in terms of the direction and journey this talented singer-songwriter wanted to take, and wonderfully brought to life by the uplifting chorus of opening gambit ‘Eternity’; husky vocal and gritty guitar of ‘Slowhand’ and acoustic stroll of the title track. With fellow Norwegian Venke Knutson making an appearance during ‘The Sun That Shines In Me’, Vidar Ruud made all of the right moves as far as ‘Following Dreams’ is concerned because it remains an accomplished achievement that deserves the highest of praise.
22. The Backseat Boogie ‘Cut Out To Rock’ (Rhythm Bomb)
Strength in depth coupled with much inventiveness and bouts of humour, The Backseat Boogie cut a fine example of how to produce a rockabilly album with great intelligence and a rather large strut. With songs focusing on social hardships (‘In The City’) and, more frivolously, the problems of losing one’s barnet (‘Gone Bald Boogie’), these rockin’ cats certainly hit the ground running and never looked back with this magnificent effort. Sign up for a ride with The Backseat Boogie as you will not be disappointed!
21. Ilias ‘All The Way Up’ (Aguenar)
It remains the final word and a fitting finale to Australian/Algerian writer and producer Ilias’ second long player ‘All the Way Up’, with a reprised version of ‘Someone Like You’ that sheds the skin of a recently departed relationship in rather honest fashion. Such sincerity moved mountains on these northern shores and earmarked ‘All The Way Up’ as an album full of integrity, but also one that was not afraid to experiment judging by the instrumental interludes between the indie pop numbers. With the neon lit landscape of former single ‘Fire Away’ included, as well as the glockenspiel nursery rhyme feel of ‘Turn The Clock Back’, ‘All The Way Up’ proved to be a magnificent achievement with enough suggestions for future creative endeavours.
20. ORBO ‘Safe & Sound’ (Grappa)
With a not so straightforward set of narratives punctuating the more familiar subjects of love and heartbreak contained within ‘Safe & Sound’, ORBO (Ole Reinert Berg-Olsen) has always remained one step ahead, despite giving the impression of leading a life of continuous tranquillity (see FLWs’ interview with ORBO conducted earlier in the year). As already mentioned in these pages, this is where the interest lies with ORBO, as the singer-songwriter from the west coast of Norway with a penchant for crafting Tom Petty inspired songs (‘Time’) also understands the need for diversity by treading less familiar territory. Such examples can be gleaned from the song ‘Man O’ War’, with its look at the mental state of Napoleon Bonaparte during his time in captivity, or the more personal note concerning his grandparents’ heroic journey through German occupied waters during the Second World War (‘Ridin’ The Waves’). With a grittier and grungier version of the Bee Gees ‘You Win Again’ also included, first appearances really can be deceiving as what may sound familiar at first, definitely warrants further investigation as far as ORBO is concerned.
Key tracks: ‘Telling You Now’, ‘Man O’ War’, ‘Ridin’ The Waves’, ‘Time’
19. Gone Hepsville ‘Lotsa Rhythm’ (Rhythm Bomb)
The band of brothers that make up Gone Hepsville managed to cook up a pulsating rhythm by means of jump, jive and rock ‘n’ roll. Stretching to an impressive eighteen tracks, ‘Lotsa Rhythm’ had plenty of time to experiment with a number of influences, which it managed to do admirably, but most notably is the energy exerted throughout, especially with the album’s title track and equally sparky ‘Hip As I Can Be’. With such careful precision and with great dedication to their overall work and sound, Gone Hepsville created a long player that was full of invention, energy and enthusiasm, as well as managing to create a genuine musical ambience regarding certain decades long since departed.
Key tracks: ‘She Won’t Shut Up’, ‘Hip As I Can Be’, ‘Lazy Town’, ‘Lotsa Rhythm’
18. Infinity Broke ‘River Mirrors’ (Come To The Darkside Luke)
Jamie Hutchings returned to the fold with new outfit Infinity Broke and their debut album ‘River Mirrors’. The resulting process was an eight-track album conceived in a disused shearing shed in the middle of the Australian outback which saw Hutchings’ past meld with his present. With the new line up presenting a fresh challenge, the album ‘River Mirrors’ was a reminder of Hutchings former band Bluebottle Kiss and their earlier works ‘Higher Up The Firetrails’ and ‘Double Yellow Tarred’, due to the bouts of experimentation and chaotic noise exerted at various points during ‘River Mirrors’. The sonic experimentation even extended to a reworked version of former song ‘Let The Termites Eat Our Riches’, now reduced to the more manageable ‘Termites’, before other songs such as ‘Gallows Queue’ with its primitive sounding percussion and calmer rhythm offered a fresher approach and one that was most definitely Infinity Broke.
Key tracks: ‘Swing A Kitten’, ‘Monsoon’, ‘Gallows Queue’, ‘Termites’
17. Frankétienne & Mark Mulholland ‘Chaophonies’ (Jezus Factory)
The quality and inventiveness of ‘Chaophonies’ was the combined efforts of Haitian poet Frankétienne and Scottish musician Mark Mulholland. By setting a number of literary readings to music consisting of (creole) folk, indie, blues and Celtic influences, Frankétienne read excerpts from his ‘Rapjazz, Journal d’un Paria’ while Mark Mulholland applied the musical expertise. Leading the way is the sombre tone of the near western feel of ‘Ville Schizophonique’, which found a partner in the wonderful portrayal of ‘Le Petit Train’, which gives the impression of Frankétienne powering this short ditty by his lungs alone. Hopefully, the various tales throughout ‘Chaophonies’ are not consigned to a one-off deal, as clearly the Frankétienne and Mulholland partnership deserves another outing.
Key tracks: ‘Ville Schizophonique’, ‘Le Petit Train’, ‘Loco’, ‘Mots et Réves’
16. The Skinner Group ‘Back On The Horse’ (EmuBands)
The wait for an echo had been a lengthy one before Grahame Skinner made his comeback under new moniker The Skinner Group. The title of the new album was open to interpretation; suggesting a mixture of relief at the realisation of new material finally seeing the light of day, but also anxiety at the thought of the unknown in terms of how it would be perceived considering the aforementioned absence from the music scene. Fear not as ‘Back On The Horse’ is a sheer delight from beginning to end with creativity in abundance and enough memorable hooks to warrant a high level of repeat visits. Previous band Hipsway helped to inspire the tracks ‘Down On My Knees’ and ‘Oh Dear’, whereas former single ‘Surfer Gurl’ was more Cowboy Mouth with its indie grunge textures. There is room for improvisation with ‘Something Cinematic’, which is topped by the Aidan Moffat inspired fadeout of ‘Hole In My Soul’. The decision to get ‘Back On The Horse’ was a wise one indeed.
Key tracks: ‘Surfer Gurl’, ‘Oh Dear’, ‘Something Cinematic’, ‘Who’s That Man’, ‘Hole In My Soul’
15. Ben Poole ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ (Manhaton Records)
‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ provided an example of the musical strides Ben Poole has been making considering the prestige of the Royal Albert Hall, but also for the manner in which this live album captured the raw energy and passion of his music. Despite only being in his mid-twenties, Ben Poole gives the impression of an experienced veteran by churning out several blues-rock numbers with apparent ease, as well as expertly handling a small smattering of covers. With a new album penned for 2015, ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ serves as an introductory to the name and music of Ben Poole, but also as a fine example of how live albums should be produced.
Key tracks: ‘Let’s Go Upstairs’, ‘Love Nobody No More’, ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’
14. Never Mind Band ‘Born By The Sea’ (Gullaksen & Øien)
First hearing of Never Mind Band’s ‘Born By The Sea’ left a few jaws gaping at FLW HQ. The reason for this was due to the authentic delivery of these country songs and for the fact that these boys are from the remote wilderness of Norway rather than the drier climate of Nashville. Despite the relative distance between the two countries, the duo of Roald Gullaksen (vocals/guitars) and Morten Øien (keyboards) remain determined in their efforts to transmit their signal to their distant neighbours stateside. Containing an album’s worth of original material, Never Mind Band reflect on tales of hardships and universal themes involving love and relationships, which are all the more convincing due to the expertise on display and knowledge of the country genre expressed.
Key tracks: ‘The American Dream’, ‘The Father’, ‘Home By Dawn’, ‘Memories From The Past’
13. Cherry Casino & The Gamblers ‘Cherry Sings Hi – No – Love’ (Rhythm Bomb)
Comprehensive in its outlook when it comes to the ups and downs of the issues concerning relationships, but at the same time maintaining an awareness that never takes itself too seriously, Cherry Casino & The Gamblers scored another winning run with latest album ‘Cherry Sings Hi-No-Love’. By producing a largely predominant rhythm and blues sound with elements of rock ‘n’ roll and swing picked at will and added to the mix when required, ‘Cherry Sings Hi-No-Love’ eased into its stride with a succession of songs that are authentic in their delivery and full of vibrancy.
Key tracks: ‘Let’s Have A Crazy Ball’, ‘A Kiss From You’, ‘Breakfast’, ‘Kiss Me’, ‘Just One Look’
12. The Bullets ‘Go Man Go’ (Western Star)
Hot on the heels of last year’s smash success ‘Sons Of The Gun’, The Bullets made a welcome return with their brand new long player ‘Go Man Go’. Taking no prisoners with their rumbling, tumbling beat played at a frenetic pace, it was business as usual once the opening bars of ‘Party Like Me’ made its entrance with its collar turned skywards that suggested real intent. Following suit in equally confident manner was ‘Real King Bee’ with its chest puffed out and notable references to the King himself with numerous “Uh-huh, oh yeah(s)” before allowing the rest of this sophomore album to be on its way in similar lip-curling attitude. In addition to the genuine sense of menace created throughout ‘Go Man Go’ is The Bullet’s ability to write less conventional songs for the genre in which they find themselves in, by narrating a series of tales that take a stroll on the darker side of life. Such decisions are to be applauded and remain one of the reasons why The Bullets is something of a hot ticket right now.
Key tracks: ‘Party Like Me’, ‘Kicks Like ’56’, ‘While You Were Sleeping’, ‘Can I Take You Home’, ‘Movin’ On’
11. The Scheen ‘The Scheen’ (Artistpartner Records)
Despite not uprooting any trees in terms of originality, The Scheen delivered an accomplished and extremely consistent debut album which deserved to be massive. Having been together for some considerable time, The Scheen has built its current reputation on the live circuit, but also for containing one of five aces in its pack with the celebrity figure Atle Pettersen. Such distractions soon evaporate once the indie rock tracks of the band’s eponymously titled album sink their teeth in, revealing a succession of songs best typified by The Scheen’s ability to construct compositions that are sometimes epic and sometimes intricate yet always with a memorable edge. With no evidence of The Scheen’s first album being available as a physical format, the digital copy is regarded as priceless in the FLW office and one that will be difficult to prise from the generic MP3 player such is its worth.
Key tracks: ‘Sleepless Sleepers’, ‘I Am I’, ‘Ghost’, ‘Sleep In Silence’, ‘Living To Die’, ‘The Part’
10. Various Artists ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield Vol. 1 & 2’ (Bear Family)
Bear Family Records introduced a two volume set concerning ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’. The first volume of Boppers and Rockers from Nashville West details a succession of artists from the 1950s and 60s from the city of Bakersfield eager to experiment with the wilder sound that was emerging at a quickening pace with rockabilly. With an abundance of independent record labels able to provide (temporary) homes for those deemed worthy enough, the more familiar names of Buck Owens (aka Corky Jones), Tommy Collins and Merle Haggard were represented here, but also much sought after originals from the likes of Custer Bottoms, for example, with his ‘Stood Up Blues’ also made an appearance.
‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield Vol. 2′ differed slightly by offering a more developed sound in terms of the musicians involved, edging closer to a fuller-sounding rockabilly sound. Special mention goes to Dallas Frazier with a vocal to melt the sternest of hearts and leaves one to ponder why the name was not exalted to greater heights despite achieving success as a songwriter for a host of artists. A superb second volume, ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’ is definitely equal to its predecessor.
Key tracks: ‘Rhythm & Booze’, ‘Teenage Tears’, ‘I Feel Better All Over’, ‘Sweet Love’
9. Jerry Lee Lewis ‘Rock & Roll Time’ (Caroline)
Comeback of the year goes to Jerry Lee Lewis with his ‘Rock & Roll Time’. Having enlisted the help of a few fellow artists including the likes of Keith Richards, Nils Lofgren, Neil Young, Robbie Robertson and Shelby Lynne, the majority of songs pay their respects to other legendary artists such as Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. With ‘Rock & Roll Time’ being recorded at the House of Blues in Memphis, the days of yore returned to a certain extent with Jerry Lee Lewis displaying a considerable amount of energy and enthusiasm for ‘Little Queenie’, and a sense of adventure with a reworked version of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. There was even a country flavour applied to this latest album with Shelby Lynne sharing vocals during ‘Here Comes That Rainbow Again’, which suggested Jerry Lee Lewis has every intention of continuing to push the creative envelope rather than simply going through the motions.
Key tracks: ‘Little Queenie’, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, ‘Keep Me In Mind’, ‘Here Comes That Rainbow Again’
8. Manic Street Preachers ‘Futurology’ (Columbia)
‘Futurology’ marked a significant change of direction for Manic Street Preachers, drawing on a number of influences from Kraftwerk to early Simple Minds due to a longstanding affection for such musical reference points. A previous tour throughout Europe also proved a source of inspiration and helped shape the politics and sense of detachment expressed during the machinelike ‘Let’s Go To War’ and hypnotic electronic pulses of ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’. The previous trend of calling on guest musicians to provide their interpretations of bassist Nicky Wire’s lyrics was utilised once more, as the Manic Street Preachers continue to reveal their passion for music with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside sprinkling gold dust over ‘Between The Clock And The Bed’. Such overall developments meant that ‘Futurology’ is the sound of a band taking the first steps to a bright new future, and one that is showing signs of shedding its past.
Key tracks: ‘Futurology’, ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’, ‘The Next Jet To Leave Moscow’, ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’,‘Between The Clock And The Bed’
7. Silya ‘Unanchored’ (Sony Music Norway)
‘Unanchored’ was the album Silya had been striving to make for a period of time. The entire album was a culmination of ideas and musical styles collected over the years, which finally came together at the eleventh hour and ended up gelling into a complete whole that flowed from start to finish. Such a feat is all the more remarkable because the musical influences date from anywhere between the 40s to the 70s with elements of rock, pop, jazz, big band and ska coming together, as well as operating on their own terms. Furthermore, ‘Unanchored’ is a personal declaration and best identified by the emotional tug-of-war that is ‘Change My Mind’ which pays respect to the two cities in Silya’s life which, unfortunately, have presented something of a dilemma as far as future directions go. No matter which direction Silya decides to take, ‘Unanchored’ has finally let loose this major talent on the world, which should see Ol’ golden tonsils stock rise considerably during the coming years and rightly so.
Key tracks: ‘Change My Mind’, ‘Become My Dream’, ‘Chick Habit’, ‘When Your Girlfriend Sleeps’, ‘Trailblazer’, ‘New Wave’
6. Russian Red ‘Agent Cooper’ (Sony Music Norway)
Looks can be deceiving when it comes to Russian Red and ‘Agent Cooper’ because this was far from being a mainstream pop record. In fact, the whole album is caked in mystery from the cryptic album title to the ingenious song titles, which possibly refer to a series of past relationships set out in chronological order. Musically, the songs were given the same quality control with glorious sweeping choruses (‘Michael P’), sumptuous vocals (‘Casper’) and fine guitar work that is sometimes set to shoegaze (‘Xabier’). Russian Red delivered one of the packages of the year in the form of ‘Agent Cooper’ which, if you choose to accept, can be found under the code word: SUBLIME.
Key Tracks: ‘Michael P’, ‘John Michael’, ‘Neruda’, ‘Xabier’
5. Twisted Rod ‘Bring It On Home!’ (Rhythm Bomb)
By issuing a clear warning that the contents of the band’s latest album comes with added oomph that may be too hot to handle for some listeners, Twisted Rod certainly lived up to their cautionary notice by delivering a searing set of rockabilly numbers. From the opening heat of ‘Twisted Rod’ to the bustling rhythm of ‘I Love You My Way’, this rockabilly band from the Czech Republic was hell-bent on leaving their mark. With a couple of impressive covers sandwich in the middle – Charlie Feathers’ ‘Stutterin’ Cindy’ and Benny Joy’s ‘Wild Wild Lover’ – there was also time for a change in tempo with the rather excellent ‘Tijuana 45′ and a moment for the blues to creep in by way of ‘Ridin’ Down The Highway’. A sonic delight, Twisted Rod delivered a compelling, exhilarating ride of rockabilly brilliance that is ‘Bring It On Home!’
Key tracks: ‘When I Watch You’, ‘Down The Line’, ‘Wild Wild Lover’, ‘Tijuana 45′
4. Bahamas ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ (Brushfire Records/Universal Music)
Judging by the title and the manner in which Canadian singer-songwriter Bahamas tackled this latest release by assuming the role of producer and multi-instrumentalist, ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ is a record that is close to his heart. It was the opening ‘Waves’ which added further evidence to such thoughts and gave way to the personal nature of this recording with the terrific opening line: “I held the bath inside my lungs for days”. By relying largely on the acoustic guitar with a gradual introduction of further instruments along the way, the songs of ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ are often quietly expressed and lyrically full of introspection. The volume control was toyed with on occasions as indicated by the mid-tempo country rocker ‘Stronger Than That’, with ‘Little Record Girl’ adding to this tally by means of a brisk country twang. By closing on the slowly fading memories of ‘All I’ve Ever Known’, which is aching from the inside out, ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ firmly cemented itself as a stunningly good album and one that is heavily reliant on former troubled times which, ironically, have led to the riches lining this record.
Key tracks: ‘Waves’, ‘Can’t Take You With Me’, ‘Bitter Memories’, ‘All I’ve Ever Known’
3. Sigrun Loe Sparboe ‘Uten at du vet det’ (Tylden)
‘Uten at du vet det’ was Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s first attempt at a solo album after deciding to make the move back north after a lengthy stint residing in Oslo. In accordance with this transition to a place closer to her roots was the decision to compose all of the songs in her native language in order to build a stronger relationship with each and every composition. Such a decision proved a masterstroke as ‘Uten at du vet det’ tantalised the senses from the off with its plush string arrangements and general uplifting qualities. However, it was the moments of darkness (‘Ved rokken’,‘Ingen vet’ ) that equally captivated the senses and helped to provide a fine balance between the sweeter sounding ‘Nord’ and slow dance under the moonlight of the quite wonderful ‘Globus med lys’. With a new album on the horizon, FLW hopes that Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s second solo outing is every bit as good as ‘Uten at du vet det’ because it will be some achievement if it can match the qualities of its debut.
Key tracks: ‘Uten at du vet det’, ‘Nord’, ‘Globus med lys’, ‘Ved rokken’, ‘Ingen vet’, ‘Unnsklyd’, ‘Brevet’
2. Sturgill Simpson ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ (Loose Music)
When FLW interviewed Sturgill Simpson around the time of the promotional release of debut album ‘High Top Mountain’, his second album had been written and recorded and was scheduled for release only months later. ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ was the name given to this album and it was a topic Sturgill Simpson was keen to discuss due to the processes he had gone through in order to obtain the required results. By giving the impression that ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ was going to be anything other than a straight country record, the reality in fact was much closer to Simpson’s previous work with a traditional country sound coming to the fore more often than not. Where ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ differs from its predecessor however, is the occasional flurries of experimentation and a rawer edge given to the guitars best served by the songs ‘Life of Sin’ and ‘Living The Dream’. In addition, there are songs which allude to darker passages in the life of this Kentucky-raised but now resident of Nashville with feelings of hopelessness and bouts of depression residing at the bottom of ‘Long White Line’ and ‘Voices’ to name two such examples. Any notion of a change in sound, however, is given to ‘It Ain’t All Flowers’ which reveals its wildside once guitars set their route in reverse amidst fevered howls from Simpson as the comedown digs its claws in. Considering all that has gone before, the nostalgic trip down memory lane of ‘Pan Bowl’ is a fitting finale and further reason why ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is an extremely important record for its honesty when chronicling life’s mistakes.
Key tracks: ‘Life of Sin’, ‘Voices’, ‘Long White Line’, ‘Turtles All The Way Down’, ‘It Ain’t All Flowers’
1. This Sect ‘Shake The Curse’ (Sect Appeal Records/Diger)
As was the experience last year when compiling the FLW best of poll in terms of records released, there was only ever going to be one winner once This Sect’s ‘Shake The Curse’ revealed itself and reminded of a period in music that is now sadly consigned to the history books. With their post-punk and indie influences largely stemming from an eighties decade when guitar effects shimmered and echoed, This Sect remind the listener of such 80s innovators as The Chameleons and Bauhaus, as well as paying their respects to record labels as Dischord with the aforementioned post-punk sound. Of course, modern touches are applied yet remain at a minimum, with previous single ‘Bookburner’ the most obvious candidate with its groovin’ rhythm, but it is still the guitars and forceful vocal that screamed 1980s the loudest. With lyrics penned by lead vocalist Gøran Karlsvik, the struggles are often of a personal nature (‘Bookburner’, ‘Heritage Crown’) as well as offering much food for thought via cryptic numbers ‘Lines On A Trail’ and ‘Party Like It’s 1939’ for example. Despite various puzzles to solve between the layers presented here, it remains the sheer honesty of lines coursing through the immense ‘Make Shit Shine’, “There’s a hollow in your mouth, Where your truth went missing” which makes ‘Shake The Curse’ an utterly indispensable record and Famous Last Words’ Album of the Year.
Key tracks: ‘It’s Not You, It’s Them’, ‘Bookburner’, ‘Party Like It’s 1939’, ‘Copulation Control’, ‘Make Shit Shine’, ‘Heritage Crown’