The Debut Album Project: August (“21st Century Classics”)

Debut Album Project

In August, Strange Currencies‘ year-long focus on debut albums turned full-speed ahead toward the 21st century: a time in which ‘indie’ went big-time, where genre lines were blurred, and when some truly outstanding artists hit the ground running with stellar first offerings. While some of these records are only a few years old, it feels reasonable to anoint them — at least most of them — the status of genuine classics.

Granted, not every album here is an outright masterpiece, but these thirty-one records do a sufficient job of summarizing a wildly eclectic two-plus decades of popular music. While some of them were legitimate hits, others merely existed on the periphery of popular consciousness. While some were greeted with enormous hype, others have played the long game, finding wider audiences slowly but surely. While some of them represented early peaks in careers that have since faded, others were merely preludes to even better work ahead.

We’ll be shifting our emphasis to a new theme in September. To see those picks in real-time — and to read our past and future mini-reviews in full — give our Instagram and Facebook pages a follow.

August 1 (#213)

The Avalanches

Since I Left You


Rating: 9.5

What We Said: “By the year 2000, sample-based music itself was nothing new, but with this LP, The Avalanches crafted a work of genuine warmth and emotion — elements that ‘process-based’ music had so often lacked. Some of this comes from the occasional familiarity with the source material, but it’s more a testament to the careful craftsmanship on display throughout.”

August 2 (#214)

LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem


Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “It’s misleading to peg LCD Soundsystem as a mere ‘electronic’ group, especially when so many of this record’s touchstones come from the rock realm. But those electronic elements are certainly a big part of the album’s unique sound. Ultimately, this is dance music for the post-punk set, in that it’s hypnotic, driving, sarcastic, and existential.”

August 3 (#215)

The New Pornographers

Mass Romantic


Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “Granted, Carl Newman, Dan Bejar, and Neko Case were hardly household names in 2000. However, the fact that three singer/songwriters of this caliber came together for a collaborative project — one that has now spanned over two decades and nine albums — is still kind of special.”

August 4 (#216)

Tame Impala



Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “I miss this Tame Impala. The one that suggested an intriguing future for psychedelic rock. The one that took a lot of my favorite sounds from my favorite era of pop music, and managed to actually repurpose them into something refreshing and contemporary.”

August 5 (#217)

St. Vincent

Marry Me


Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “While Marry Me may lack the technicolor presentation of Annie Clark’s subsequent work, this is, song-for-song, on par with any of those records. It’s also every bit as stylistically varied. This is a subtle tour-de-force from a significant talent: one that I struggle to understand why she isn’t one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.”

August 6 (#218)

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand


Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “Sure, “Take Me Out” is easily the highlight, but the same brand of sharp, hooky, Gang of Four-esque post-punk that made it a hit runs throughout all eleven tracks. Nothing drags, and even when at mid-tempo, all of these songs have bite.”

August 7 (#219)

The Decemberists

Castaways and Cutouts


Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “Not only are these songs packed to the brim with macabre tales of vagabonds, roustabouts, and other nefarious characters, they also contain immense melodic wealth and inventive arrangements. Whether in the rousing “July! July!,” the gorgeous “Grace Cathedral Hill,” or the doomed imagery of “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect,” [Colin] Meloy and his compatriots craft compelling and tuneful narratives throughout.

August 8 (#220)

The Walkmen

Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone


Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “Jagged, mysterious, and uniquely melodic, Everyone is a compelling account of a young band on a thriving scene. And like many of the finest debuts, the group’s singular sound is paired with a palpable sense of urgency — as if the members’ entire future hinged on each performance. As such, it beams with an excitement that even their stellar subsequent releases would have a hard time matching.”

August 9 (#221)

Frank Ocean

channel ORANGE


Rating: 9.5

What We Said: “In addition to its stylistic variance, channel ORANGE is also a showcase of songwriting. Every track that qualifies as a legitimate song — as opposed to a mere scene-setter or interlude — is excellent, and at least half-a-dozen stand among the finest pop tracks of the 2010s. All in all, it’s an era-defining album: one that sounds even more like a classic a decade-plus after it was released.”

August 10 (#222)

The Clientele

Suburban Light


Rating: 9.5

What We Said: “When I really start to feel the effects of [the rainy season], this album is always there. The dark drives, with their wet roads and slow traffic, become a little more bearable. The waning daylight becomes just a little more vibey. It all becomes a little more pleasant.”

August 11 (#223)

The Exploding Hearts

Guitar Romantic


Rating: 8.9

What We Said: “Listening to Guitar Romantic while considering its context is, for lack of better term, heartbreaking. These songs are so catchy, energetic, and vital that they paint a hard to fathom contrast to the group’s tragic demise. While it’s tempting to say that they could have been great, fuck it. They already were.”

August 12 (#224)


Gulag Orkestar


Rating: 7.9

What We Said: “Combining traditional Balkan/Eastern European folk sounds with a contemporary songwriter’s approach, Gulag has one foot set in the past, and one firmly planted in the present. Despite this, it’s never disorienting, and never less than inviting.”

August 13 (#225)

Arcade Fire



Rating: 10.0

What We Said: “We scoff at pretense. At posturing. And who knows? Maybe some of that is here. But I hear ambition. Urgency. Hunger. There were genuine tears shed over this record by both its creators and its audience. That counts for something. A lot, really.”

August 14 (#226)

The Strokes

Is This It


Rating: 9.3

What We Said: “One of the defining rock albums of its era, The Strokes’ debut rode in on a wave of hype, and actually managed to live up to it — well, maybe not the part about “saving rock,” but that wasn’t their fault, now was it?”

August 15 (#227)


The Noise Made by People


Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “I wouldn’t say that it’s unavoidable bringing up Stereolab when discussing Broadcast, but as plenty have noted, there’s a notable influence of the former band on the latter. But still, Broadcast take the two groups’ shared love of buzzy vintage synths, inventive guitar work, electronic-inspired rhythms, and exotica/space age influences, and create something refreshingly unique.”

August 16 (#228)


Turn on the Bright Lights


Rating: 9.0

What We Said: “While lazy criticism frequently accused the band of hewing too close to their influences — namely Joy DivisionTurn on the Bright Lights creates an enveloping atmosphere all its own. These songs shimmer with an icy precision that still packs a punch over twenty years later.”

August 17 (#229)

Jay Reatard

Blood Visions


Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “Lindsey had been honing those melodic qualities over several years on the Memphis punk scene: most notably with the band from which he adopted his stage moniker. Still, stepping out as a solo artist ultimately helped to shine a light on some pretty impressive song craft.”

August 18 (#230)

The Tallest Man on Earth

Shallow Grave


Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “Kristian Matsson’s songs carried an interesting combination of familiarity, wistfulness, and gravity that really resonated in the moment. They still resonate today, albeit in a way that is a little more bittersweet.”

August 19 (#231)

Janelle Monáe

The ArchAndroid


Rating: 9.2

What We Said: “Despite its critical accolades, The ArchAndroid was only a modest commercial success. Perhaps a sci-fi R&B opus is too esoteric? Perhaps cultural reference points like Metropolis and Of Montreal were too obscure? Perhaps mixing soul, hip-hop, pop, psychedelia, rock, and folk was too eclectic? Whatever the reason, it’s the general record-buying public’s loss. This is one of the best albums of the 2010s.”

August 20 (#232)

Band of Horses

Everything All the Time


Rating: 7.7

What We Said: “It’s an album dominated by one great track, and surrounded with some perfectly pleasant (and occasionally very good) supporting material. That one great track — “The Funeral” — still impresses with the grandeur of its dynamic shifts, and stands as one of the definitive singles of the mid-aughts.”

August 21 (#233)

The Rural Alberta Advantage



Rating: 8.0

What We Said: “”What you’ll get here are thirteen solid songs, delivered in a refreshingly earnest manner. At the time, some made comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel, and I suppose I can hear it in both the vocals and “recorded in red” acoustic guitars, but it’s a comparison that is both inaccurate and unfair. Hometowns is its own thing. Approach it as such, and you’ll probably enjoy it.”

August 22 (#234)

The Postal Service

Give Up


Rating: 8.8

What We Said:Give Up would create something of a new archetype for rock/electronic crossovers, but while it has frequently been copied, there’s nothing else quite like it. And, if you’re like me and haven’t listened to it in a few years, you may find yourself similarly pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up.”

August 23 (#235)

Black Country, New Road

For the First Time


Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “Though the vast majority of my time spent with [Black Country, New Road] over the past year-and-a-half has been with Ants From Up ThereFor the First Time is excellent in its own right. Intense, sprawling, and dripping with existentialism and pop culture references, it’s a fantastic set-up to what would become a stunning knock-out blow.”

August 24 (#236)

Circulatory System

Circulatory System


Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “It might not demand the same kind of close attention as the aforementioned [Olivia Tremor Control] classics, but every listen is bound to reveal an interesting new wrinkle: be it a clever production trick, arrangement, or melody.”

August 25 (#237)

Wolf Parade

Apologies to the Queen Mary


Rating: 8.0

What We Said: “Since I haven’t returned to this one as much as say IllinoisThe Sunset TreeFeels, or The Woods, it still retains an ability to mentally transform me back to a time that feels both distant and not-so-distant. Some might call that surreal, but at the end of the day, it’s just a pretty damn good rock album. Nothing wrong with that.”

August 26 (#238)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah


Rating: 8.3

What We Said: “It was only after a long wild goose chase…that I finally found a copy of the CD, and while I wasn’t blown away, per se, but it’s not really the kind of record designed to blow one away. Rather, these catchy little tracks are subtle earworms. Almost twenty years later they’re still digging away, and sounding as good as ever.”

August 27 (#239)

Rolling Blackouts C.F.

Hope Downs


Rating: 7.9

What We Said: “Classic jangle pop abounds across the ten tracks on Hope Downs, and anyone who finds comfort in the familiarity of classic R.E.M., or the comparatively recent work of Real Estate, is bound to enjoy this record on at least some level. These are crisp compositions and spirited performances, captured in warm and inviting clarity.”

August 28 (#240)

Phoebe Bridgers

Stranger in the Alps


Rating: 8.1

What We Said: “Bridgers is an undeniably talented songwriter who delivers her work in a compelling manner. For my money, Stranger peaks early — and loses some momentum in its latter half — but it clearly demonstrates a very good artist, who holds the capacity to become a truly great one.”

August 29 (#241)

The Smile

A Light for Attracting Attention


Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “Despite the album title, these songs don’t necessarily demand the kind of attention accustomed to a typical Yorke/Greenwood composition, and in their own way, they’re better for it. They’re allowed to exist as mood pieces sure, but substantive mood pieces; and while I wouldn’t exactly characterize Radiohead as blunt, there’s a subtlety to these tracks that is quite refreshing.”

August 30 (#242)

Deltron 3030

Deltron 3030


Rating: 9.2

What We Said: “Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Kid Koala capture lightning in a bottle here, and we’re just lucky to be able to bear witness to it. The beats are great, the melodic hooks are great, the lyrics are great, the cameos are cool, and even the skits — which for me at least are the achilles heel of so many rap classics — are perfectly fine.”

August 31 (#243)




Rating: 8.2

What We Said: “I’ve encountered some other folks with similar pride in ‘taste’ who also hold a soft spot for this particular record. Maybe we had similar experiences with it. Maybe it also soundtracked a particularly tumultuous year for them… Or maybe it’s just actually really good.”


  • Matt Ryan

    Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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