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 act The Straddlerz’ self-titled debut album is among the most notable of this year’s new independent albums. Released by the duo – Linda Filippin (vocals) and Michael Reynal (guitars) — Jan. 29, the nine-song record is continued proof that independent music acts deserve just as much attention and credit as their more well-known mainstream counterparts. That is proven easily through the recording’s musical and lyrical content. The record’s musical arrangements take influence from some of the greatest music of the 1960s, 70s, and even 80s for its own original compositions while the lyrical content generates its own share of entertainment and engagement. Case in point is the bluesy ‘Don’t Go Away,’ which comes late in the 35-minute record’s run. It will be discussed shortly. ‘Without You,’ with its driving vintage guitar rock sound is another example of why this band and its debut album deserve so much attention. It will be addressed a little later. ‘Circle of Insanity,’ which forms a portion of the album’s midpoint, is yet another example of how this album has managed to stand out among this year’s field of new rock and even independent albums. When it and the other songs noted here are considered with the rest of the album’s content, the whole proves it is as deserving of its own spot on this year’s list of top new independent albums.
The Straddlerz’ self-titled debut album is a work that guitar rock purists and independent music devotees alike will appreciate. That is because its musical arrangements and lyrical content collectively shows it is just as powerful a presentation as anything that its more well-known mainstream counterparts have crafted in recent years. ‘Don’t Go Away’ is just one way in which the noted statements are supported. Right from its opening strains, the song’s arrangement lends itself to comparisons to Led Zeppelin’s performance of ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.’ That is evidenced in the slow, bluesy sound of the guitar and the steady drums and bass. Filippin’s vocal delivery even lends itself to that comparison in its own way. Making the arrangement even more interesting is that the noted comparison is juxtaposed by the song’s much heavier chorus sections. The heavy, grinding sound of the whole in the chorus is more of a modern garage influence. The contrast of those two styles is balanced expertly and ensures listeners’ engagement and entertainment. Interestingly enough, the musical content featured in this recording is not the only aspect that takes a cue from Robert Plant and company. The song’s very title is its own ironic echo of Led Zeppelin’s song, as is the lyrical content that accompanies that title and musical content.
Filippin sings in the song’s lead verse, “Stay with me/Don’t go away/Tell me a story/I can believe…The dream is over/My mind’s wide open/And I see now/The her is bad/It’s just me and myself/And I say/Don’t go/Don’t go far away/Don’t go away/Don’t go away.” Some of the lyrics in this verse are difficult to decipher sans lyrics sheet to reference, but the seeming message here is relatively clear even at this point. Filippina continues in the song’s second verse, “Your touch/On my skin/Soft like those flowers in spring/You left me here/With no goodbyes/Now I say/Don’t go away/Don’t turn away.” At this point, the song’s lyrical message leaves virtually no doubt as to its topic. This is, as inferred, one of those songs that centers on a breakup, much as with Led Zeppelin’s take of ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.’ Even with such comparisons, The Straddlerz’ song still boasts its own unique identity, showing in its own way musically and lyrically why the band and is debut album are equally deserving of respect. It is just one of the songs that makes clear why the noted respected is so deserved. ‘Without You’ is another way in which the noted statements are supported.
‘Without You’ is, musically speaking, a direct contrast to ‘Don’t Go Away.’ This song, with its fuzzed guitar and vocals, rich drum sound and bass, is a powerful indie-garage rock style work that lends itself to comparisons to some of the greatest works of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, while also again incorporating some more modern garage rock influence to enrich the song even more. It is a sound that both in its execution and production does so well to create that sense of nostalgia that succeeds so well where so many other bands, both well-known and not, have failed. It is an infectious work that in even just under three-and-a-half minutes, leaves listeners feeling fulfilled by the time it hits that last note. The song’s lyrical content works with the fiery energy in the musical arrangement to make for even more engagement and entertainment.
The lyrical content featured in ‘Without You’ is, as the song’s title suggests, another work that centers on the topic of a relationship. In the case of this song, the song’s subject is more confident. Much of the song’s lyrical content is difficult to decipher because of the song’s production – there is a lot of fuzz even on the vocal track here – but there are points at which Filippin’s vocals are decipherable, and they make the message clear. There is a point at which Fillipin sings about having a “view from the dark/And I’m ready to shine” that hints at that confidence. As the song continues to progress, she makes mention of giving “No mercy at all” which bolsters the inferred statement even more before stating just as forcefully, “I’m gonna feel what I want to/Without you.” Simply put, this is someone who feels wholly liberated from a bad situation and is embracing the end of that broken relationship. It is another point that is certain to resonate with listeners, what with the strength exuded in the lyrical content and equally fiery musical arrangement. The whole makes this song another clear example of why The Straddlerz’ self-titled debut album is such a strong start for the duo. It is just one more of the ways in which the album shows its strength. ‘Circle of Insanity’ is yet another way in which the album shows it holds its own against so many of its counterparts.
‘Circle of Insanity’ takes a cue from another classic rock icon in its musical arrangement, this time not only Joan Jett and company, but also the one and only Lita Ford. That latter is especially evidenced in the driving metal approach taken here. Yes, there is a hint of the semi-punk style of Jett and company, but the metal influence is far more prevalent here. Even Filippin’s vocal delivery style matches that of Ford more than Jett. That musical content couples with the song’s lyrical content to make for even more engagement and entertainment.
In the case of this song’s lyrical content, once again much of the noted content is difficult to decipher. However, at least the chorus and some of the verses can be deciphered. From what can be understood, it would seem that the song here is focused more on the subject’s connection in general to someone else, not romantically, but plutonically. That is inferred as Fillipin noted in the chorus sings that “this life drives me insane.” There are points in the chorus in which she also makes note of wanting to change and not be like another unidentified person. Early on in the song’ Fillipin’s subject even tells the unidentified person, “You don’t really understand me” and that “I hate your point of view,” adding, “I don’t want to be like you.” So clearly this song has nothing to do with romance at all. Maybe it is the subject standing up to someone in a household or even someone she/he knows who is not the best person in the world. Whoever that person is, the subject has had enough of that person and is letting that person know it, too. It is another wholly accessible theme to which plenty of listeners will relate. Add the fiery energy in the song’s classic metal style arrangement, and the song becomes even more powerful among the album’s entries. When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and the rest of the album’s works, the whole proves itself a presentation that is easily just as enjoyable as anything that The Straddlerz’ more well-known mainstream counterparts have crafted.
The Straddlerz’ self-titled debut album, released independently by the band Jan. 29, is a powerful work that any guitar rock purist will find enjoyable. That is proven throughout the album from start to finish through its musical and lyrical content. The songs examined here do well to help support the noted statements. When those songs are considered along with the rest of the album’s other songs, the whole becomes a work that continues to prove why independent acts deserve just as much respect and attention as their more well-known mainstream counterparts. That respect and attention could potentially make a band, such as The Straddlerz one of the next big mainstream rock acts. The Straddlerz is available now. More information on the album is available along with all of the band’s latest news at: