Independent artists and acts are the backbone of the music industry. There is no denying this truth. Today’s independent artist/group/act could be the next big name, given the right support. Keeping that in mind, it is only fitting that the independent acts out there get just as much attention at year’s end as their more well-known counterparts. That is why Phil’s Picks makes sure to present a list of the year’s top new independent albums each year, including this year.
This year has seen so many wonderful new independent albums, too. Up-and-coming rock act Mason Hill, for instance, is on the verge of breaking out thanks to its new album, Against The Wall. On another note, an act, such as The Grease Traps makes it a presentation that could make it one of the next big names in the realm of neo-soul/funk/R&B with Solid Ground. It is another record that made this critic’s year-ender list, along with Steadfast’s Transmitters. Between these records and so many others, this year saw so many notable new independent albums. They are all compiled in the list featured here.
As with every other list that Phil’s Picks presents annually, the list features the year’s Top 10 new albums and five additional honorable mention titles for a total of 15 titles. Those honorable mention titles are included because they each offer something enjoyable in their own right and are no less worth hearing than any of the others featured in the list. That should be fully understood now. Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks’ 2021 Top 10 New Independent Albums.
PHIL’S PICKS’ 2021 TOP 10 NEW INDEPENDENT ALBUMS
Mason Hill – Against The Wall
Ryan Hamilton – 1221
Marc Ribler – The Whole World Awaits You
Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems – Still Dirty
The Grease Traps – Solid Ground
Walking Papers – The Light Below
Grand Royale – Carry On
The Straddlerz – The Straddlerz
Willamena – Broken Songs: A Compilation
Drones – Our Hell Is Right Here
Steadfast – Transmitters
Liar Thief Bandit – Deadlights
The Swaggerlies – The Last of the One and Onlys
Skarlett Riot – Invicta
The Fifth – The Fifth
That is all for this list. It is just a snapshot of the mass of notable new independent albums released this year, too. It collectively serves as another reminder of the importance and place of independent music.
Independent rock band Liar Thief Bandit has been together only a short time, having originally come together in 2015. In the now only six years that the band has been together, it has already released two albums — Gun Shovel Alibi (2016) and Straight Ahead (2018) – and toured extensively across Europe, building its audience base and reputation. Now three years after the release of Straight Ahead, the trio – Mikael Jacobson (guitar, vocals), William Grube (drums), and Miklas Dahre (bass) – is poised to becomes another one of the next big names in the independent music community with its third album, Deadlights. Scheduled for release Friday through The Sign Records, the 12-song record presents much for audiences to enjoy, beginning with its musical arrangements. They will be discussed shortly. The lyrical themes that accompany the album’s musical arrangements add their own interest to the overall presentation here. They will be discussed a little later. The production that went into each song rounds out the album’s most important elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Deadlights. All things considered, they make the album one more of the best of this year’s new independent albums.
Liar Thief Bandit’s forthcoming album Deadlights is a presentation that has the potential to make the band one of the next big names in the independent music community (and more specifically that of independent rock bands). That is due in no small part to its featured musical arrangements. The 41-minute album’s musical arrangements present a somewhat wide range of rock styles from one to the next. The band’s familiar garage rock sound and style is audible throughout the album’s body. So the band’s established audience base has that to anticipate. At the same time, the sounds in that familiar stylistic approach vary from one to the next. To that end, that gives each song which uses that stylistic approach its own unique identity. The band’s familiar DIY garage rock stylistic approach and sound is just one that is featured here. There is also a clear stoner rock approach exhibited at various points. ‘Limitations,’ which serves as the album’s midpoint, is just one example of that influence with its driving, fuzzed guitar line and gritty vocal delivery. ‘Brand New Day’ also exhibits a touch of that stoner rock influence. Of course the stoner influence is just one more featured throughout the album. ‘Cept The Truth’ presents the band’s garage punk leanings. That is evidenced through the raw sound from the collective here, including the vocals and the high energy exuded throughout the song. The addition of the band’s New Wave of Classic Rock leanings alongside its stoner and punk approaches gives this record so much diversity, musically speaking. That musical diversity is just part of what makes the album so enjoyable. The lyrical content that accompanies the album’s musical arrangements makes for its own share of interest.
‘Brand New Day’ is a prime example of the importance of the album’s lyrical content. This song’s lyrical content comes across as being that familiar, defiant rock anthem whose subject refuses to just give up and give in. The manner in which this seeming message is delivered serves well to help make the noted inference and in turn connect with listeners. Jacobson sings in the song’s lead verse and chorus, “Feeling the chills as I’m closing the window/The air runs thin/With all the things I never could let go/The mess I’m in/But I’ve made up my mind/I’m keeping my stories to myself/ And somehow I will get revenge/I’m not saying I’m leading the way to a revolution/I’m not saying I’m giving you hopes in a better way/But in my mind there’s a lot of anticipation/Watch me as I’m flipping you off/And stay prepared for a brand new day.” The song’s second verse adds even more to the inference as Jacobson sings, “Heading down to my favourite safe place/Where I feel home/Where no one knows my name and I am a stranger/That’s where I belong/Even if I’ll never end up a loner I think I’ve made my point.” This is someone who is going to do his own thing, regardless what people think. That is just this critic’s interpretation of course. Regardless, this seemingly familiar theme and the accessibility thereof in the manner of delivery makes clear in itself why the album’s lyrical content is important to the album’s presentation.
‘Feather’ is another example of what makes the lyrical themes featured in Deadlights so important to the album’s presentation. This song’s lyrical theme seems to evoke confidence, too, but in a manner different from that of the album’s title track. In this case, the confidence seems to come across more as a sort of self-assured sense against life’s obstacles. This is inferred as Jacobson sings in the song’ lead verse, “When your dreams keep draining you dry/When you wake up late at night and don’t know why/When your bones seem weak and you want to cry/Remember I’m here until the day we die/You could have knocked me over/With a feather or a stone I would still not run for cover Even with all chances blown.” This comes across as someone who is perhaps re-assuring someone else, things are not overly negative. The song’s second verse continues that seeming message of optimism and hope as Jacobson sings, “We came close to tearing it all down/We had every trench in sight but kept our ground/ We gave it all we had and what we found/We embraced and turned into our own sound.” If in fact the message delivered here is meant to inspire, then the band has succeeded. It is a message that will reach listeners easily, again because of the manner in which it was delivered. It is just one more example of why the album’s lyrical content is so important.
‘Silver Tongue,’ which come late in the album’s run, is one more example of what makes the album’s lyrical themes important. In this case, the song’s lyrical theme seems to be a familiar social commentary. In this case, the commentary is – as the title implies – about human nature in a very specific fashion. This is inferred right from the song’s lead verse and chorus, in which Jacobson sings, “Talk is cheap and nobody listens/Even though points are made/Sometimes the occasional eyes can glisten/But we are all part of the same charade/Ten million times a day we hear the same old story/And no one cares to think at all.” This statement, as brief as it is, is certain to resonate with plenty of listeners. It comes across as a commentary about people how complacent people have become and how we just let others do the thinking and tell us what to think (E.g. the media, politicians, religious leaders, etc.) The commentary continues in the song’s second verse, in which Jacobson sings, “We find it odd to leave things uncertain/But we tend to go around instead of climbing the unavoidable mountain/Ten million times a day we hear the same old story/And no one cares to think of how to change despair into glory/Until I hear a voice that wants to get things done I’m gonna run my silver tongue.” Once more, here is a seeming message about people expecting others to do things for them and about people avoiding the big things that need attention, such as major hot-button topics. Basically, the whole of the song comes across as a seeming commentary about people’s complacency and hypocrisy. That is, again, just this critic’s own interpretation and should not be taken as gospel. Regardless, that the song seems to deliver such a message is yet more proof of the importance of the album’s lyrical content. Add in the lyrics’ delivery style and that statement gains even more traction. When this song is considered along with the others examined here and the rest of the album’s works, the whole makes clear why the album’s lyrical content is so important to its presentation. That content and its importance is just one more way in which the album proves its strength. The record’s production rounds out the album’s most important elements.
The production that went into Deadlights is important because of the balance that it brings to each arrangement. Considering the fact that this record has so much energy and so much going on, the utmost attention had to be paid to each composition. The instruments and vocals are expertly balanced so that even as raucous as the album gets at points, the mass of music in each work never gets muddied and bogged down. That is a testament to the work of those behind the glass to bring out the best of each musician’s performance. The result of that time intensive work is a record that proves enjoyable just as much for its sound as for its content.
Liar Thief Bandit’s forthcoming album Deadlights is an ironically titled record. Considering that a deadlight is defined by Merriam-Webster as a cover that keeps out light and water. In the case of this album, it is sure to help shed more light on the band. That is due in part to the record’s featured musical arrangements. The arrangements combine the band’s garage rock and punk leanings with a more distinct stoner rock stylistic approach and sound for a whole that will appeal widely to listeners. The lyrical themes that are presented throughout this album are accessible and presented in their own unique fashion, adding even more to the album’s appeal. The record’s production ensures that even as energetic as the album is from start to end, each song is perfectly balanced throughout. This aspect puts the finishing touch to the album and rounds out its most important elements. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make the album in whole a presentation that is among the best of this year’s new independent albums. Deadlights is scheduled for release Friday through The Sign Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Liar Thief Bandit’s latest news at: