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 singer-songwriter Ryan Hamilton made a big splash last year with his album, Nowhere To Go But Everywhere alongside his band, The Harlequin Ghosts. Now more than a year after the record’s release, Hamilton is scheduled to return Friday with its follow-up, his new solo record, 1221. With barely more than a month left in the quickly aging year, most critics will agree the 12-song record has shaken up their lists of the year’s top new independent albums. That is proven from the beginning to end of the 42-minute presentation through its musical and lyrical content alike. ‘Déjà Vu I Love You’ is a prime example of the strength of that collective content. It will be discussed shortly. ‘Babies’ is another way in which the record’s overall content shows the album’s appeal. It will be discussed a little later. ‘Ready To Love Again,’ is yet another example of how much this record has to offer audiences. It will also be discussed later. When it is considered along with the other two songs noted her and with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole shows the record to be unquestionably one more of the year’s top new independent albums.
More than a year after the release of his then latest album, Nowhere To Go But Everywhere (which made its way to this critic’s list of 2020’s top new independent albums), Ryan Hamilton is set to go two for two with his new solo record, 1221. Composed of singles that he released over the course of 2021, the record is yet another example of Hamilton’s talent as a singer, songwriter, and musician. This is proven from beginning to end of this nearly 45-minute presentation from early on in its run. ‘Déjà vu I Love You’ is a prime way in which this is proven. The song’s appeal comes in part through its musical arrangement, which takes audiences back to the 90s right from its outset. The combination of Hamilton’s vocals and the song’s instrumentation immediately lends the arrangement to comparison to works from the likes of Weezer, Marcy Playground, and so many other pop rock acts that rose to fame during the mid-90s. The vocal harmonies and those crated by the bass and guitar are infectious from the song’s opening notes to its end. The production that went into the song gives the whole, including the work on drums and bass, such a rich presentation. Again, the whole is certain to completely engage and entertain audiences throughout the song’s three minute-plus run time. The upbeat energy and positive vibes established through the arrangement work well with the song’s lyrical theme, which is the familiar topic of love found.
The theme of love found is obvious in ‘Déjà Vu I Love You’ right in the song’s title. It is even more so as Hamilton sings in the song’s lead verse and chorus, “A slow dance/In the fast lane/The romance/The pleasure and the pain/You put your heart up/But then it fell/Because it feels right/Man, it’s heaven/But it’s how you make a promise/And you keep it/You wanna shout it/But it’s a secret/Hey, you got it wrong, man/But it’s right now/You can’t help it/You’re gonna shout it out loud/Baby, I love you/Baby, I love you/You give me déjà vu/Baby, I love you.” If that is not proof enough of this song’s theme, then nothing is. The rest of the song follows similarly in its lyrical theme, so there is really no need to continue from there. Again, this so excited mood that is exemplified here matches so well with the energy and mood in the song’s arrangement. When all of this is paired together, it makes the song a clear example of how much the album overall has to offer through its content. ‘Babies’ is another example of the impact of the album’s content on its appeal.
‘Babies’ is quite opposite of ‘Déjà Vu I Love You’ both musically and lyrically. Where the prior song is so optimistic and happy, this song’s musical arrangement is more of a folk-pop style composition in its musical arrangement. In listening to this song’s arrangement, one can’t help but wonder if Hamilton perhaps took some influence from John Lennon and/or The Beatles or maybe even some from Bob Dylan and/or Bruce Springsteen here. The arrangement has that sort of neo pop-folk approach in its light, contemplative mood and mid-tempo energy. There is a sense of melancholy here, but it is not so strong that it will bring anyone down. Rather, it is a contemplative melancholy that matches its lyrical counterpart well in its own right.
The lyrical theme featured in ‘Babies’ is a social commentary, despite what its title might infer. It is a commentary about the state of the world today. This is made clear right from the song’s outset as Hamilton sings, “Little babies/In bathrooms/Getting high/Little babies/In little cars/Flying by/Geneation X/Generation Y/The world’s so hard sometimes/It makes me cry/And where we are/That’s where we will be/Everything changes as far as I can see/But one thing stays the same/Everybody’s always looking for someone to blame.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “Little babies holding whips/Sinking boats and building ships/And bright, blue buildings in the sky/And never wondering/Why/God made it all to be destroyed/Every baby girl and every baby boy/Everything you do is safe/The only thing you’ll ever have is today.” The added notes of “little babies looking for flags to burn” and everybody being afraid adds even more to that commentary. The fully, straight forward fashion in which Hamilton delivers the commentary avoids any preachy nature while still presenting so much depth. It makes the song so much more accessible even with the theme being so familiar across the musical universe. That, considered along with the song’s arrangement, makes for even more accessibility and in turn shows that much more what makes 1221 in whole such an enjoyable presentation. It is hardly the last of the record’s most notable songs. ‘Ready To Love Again,’ the record’s closer is yet another of the most notable of the album’s songs.
‘Ready To Love Again’ is notable because as with the other songs examined here, its arrangement does so well to engage and entertain audiences. The arrangement’s sound and instrumentation does just as well to help translate the mood and wording in the song’s lyrical theme. As the song’s title infers, this is a song about someone who is apparently coming off of the heartbreak of a breakup. Everybody who has ever been through a breakup knows the emotional difficulty of opening his/her heart back to love. The somber tone exhibited by the simplicity of Hamilton’s vocals and the piano here does so well to translate those mixed emotions that one feels when they “might be ready to love again.” The gentle tone from the cello alongside the piano adds even more emotional depth to the arrangement and translates that mood and mindset that so many people feel in this situation. Kudos to Hamilton and all involved for their work here. It made this arrangement so beautiful and powerful in its simplicity.
As noted, the lyrical theme that accompanies the musical arrangement in ‘Ready To Love Again’ is in fact about that very topic, being at that point of being cautiously ready to give love a chance again. He translates that moment so well here lyrically, too as he sings in the song’s lead verse and chorus, “Built a big wall/One that won’t fall/I hope you’re real strong/Good luck getting’ through here/I’ve got a big heart/It’s covered in big scars/We’ve all got our reasons/And sad stories to tell/I think I might be ready/Think I might be ready to love again/I think I might be ready/Think I might be ready to love again. He continues in the song’s second verse, “No more small talk/Let’s go for a long walk/Take my hand/And hold on tight/Broken hearted/But just getting started/I know you’ve got questions/And to tell you the truth/I think I might be ready/Think I might be ready to love again/I think I might be ready/Think I might be ready to love again.” The cautious optimism that Hamilton’s subject expresses here will connect with any listener. The manner in which he delivered that optimism through the song’s lyrical presentation is just so moving, along with the song’s musical arrangement. When the two items are joined, they show even more clearly at this point why this song stands out among the album’s entries. When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the album’s songs, the whole of 1221 becomes a work that is a complete joy and success from start to end. It is a presentation that as with its predecessor, is among the best of the year’s new independent albums.
Ryan Hamilton’s new, forthcoming album 1221 is another strong new offering from the singer-songwriter-musician. It has much to offer audiences both in its musical and lyrical content. The songs examined here do well to support the noted statements. They openly exemplify the accessibility of that content and the entertainment that said accessibility generates, too. The same applies to the record’s other songs, too. All things considered, the content examined here and that which makes up the rest of this album makes the record another successful offering from Hamilton that is among the best of this year’s new independent albums.
1221 is scheduled for release Friday through Wicked Cool Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Ryan Hamilton’s latest news at:
Singer-Songwriter Ryan Hamilton is scheduled to release his new album next week.
The announcement was made Friday through a news release. The document states that the record, 1221, is scheduled for release Nov. 26 through Wicked Cool Records. Its body will consist of all of the standalone singles that Hamilton has released this year.
The 12 songs that make up the record’s body are originals and collaborations with the likes of Bob Schneider and Chuck Prophet. Covers of songs from acts, such as Catherine Wheel, The Refreshments, and The Spin Doctors are also featured in the record.
The record’s track listing is noted below.
‘1221’ Track Listing
1. How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me)
2. Deja Vu I Love You
3. Caught up in a Moment
6. Shots Fired
7. Big Man
8. Permanent Holiday
10. Do the Damage
11. If Life Was a Movie
12. Ready to Love Again
In other news, Hamilton is scheduled to host a new livestream concert, dubbed “Holiday Hoedown,” Dec. 9. Tickets are available here. The livestream concert will broadcast live from the Historic Church in Stephenville, TX.
Each ticket for the livestream concert comes with a free download of the concert following its conclusion. “Doors” open one hour prior to the concert. A trailer for the concert is streaming here.
More information on Ryan Hamilton’s new album and livestream concert is available along with all of his latest news at:
Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts debuted the video for its latest single this week.
The group debuted the lyric video for its new single ‘Oh No (ft. Kay Hanley)‘ Thursday. The song is the second single from the group’s forthcoming album Nowhere To Go But Everywhere. Hamilton debuted the album’s lead single, ‘Jesus & John Lennon‘ July 17. ‘Jesus & John Lennon’ is available to stream and download here.
The album is scheduled for release Sept. 18 through Wicked Cool Records. Pre-orders are open now.
The ‘Oh No (ft. Kay Hanley)’ video places the song’s lyrics over a continuous stream of Hamilton in a variety of positions in front of a blue drop cloth backdrop. The song’s musical arrangement is an upbeat, poppy composition that will get stuck in listeners’ heads. Its lyrical theme is just a celebration of mainstream music that features tributes to acts, such as Prince, Beck, and Bruce Springsteen.
Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, Wicked Cool Records is owned by Steven Van Zant, who is a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Hamilton offered a brief statement about the song’s lyrical concept.
“I’m super proud of the concept of this song. Flipping all those classic songs on their heads. Plus, I got to sing it with my friend Kay,” he said.
In other news, Hamilton recently recorded a documentary during a cross-country trip across America. The trip was a result of his divorce from his ex-wife. Hamilton took America’s famed Route 66 for his trip. The documentary — “Communique” — saw its first segment debut Wednesday through Glide magazine.
Hamilton said of his journey, “While it was magical to take that storied route, it was more like driving through a graveyard version of what once was,” said Hamilton. “Though ominous, it was still darkly beautiful.”
More information on the group’s new single and video is available along with its latest news at: