The Top 19 Independent Albums of 2005

The Top 19 Independent Albums of 2005

THE TOP 19 INDEPENDENT ALBUMS OF 2005

On the face of it, 2005 was a bad year for the music industry: labels like Sanctuary reported record losses and shed thousands of staff, high profile lawsuits were launched against peer-to-peer traders in attempt to halt the seemingly unstoppable rise in illegal music downloads, and rosters were cut across the board with more and more bands competing for fewer and fewer recording contracts.

Add to that the depressing homogeneity of radio playlists and music charts and the picture looks incredibly gloomy. However, there is more to the music industry than the bands you may see on MTV or hear on Clear Channel radio stations. 2005 was a great year for independent artists, with the emergence of new technology giving bands the chance to make records cheaply and promote themselves effectively on online showcases such as MySpace as well as their own web sites.

As a writer for Ink 19, I am inundated with promo albums for indie bands, artists and singer songwriters and this year the quality level has been amazing. Here’s my pick of what I consider to be the best independently released albums of 2005.

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1. Wilshire – Already Home

Already Home is husband-and-wife duo Wilshire’s third indie release and their best. Recorded in their living room, the album’s flawless production, inspired song writing and the obvious musical chemistry between Lori and Micah outstrip even the expensively-produced New Universe, released on Sony in 2003. Songs like the poignant title track, the pop-rock masterclass of “Shine” and the achingly pretty “Memories of You” make a mockery of the label’s decision to let Wilshire go. It was a close call between Wilshire and Black Lab, both of whom exhibited an inspirational level of DIY determination to get their records out, but for me, Already Home shades it as the best independent album of 2005.

Wilshire: www.wilshiremusic.com

Black Lab

Black Lab

2. Black Lab – See The Sun

Once dubbed “the American U2,” Black Lab’s endured a series of frustrating false starts with major labels before deciding to go it alone, and the sheer brilliance of See The Sun indicates the general lack of knowledge most executives have. If they couldn’t make hits out of the gloriously uplifting title track, or the heart-rending “Circus Lights,” their judgment needs serious questioning. Happily, singer-songwriter Paul Durham is quite content writing, producing and recording on his own terms to care.

Black Lab: www.blacklabworld.com

3. Feel – Invisible Train

Feel is the brainchild of LA-based singer-songwriter Scot Sax and although Invisible Train isn’t as instantly accessible as the pop masterpiece that is the band’s debut, songs like the Petty-esque “Goodbye Baby” and “Oh Life” prove Sax is still a genius of a songwriter. The fact that his talents have been utilized this year by Faith Hill on her latest album is recognition of that fact, but the acoustic stomp of “This Moment” is easily the best song Sax wrote in 2005. Essential.

Feel: www.feelband.com

Bill Deasy

Bill Deasy

4. Bill Deasy – Chasing Down a Spark

America should, by rights, LOVE Bill Deasy. His songs of love, loss, hope and life have echoes of the great heartland songwriters like Springsteen and Mellencamp, and Chasing Down a Spark confirmed his status as one of the most talented singer-songwriters around. From the optimism of the melodic “Until I Get It Right” to the honesty of the emotive “Now That I Know What It Means,” Deasy’s writing connects on so many levels and his dedicated touring schedule has attracted a loyal following in his native Pittsburgh. That Chasing Down a Spark managed to somehow improve on his previous solo effort Good Day No Rain underlines just how good it is.

Bill Deasy: www.billdeasy.com

5. July For Kings – Nostalgia

July For Kings’ singer and songwriter, Joe Hedges is currently working on a hugely-anticipated solo album of what is rumored to be experimental pop and rock, but his band’s EP Nostalgia was pure, straight-ahead commercially-minded modern rock. The dark, yet highly melodic “Invincible” or the instantly memorable “Blue Eyes” were real high points, but even more impressive were the delicate ballad, “Float Away” and the brilliantly atmospheric “The Distance.” One of the hardest-working indie bands, July For Kings has remained resolute in the face of numerous line-up changes and label difficulties and hopefully Hedges’ forthcoming solo record will gain the acclaim his talents richly deserve.

July For Kings: www.julyforkings.com

6. The Crash Moderns – The Crash Moderns EP

My tip for major success in 2006, The Crash Moderns burst onto the scene in 2005 with a self-financed tour and an irresistible EP of Cheap Trick-inspired pop rock. Retro vibes effortlessly intertwine with a contemporary approach on the punchy “This Time”, and the sassy “Hello World” and the infectious “Everybody Hates Me” can’t help but whet the appetite for the NJ-based band’s debut full-length release expected sometime in 2006. Lead singer Danny Roselle has tasted success before with his previous outfit No Soap Radio yet recent support slots with Bon Jovi and Lifehouse suggest The Crash Moderns could be the band to finally achieve his musical ambitions.

The Crash Moderns: www.thecrashmoderns.com

7. Alternate Routes – Good and Reckless and True

There’s a hard-to-classify aura about the sheer diversity evident on Alternate Routes’ debut album, but it’s easy to say that Good and Reckless and True is a true independent gem. It’s an album full of ambition in terms of musical landscape and song writing, with a rich lyrical seam and a stream of addictive, captivating songs that mark the band out as ones to watch. From the strained beauty of “The Black and the White” to the high-energy retro rock of “Are You Lonely,” to the soaring opener “Ordinary,” Good and Reckless and True is a alt.rock triumph. But perhaps the finest moment is reserved for the majestic “Time Is a Runaway,” a tune as good as anything Chris Martin has penned for Coldplay.

The Alternate Routes: www.thealternateroutes.com

Orson

Orson

8. Orson

Five-piece rockers Orson are set to swap the sunny climes LA for the gloomy skies of London after the buzz surrounding the band’s self-released Bright Idea landed them a UK record deal with Universal. How they still can’t get signed in America despite this success is a mystery, especially given the commercial potential of their brand of funky, high-energy, soulful retro-rock. The likes of “Bright Idea” and “No Tomorrow” will be all over British radio playlists in 2006 and frontman Jason Pebworth deserves all the plaudits that will surely come his — and Orson’s — way.

Orson: www.orsonband.com

9. Supercell – The New American Standard

After releasing a couple of highly promising EPs, Dallas-based Supercell finally released debut full-length album The New American Standard in April. Yet despite the band’s powerful edge, maturity and outstanding song writing on tracks like “Generation of the Numb,” “Shine,” and “Promises,” it seems that musical differences have put paid to the band in its current format. Lead singer Jason Wheelington has been ousted and the band will re-emerge in 2006 with a new singer and under a new moniker. Nevertheless, The New American Standard remains one of the best modern rock albums of 2005, independent or otherwise.

Supercell: www.supercellonline.com

10. Alex Woodard – Mile High

In many ways Alex Woodard lives what could be considered the perfect life. He swapped a corporate career for a musician’s lifestyle that enables him to live near the beach with his two dogs where he can indulge his passion for surfing without having anyone but himself to answer to. Oh, and he also makes great records. Mile High, his third indie release, was produced by Pete Droge and features some inspired acoustic-based material that recalls greats like Tom Petty. From the sparse, affecting piano of “Voice on the Wire,” to the jaunty “Wonderful” and the gorgeous title track, Woodard cements his reputation as a singer-songwriter to be reckoned with.

Alex Woodard: www.alexwoodard.com

11. Averi – Drawn To Revolving Doors

A soulful combination of Del Amitri, Matchbox Twenty and Maroon 5, Averi set the bar high for indie artists in 2005 and with Drawn To Revolving Doors, it’s easy to see why. Averi can rock hard on material like “Better Or Worse” and “Mouthful of Sand” yet effortlessly shift to the melodic strains of “When You Gracefully Creep In” and “Talk” — both of which have HIT written all over them — and then slip into the jazzy tendencies of “The Brighter Side.” It’s a testament to the level of excellence evident in independent bands and artists this year that Averi don’t appear in the top five.

Averi: www.averimusic.com

The Churchills

The Churchills

12. The Churchills – The Odds of Winning

The Churchills’ Bart Schoudel and Ron Haney run a busy, successful production company for indie bands, but The Odds of Winning proves their pedigree as a band too. Naturally, The Churchills aren’t as productive as they might otherwise be due to their other commitments, but power pop aficionados who lapped up songs like “Not So Goodbye,” “I’m a Sucker For a Girl In Uniform” and the title track will be hoping Schoudel and Haney do less producing in 2006 and more recording. Still with, licensing deals in place for shows like Scrubs, Everwood and ER, fans have plenty of other outlets to enjoy their music.

The Churchills: www.thechurchills.net

13. The Terms – Small Town Computer Crash

Being a college student is hard enough as it is; recording an album of superb guitar pop with an acclaimed producer at the same time is even more difficult, but it’s something The Terms achieved with top marks on Small Town Computer Crash. Greg Ladanyi saw enough in the Baton Rouge band to sign them to his fledgling Maple Jam label and that promise has been realized on songs like “Neutron Bomb,” the stunning “Outlier” and the hypnotic pop of “There She Was” which really showcase Ben Labat’s captivating voice. 2006 could see The Terms graduate to the big time.

The Terms: www.thetermsmusic.com

14. Creede Williams — Something Borrowed

There’s a southern, countrified element to Creede Williams that really helped him stand out amongst the indie crowd in 2005. Produced by former Jackopierce frontman Cary Pierce, Something Borrowed is a rootsy pop-rock record boasting a number of killer tunes, including the melancholic “Lately (The End),” the bouncy “California” and one of THE indie songs of 2005, the Van Morrison-inspired “Fallen.” Guest appearances by members of Vertical Horizon add to the overall level of quality.

Creede Williams: www.creedewilliams.com

15. The Lift Road To Hana

Combining a melodic sensibility and a real cerebral edge to its sound, The Lift’s Road To Hana is an alternative rock album of real depth and vision. The brilliance of the frenetic “Firecracker,” the laid back groove of “Favorite Record” and the epic “Red Shirt” proves that the band’s attempt to make a bold, memorable record paid off handsomely. A crisp, slick production enhances the wonderful song writing and the whole thing shows ambitions above what could be expected of a band’s debut.

The Lift: www.theliftstation.com

16. Bain Mattox – Prizefighter

It’s not just Bain Mattox’s marketing and tireless promotion that puts some major label bands to shame, it’s his brand of cerebral modern rock on Prizefighter as well. A succession of initially slow-burning anthems, such as “Timebomb,” “Fine Line” and “Telegram” draw comparison with the likes of Gavin DeGraw, but it’s clear Mattox is an artist in his own right as the mournful “Tragic Keys” and the powerful title track attest. Mattox has the talent, fanbase and drive to step up to the next level in 2006 and Prizefighter could well help him do just that.

Bain Mattox: www.bainmattox.com

Kai Brown

Kai Brown

17. Kai Brown – Better Now

Australian native Kai Brown came over to the States to kick-start his music career and his alliance with writer/producer Cary Pierce resulted in a highly listenable and enjoyable collection of polished pop rock. Songs like “The Pain” and “Believe Again” have more hooks than a high school locker room, while Pierce’s stellar production job adds a sonic sheen to sweeping ballads like “Always.” Brown’s talent and youthful good looks mean that 2006 could be the year where he builds on the platform provided by Better Now.

Kai Brown: www.kaibrownmusic.com

18. Deccatree — Battle of Life

Deccatree’s brand of polished, yet left-of-centre alternative rock bemused executives at Atlantic who dropped the band without them even releasing an album. Yet the band fought hard to release the songs the band had cut whilst at the label and the result was worth the wait. Vocalist Chris Karn’s compositions are at times chaotic, yet always melodic, but Battle of Life relentlessly pushed the boundaries and “Belong” should be a candidate for the best indie song of the year.

Deccatree: www.deccatree.com

Psapp

Psapp

19. Psapp – Tiger, My Friend

Easily the most weirdly addictive album to land on my desk in 2005, Tiger, My Friend challenges the listener throughout its entirety, with some truly mind-boggling sound effects to embellish Psapp’s quirky and experimental mix of electronica and folk. But somehow, the duo of Galia Durant and Carim Clasmann manage to make the random rubber duck accompaniments and meows of Splodge the cat work together to create a lush sonic landscape that is always interesting.

Psapp: www.psapp.com

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