Top 10 independent albums of the year

As the end of the year comes, “Best Of” and “Top 10” lists for the year are found in every magazine and every website. I wouldn’t want to disappoint your expectations; however, I do plan on showing you a few things you may not have heard of before in a list of the top independent albums of 2009. As a word of warning, most of the records are going to fall under the genres of punk or folk, but there’s a bit of indie rock and noise rock in there as well.

1. Frank Turner – “Poetry of the Deed”

Frank Turner’s third album surprised me to no end when it was released early in September. I had been hearing about Turner for a while, but never took the time to actually listen to him. Once I did, he quickly became one of my favorite new artists. “Poetry of the Deed” is apparently Frank Turner’s first album where he rehearsed and recorded with his full band (the one he plays live with) and it really shows. The album is constantly drifting between folk acoustic guitar and distorted electric guitar; between quiet piano and loud pounding drums. It shows an affinity for musicianship and songwriting I haven’t seen in a long time. Just after the release of the album, Frank Turner released an official video to the live track, “Poetry of the Deed,” that mixes studio recorded music, live music, and demo tapes.

2. Bomb the Music Industry! – “Scrambles”

Beginning in 2004, Bomb the Music Industry’s Jeff Rosenstock has been releasing home recorded albums for free through his record label, Quote Unquote Records. Most of Bomb the Music Industry’s albums sound extremely rough and digital, often including drum machines and synthesizer. The new album, however, builds off of their 2004 release, “Get Warmer,” which had more of a full band and professional sounding recording. The odd mix of ska, punk, and a little bit of folk, creates an album with a lot of raw energy rarely seen in today’s music scene. Scrambles is available free to download through Quote Unquote Records.

3. The Wild – “The Wild”

The Wild’s self-titled EP was a random find for me, but I’m definitely glad to have heard it. The simple guitar riffs and drum beats oddly give credence to the strongly worded lyrics. The EP is extremely simple folk with catchy lyrics comparable to any pop punk band. Catching my eye when browsing Quote Unquote Records, “The Wild” is also free to download.

4. Fake Problems – “It’s Great to Be Alive”

Though Fake Problems has played folk punk throughout most of their career, they added a strong mix of indie rock into this year’s release. The album is full of catchy guitar riffs, powerful vocals, and great guest instrumentation. If Fake Problem’s live shows and constant touring isn’t a testament to their hard work as a band, this album surely is. Later than the album, a video for “Diamond Rings” (my favorite track) was posted online with the band sported glow-in-the-dark instruments.

5. The Taxpayers – “A Rhythm in Cages”

I posted a review of “A Rhythm in Cages” earlier this year and it was obvious the album caught my ear. It has horrible production quality and the band isn’t very good at instrumentation, but the album has a raw energy rarely seen in music of the modern day. It sounds like something I should have heard in a basement in the early ’80s. This is also an album I found free to download through Quote Unquote Records.

6. Cobra Skulls – “American Rubicon”

Rockabilly and punk have long been mixed in bands like Necromantix and the Horrorpops, but Cobra Skulls have perfected a west coast punk sound with rockabilly bass down to the note. Cobra Skulls have done nothing but improve upon their popular sound on their previous record, “Sitting Army,” with new guitarist Adam Beck. I’m highly suggesting “American Rubicon” to anyone that likes Rancid. The first song posted for the album was “H.D.U.I.”The song features lead singer Devin Peralta being told by a war veteran that Devin doesn’t “know how bad it is.”

7. Future of the Left – “Travels With Myself and Another”

I also posted a review of “Travels With Myself and Another” earlier in the year, but Future of the Left is still an odd one to make it on to my list. “Travels With Myself and Another” holds together a clashing mixture of pop and noise. Though it took several listens through to get on the list, the CD was essentially glued into my CD player for almost a week straight. A live music video was released for the first track, “Armng Eritrea.”

8. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Can’t Maintain”

I bought “Can’t Maintain” before it was officially released when I saw Andrew Jackson Jihad live. So, yes, I’m a huge fan of the band even before this release, but it’s a worthwhile catch nonetheless. For new listeners, Andrew Jackson Jihad is the in-your-face folk duo that isn’t afraid to sing about anything, and certainly has the guts to sing about everything. For old fans, the new album won’t disappoint, though it will confuse. For the first time, Andrew Jackson Jihad recorded a few straight punk songs, with drums and electric guitar. However, this theme only persist on a few songs, most of the album is the same acoustic guitar and upright bass I’ve come to love.

9. The Lawrence Arms – “Buttsweat and Tears”

An awkward title to an extremely well written album, “Buttsweat and Tears” is the Lawrence Arms first release since 2006’s “Oh, Calcutta!” The EP offers the same Lawrence Arms sound that’s been around since “Apathy and Exhaustion.” The Lawrence Arms are extremely similar to early Alkaline Trio (which makes sense, because they both hailed from the same record label early in their careers), so any fains of the trio should probably check out this EP. The biggest fault I find in the EP is that I found myself desperately wanting more than five songs.

10. Against Me! – “The Original Cowboy”

I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not to include this. “The Original Cowboy” is actually the original demo recordings to Against Me!’s 2003 album, “As The Eternal Cowboy.” Regardless, the demos were released this year, and they create an entirely different album with an amazingly different feel. It’s a refreshing look at one of the first punk bands I got into, especially since their recent signing to Major Label, Sire. One track that remains the same between “The Original Cowboy” and “As The Eternal Cowboy” is the acoustic track “Cavalier Eternal.”