The Debut Album Project: December (“The Leftovers”)

Debut Album Project

The end of our year-long Debut Album Project found us (really just me) picking up the scraps: debuts that didn’t fit neatly into previous months’ themes; very recent acquisitions; albums that I only own on CD, or not in physical form. A few of these were either sentimental picks or somewhat-lacking debuts from favorite artists, but as the month progressed, I felt compelled to focus on some of the best debuts that hadn’t been previously covered.

Even after 365 picks and daily posts, there were still plenty of great debuts that went unmentioned. But no, I won’t be continuing this into the new year to make sure that those records get their due. Focusing on debuts was a handy way to revisit some records that I haven’t heard in years — and to discover some new ones — but in all honesty, I found daily posting to be both tedious and unrewarding. If you enjoyed following along on our Instagram and/or Facebook profiles, I’m glad, but I doubt that I’ll ever revisit a project that requires daily engagement with social media.

But I did it, except for the three or so weeks where my social media accounts were hacked — a span that mercifully overlapped with my first ever trip to Europe. Of course, that meant that this project came at the expense of new Strange Currencies content; and who knows, maybe 2024 will see an increase in our regular output. But maybe not.

At the end of the first three years of Strange Currencies, I made a summary post on our blog, detailing highlights from the previous year. The relative lack of new content from 2023 makes this seem unnecessary, so I’ll consider this my year-end post. So, I hope that your new year is filled with great music, new and old. Cheers, and see you in 2024!


December 1 (#335)

Uncle Tupelo

No Depression

(1990)

Rating: 8.0

What We Said: “Granted, those punk/folk hybrids only apply to about half of these songs — the rest are pretty firmly in the traditional Americana vein — but the fact that those sides sit so comfortably together was nothing short of a revelation to a generation of like-minded midwestern bands. While groups like The Replacements and R.E.M. had nibbled at the edges of this sound during the eighties, Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn took a much more direct route.”


December 2 (#336)

The Poppy Family

Which Way You Goin’ Billy?

(1969)

Rating: 8.2

What We Said: “[The] psych elements rear their head throughout. First, there’s the incorporation of Indian instrumentation on early highlights “Free From the City” and “Beyond the Clouds.” But really, much of this album’s reputation within the psych fansphere rests on the stirring centerpiece, “There’s No Blood in Bone.” That track alone makes Billy worth seeking out, but there’s a ton of charm to be found throughout the remaining eleven songs.”


December 3 (#337)

Pinback

Pinback

(1999)

Rating: 8.2

What We Said: “On first glance, these songs appear to be pretty bare-bones. Perhaps it’s a trick of light, or deception pulled off by the slow tempos, but there’s a ton of depth and nuance to these ten tracks. The vocal layers are rightfully cited as one of the album’s great strengths, but I still find myself discovering new instrumental subtleties, twenty-plus years after first hearing it.”


December 4 (#338)

Ofege

Try and Love

(1973)

Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “While the musicianship is impressive and tight throughout, there’s a simultaneously laid-back vibe to the proceedings that allows it to operate in a unique space amongst like-minded albums. It may not seethe with the tightly-wound intensity that their countrymen — such as Fela Kuti — were most typically known for, but it’s excellent nonetheless.”


December 5 (#339)

The Electric Prunes

The Electric Prunes

(1967)

Rating: 7.8

What We Said: “Personally, I feel like the band would develop a more consistent voice on its second album, Underground. Still, the good here well outweighs the bad; and that one truly classic moment [“I Had Too Much to Dream”] remains a stunner.”


December 6 (#340)

Cracker

Cracker

(1992)

Rating: 7.3

What We Said: “Gone were (most of) the eclecticisms of band leader David Lowery’s former group, Camper Van Beethoven. In their place were solid riffs, classic hooks, and a dialed-down dose of sarcasm.And it all works pretty well, though nowhere near as much as on the hit opener, “Teen Angst” (What the World Needs Now).””


December 7 (#341)

The Mountain Goats

The Hound Chronicles

(1992)

Rating: 7.6

What We Said: “Yeah, anyone reared on band-era Goats is gonna need to adjust their expectations before approaching this stuff, but if you can get through the tape hiss and occasional quirks — like [John] Darnielle totally hitting the wrong chord in “Going to Chino” and just committing to it fully — you’re gonna love it too.” 


December 8 (#342)

The Remains

The Remains

(1966)

Rating: 8.2

What We Said: “But just as their story wasn’t exactly like that of the typical garage band — I mean, they opened for The Beatles after all — The Remains doesn’t sound exactly like the typical garage LP. It was released by Epic, and there’s an accordant shine and polish to these ten tracks that sets them apart from the true obscurities — and that should’ve made at least a few of these tracks genuine hits.”


December 9 (#343)

Fiona Apple

Tidal

(1996)

Rating: 8.9

What We Said: “Bold. Confident. Assured. Say nothing of the fact that it was written and recorded by a teenager, Tidal is truly one of the most impressive debut albums of its era… I kinda wanna kick myself for missing out on it in real-time.”


December 10 (#344)

Wings

Wild Life

(1971)

Rating: 7.5

What We Said: “This is an album of subtle charms: understated arrangements, seemingly-unfinished songs, but the undeniable melodic hooks of one of pop music’s greatest practitioners. Nothing about this record will blow you away, and that is by design. Wild Life is an album of ‘feel’ and ‘vibe’; and taken as such, it’s an extremely satisfying listen.”


December 11 (#345)

Alvvays

Alvvays

(2014)

Rating: 8.3

What We Said: “Effortlessly hooky, but never saccharine; low-key, but never lazy; bittersweet but never cloying. The debut album from Alvvays is a front-to-back charmer, featuring nine near-perfect pieces of bedroom dream pop.”


December 12 (#346)

Chad & Jeremy

Yesterday’s Gone

(1964)

Rating: 7.1

What We Said:Yesterday’s Gone was named after the hit title track, which is easily one of the best songs here. However, it’s surpassed by the absolutely lovely “A Summer Song”: one of the finest pop singles of the entire sixties, and a track that’ll ring a bell for anyone familiar with Rushmore.”


December 13 (#347)

The Apples in Stereo

Fun Trick Noisemaker

(1995)

Rating: 8.1

What We Said: “[It] sounds like the work of a project still willing to try out different ideas while honing a signature sound. The fuzzed-out blasts of “Tidal Wave” make for a clear highlight — and establish a connective link to [Elephant 6] stalwarts Neutral Milk Hotel — but the Apples reach similar peaks with the sublimely surfy instrumental “Innerspace,” and in subtle touches like the slide guitar on the closing “Pine Away.””


December 14 (#348)

Blondie

Blondie

(1976)

Rating: 7.7

What We Said: “[The] hooks are found in a more embryonic form on Blondie, as the true breakthrough that would be Parallel Lines was still two years — and a pair of LPs — away. Still, there’s plenty here to make Blondie a worthwhile listen. It peaks right off the bat with the opening, “X Offender,” but the ten tracks that follow show off the traits that Blondie would eventually hone to perfection, and parlay into superstardom.”


December 15 (#349)

Suicide

Suicide

(1977)

Rating: 8.9

What We Said: “Throughout these seven tracks, Martin Rev and Alan Vega craft an immersive soundscape: one that — aside from the brief respite of the deceptively-chipper “Cheree” — maintains a darkly nihilistic mood. It all coalesces in the genuinely unsettling ten-minute hellscape, “Frankie Teardrop.” It’s not for the faint of heart, but few tracks will leave as indelible of an impression.”


December 16 (#350)

boygenius

the record

(2023)

Rating: 7.8

What We Said: “It seems as if the record was unfairly positioned to be one of two things: an era-defining album or a disappointment. In reality, it’s neither. It’s three talented songwriters collaborating on an album that is quite good, and shows flashes of excellence. The songwriting is expectedly solid throughout, and each of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker shine as individuals, while bringing a compelling skill set to a genuine collaborative effort.”


December 17 (#351)

Sufjan Stevens

A Sun Came

(2000)

Rating: 6.0

What We Said: “The literal voice is there, as Stevens’ immediately-recognizable vocals lead one to believe that the relatively strong start provided by the first three tracks will give way to an overlooked gem of a record. Unfortunately, what follows is a rather confused mix of Slint– and Beck-esque experiments, songs that overstay their welcome halfway through their run time, pointless interludes, and whatever-the-fuck “Super Sexy Woman” is.” 


December 18 (#352)

The Damned

Damned Damned Damned

(1977)

Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “The first LP issued by a British punk band, Damned Damned Damned is more than just an historical artifact; it’s a record whose best moments are still genuinely thrilling, almost a half-century after its arrival. While it gets lost amongst debuts from the likes of The Clash, Sex Pistols, and WireDamned Damned Damned is another esteemed member of the Class of ’77.”


December 19 (#353)

Jorge Ben

Samba esquema novo

(1963)

Rating: 9.0

What We Said: “The songwriting is, of course, fantastic throughout. With all but one track penned by Ben himself, Samba esquema novo displays the full range of talents from a remarkable artist, who emerged with a fully-formed vision. It’s a genuine classic, with not a single wasted second.”


December 20 (#354)

Linda Perhacs

Parallelograms

(1970)

Rating: 9.1

What We Said: “Difficult to place into any particular box, Parallelograms is a spellbinding mix of folk, psychedelia, and chamber pop. Maintaining a delicate balance between these disparate influences, these eleven tracks manage to be ethereal and peaceful, while also having a surreal and slightly unsettling quality.”


December 21 (#355)

This Heat

This Heat

(1979)

Rating: 9.1

What We Said: “It’s one of those ones that you’ll just have to hear; at least if you can handle a jump scare or two, a persistent unnerving atmosphere, and very little in the way of conventional songwriting. I’ll put it this way: this album was recorded in a converted meat locker, and it sounds like it. If that sounds like something you’d dig, than chances are you will.”


December 22 (#356)

Beck

Stereopathetic Soulmanure

(1994)

Rating: 6.6

What We Said: “There are enough decent ideas spread across this album to make it worth revisiting, but Beck’s sonic fuckery would ultimately translate to much more worthy material by the time of his major label debut, Mellow Gold — released just a week later. It’s that proximity that makes Stereopathetic feel like even more of an afterthought — or mere footnote — in Beck’s ‘official’ discography.”


December 23 (#357)

João Gilberto

Chega de saudade

(1959)

Rating: 8.9

What We Said: “It’s not just important; Chega de saudade is a supremely enjoyable listen. Impossibly ‘cozy,’ these dozen tracks drift by like a warm breeze, carried by Gilberto’s welcoming vocals and dexterous guitar work. Adorned with sparsely complementary arrangements, they make for the very best kind of ‘easy listening.'”


December 24 (#358)

Eric B. & Rakim

Paid in Full

(1987)

Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “The transitional nature of Paid In Full can best be heard in comparing the instrumental tracks of Eric B. with the vocals of Rakim. Eric’s beats still bear the marks of hip-hop’s formative years, while Rakim’s verses point the way to the genre’s future. It’s a juxtaposition that many have claimed tethers the album to its particular moment in time, but that isn’t an inherently bad thing.”


December 25 (#359)

The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Gilded Palace of Sin

(1969)

Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “While I prefer Sweetheart of the Rodeo, [Gram] Parsons’ presence here feels much more natural. With the Byrds, he kinda played the role of a third wheel in a disintegrating band. Here though, there’s a sympathetic crew that buys in fully to the country rock sound. It makes for a great listen that is more than the sum of its parts.”


December 26 (#360)

Slowdive

Just for a Day

(1991)

Rating: 8.2

What We Said: “Even in a developmental state, the sound that Slowdive displays here is plenty spellbinding. It’s a bit darker and less focused than its celebrated follow-up, but most of what would make Souvlaki such a classic is clearly coming into view on Just for a Day.”


December 27 (#361)

Junior Murvin

Police & Thieves

(1977)

Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “Produced by the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry — who co-wrote the lion’s share of these tracks — Junior Murvin’s debut is a showcase for Perry’s distinctive production and Murvin’s charming falsetto vocals. The songs are uniformly excellent, and the production… well, if you’re here, you probably know what you’re getting with peak-era Perry.”


December 28 (#362)

Black Star

Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

(1998)

Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “Despite the push and pull between its two emcees, several guest features, and a host of producers/engineers, the album never falls into the trap of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Rather, it’s one of the most effortlessly-enjoyable releases from a fascinatingly transitional period of hip-hop.”


December 29 (#363)

New York Dolls

New York Dolls

(1973)

Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “At the end of the day, this album is celebrated first and foremost because of its great songs. Like Bowie and Bolan before, glam really only left an indelible impression on the masses when its hooks were strong enough to reach them. Same with the punks. And if all it was were just another great rock ‘n’ roll album, it’d still be another great rock ‘n’ roll album.”


December 30 (#364)

Virginia Astley

From Gardens Where We Feel Secure

(1983)

Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “When listening to From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, one seemingly spends as much time hearing ambient nature sounds as actual music. But this is no complaint, as there’s something genuinely tranquil about the atmosphere that [Virginia] Astley conjures here.”


December 31 (#365)

André 3000

New Blue Sun

(2023)

Rating: 8.2

What We Said: “Maybe we don’t ever really know what we want, even if we think we do. I mean, there are definitely some parameters to that. I know that I still want something resembling American democracy intact by this time next year. I know that I want continued health and happiness for the people close to me. And, I suppose that I just want the artists that I love to make the music they want to make.”


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