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 The Swaggerlies is scheduled to release its new album, The Last of the One and Onlys Friday. The nine-song record (the band’s third overall recording and debut studio recording) is an interesting introduction to the band among those who might be less familiar with the band’s work. The two singles that the record has produced – ‘Good at Being Bad’ and ‘Drunk in London’ – do well to support that statement. They are only two of the songs that stand out in this nine-song record, too. Just as much of note is the 29-minute presentation’s sole instrumental track, ‘March of the Swaggerlies.’ The song will be discussed shortly. Also of note in this album is its title track, which will be examined a little later. The album’s penultimate entry, ‘Outrage’ is yet another example of how much the album has to offer audiences. Each song noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the record’s presentation. When they are considered along with the album’s singles and the rest of its songs, the whole makes The Last of the One and Onlys a work that is one of a kind.
The Swaggerlies’ forthcoming debut studio album, The Last of the One and Onlys, is a unique addition to this year’s field of new rock and independent albums. The two singles that it has already produced make that clear. They are just some of the songs that serve that end, too. Just as much of note is the album’s lone instrumental track, ‘March of the Swaggerlies.’ Opening with a steady cadence played on the snare alongside a rich, blues rock style guitar lick and Hammond organ, it immediately lends itself to comparison to works from Stevie Ray Vaughan while also incorporating some modern rock leaning to make for an interesting contrast. The richness in the near wall of sound approach is so well-balanced through the song’s production. It ensures, along with the musicians’ performances here, that audiences will remain engaged and entertained from the beginning to end of the song. Interestingly, the song is the album’s shortest compositions, clocking in at two minutes, 28 seconds. Even in that short time, so much happens, and the group – Jeromy Leonard (bass, backing vocals), Rob Olsen (drums), Ron Stohr (lead guitar), and Earle Thunders (lead vocals, guitar) – makes the song feel so much longer in the best way possible. To that end, this song may be instrumental, but also does so much to show the band members’ talents.
‘March of the Swaggerlies’ is just one of the songs that shows what makes The Swaggerlies’ new album worth hearing. Also of note is the album’s title track, ‘One and Onlys.’ The song stands out in part through its musical arrangement, which is distinct from that featured in ‘March of the Swaggerlies.’ In the case of this song’s arrangement, the band took an approach that makes the song comparable to works from the likes of Reckless Kelly, Wilco, and others of that ilk. The harmonies generated through the guitar lines form the arrangements infectious foundation while Olsen’s steady time keeping and Leonard’s work on bass add to the arrangement’s appeal in their own right. The whole makes the song, again, comparable to works from the noted acts while still holding its own identity separate from their works. The mood set through the arrangement serves well to work with the song’s lyrical theme.
The lyrical theme featured in ‘One and Onlys’ seems to point the song in the direction of a warm remembrance of someone. This as Thunders sings in the song’s lead verse and chorus, “From cold Seattle mornings/To far away stage lights/Ramblin’ men, they were making bets/On those runners in the night/and locked out of the cool kids club/With the loudmouths in the back/Looking for that lonely truth/That only music has/And not a soul could reach him/We all know mama tried/Just a grievous angel/Singing toward a long , slow suicide/He’s the last of the one and onlys/He’s the last of the never going home/In the felsh and for one night only/Let’s leave some scars we can write these legends on.” That note in the chorus is what really hints at this song being about a specific person or type of person. There is more mention of whomever said person was in the song’s second verse, as Thunders sings of that person, “He loved us like a reptile/We prayed away his sins/Let’s hurry up and get to the place/Where the consequences end.” This all just seems very contemplative and very country music in its nature. It is certain to get plenty of listeners thinking and talking, regardless of how close this critic’s interpretation is of said content. Keeping that in mind, that alone shows even more why the song’s lyrical theme is just as important as its musical arrangement. All things considered, the song is just one more example of what makes The Last of the One and Onlys worth hearing. ‘Outrage,’ the album’s penultimate entry, is yet another example of what the album has to offer audiences.
‘Outrage’ is of note in part because of its own musical arrangement. The arrangement here takes the band in yet another direction. This time, the band echoes the blues based rock sounds of AC/DC, Guns ‘N Roses and so many others of their ilk with the powerful, cutting guitar riffs, vocals, and drums. The infectious vibe of this song and its energy are certain to appeal to any guitar rock purist and give them reason enough to appreciate the song. When everything that went into the arrangement is considered along with the song’s lyrical theme, the song overall gains even more traction.
The lyrical theme featured in ‘Outrage’ is itself that of outrage. It is a commentary on how the media handles news stories and how people react to those intentionally divisive and fear mongering stories. This is clearly inferred through the song’s lead verse and chorus, which state, “Don’t look now/Don’t you question how/We’re selling a new brand of fear/Kneeling rage and kids in cages/Don’t let the picture get too clear/Didn’t see it/Didn’t wanna believe it/An accomplice in a brand new plan/A great big bleedin’ for a dollar’s freedom/Ain’t no need to understand/Hey/What do you say?/Get hip to the outrage of the day.” Again, this is relatively clear cut. It is an indictment of the media and people’s reaction to what the media has done for ages. From here, the band further indicts the media, addressing the media’s bias in relation to politicians, too, as Thunders sings, “Shut your eyes/To the little white lies/And the ones that are red and blue/It’s no surprise what terror buys/Paranoia’s IOU/A casting call for Mecca’s wall/All the martyrs are out on parade/Glory to their heaven’s call/Another killer that we made.” The mention of Mecca and related topics comes across as a reference to how news reports are only serving to make people afraid of and hateful toward those from the Middle East. This is of course just this critic’s interpretation. Overall though, the message is relatively clear. This is an indictment of the media machine and what it has done to America and its people. It is yet another example of how much audiences have to expect from the album. When it is considered along with the other songs examined here, as well as the album’s singles and the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes The Last of the One and Onlys a one of a kind record that is worth hearing at least once.
The Swaggerlies’ forthcoming album, The Last of the One and Onlys is a unique presentation that will appeal to most rock purists. The record’s singles do well to prove that, as do the songs examined here. When they are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes the album an enjoyable addition to this year’s field of new independent albums.
The Last of the One and Onlys is scheduled for release Friday. More information on the record is available along with all of the band’s latest news at: