The Debut Album Project: January (“Debuts 101”)

Debut Album Project

These things don’t always get planned out until they’ve become, well… things. I started the year with the intention of ramping up Strange Currencies‘ social media presence: ultimately committing to posting something each weekday, based around a monthly theme. Innocently, I chose ‘debut albums’ as the theme for January, and at random began selecting albums to feature daily on our Instagram/Facebook profiles.

And then, as so often happens, I became obsessed. In my visits to record stores, I only set out to find debut albums. I separated all of the debuts that I own from the rest of my record collection, keeping them as the last LPs packed away during a still-ongoing home remodel. I’ve made a spreadsheet documenting the debuts from virtually every artist that I care about – and several that I don’t.

By mid-month, I committed to turning this into another project, in the vein of A Century of Song and our American Garage Rock Road Trip. The Debut Album Project – still workshopping a better name – will now span the entirety of 2023; unless I find something shinier to chase, I suppose. In our first month, as this went from a short-term thing to a long-term one, the selections were relatively random. At least some of the upcoming months will be based around an overarching theme. There’s no ‘countdown’ happening here, but I do plan to hold off our pick for the best-ever debut LP for December 31st.

Each month will be recapped with an article like this one, where we collect the 28-31 records that we featured, grab pull quotes from our social media posts, and award each record a score on the “Russman Reviews” scale. You can vote for your favorite picks of the preceding month at the bottom of this page, up until the end of February.

To see our picks in real-time, make sure to follow our Instagram and Facebook pages. Really, these things apparently matter, so ‘follow,’ ‘like,’ and ‘comment’ as often as you can. See you in February, when we’ll be focusing on a specific kind of debut: the “one-album wonder.”


January 1 (#1)

Big Star

#1 Record

(1973)

Rating: 9.5

What We Said: “Despite its boastful title, its commercial failure was merely one example of the struggles that this most-tragic of rock groups would endure. Nevertheless, over the decades that followed its release, #1 Record would become a touchstone for countless bands – including luminaries such as R.E.M. and The Replacements – and today, it is widely recognized as the masterpiece that it has always been.”


January 2 (#2)

De La Soul

3 Feet High and Rising

(1989)

Rating: 9.5

What We Said: “We won’t say that it’s the best hip-hop debut of all-time, but we also won’t say that it isn’t… Either way, the genre has arguably never been as fun as it was on 3 Feet High and Rising. The hooks, charisma, and character are off the charts, and the chemistry between the Long Island group’s three emcees is undeniable.”


January 3 (#3)

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell (aka Song to a Seagull)

(1968)

Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “Features Mitchell in some of the starkest arrangements of her career – all the better for highlighting her unique guitar voicings and instantly-recognizable vocals. It’s an often arresting record that demonstrates the fully-formed arrival of a remarkable talent.”


January 4 (#4)

U2

Boy

(1980)

Rating: 9.3

What We Said: “Never again would the band so effectively match [Boy‘s] mix of youthful exuberance, assured naïveté, and post-punk propulsion. This was a group destined for stadiums, but still fascinatingly growing into its own shoes; and even now, the heart-on-sleeve vocals of Bono and chiming Gibson Explorer of The Edge resonate in a manner that is almost wholly unique.”


January 5 (#5)

Gil Scott-Heron

Pieces of a Man

(1971)

Rating: 9.3

What We Said: “The revolution will not be televised, but it will have a soundtrack. And that soundtrack will be badass. Soul. Funk. Jazz. Proto-rap. Proto-everything, really… Gil Scott-Heron released a landmark with his genre-defying debut – an album that reflected changes in music, politics, and society, while offering up bold possibilities for future sounds.”


January 6 (#6)

Supergrass

I Should Coco

(1995)

Rating: 9.5

What We Said: “Looking back on the nineties from the vantage point of today, it seems that a classic record arrived on an almost-weekly basis. Given the deluge of great new music, it was possible – easy even – for some of these albums to get lost in the shuffle. For those of us in the U.S., the debut from Oxford’s Supergrass was one such record… a glorious hybrid of sixties-era pop hooks with seventies-era punk energy.”


January 7 (#7)

Talking Heads

Talking Heads ’77

(1977)

Rating: 9.2

What We Said: “While the band’s work from 1979-1983 would set the standard for new wave, there’s still something special about their nervy post-punk beginnings. One of the great debuts of its era: an intoxicating blend of musical influences, spectacular rhythm work, and fascinating musings from the singular mind of David Byrne.”


January 8 (#8)

Weezer

Weezer

(1994)

Rating: 9.7

What We Said: “For three generations, Weezer’s “Blue Album” has served as a beacon for slightly-nerdier-than-center kids. I was one such kid at the time of the album’s arrival in the summer of 1994, and its hooks, harmonies, and riffs have never strayed far from my heavy rotation in the nearly three decades since. It was heartening to see how many students expressed their love for the Blue Album when I brought it into my classroom last week – responses that confirmed the album’s reputation as a continued touchstone.”


January 9 (#9)

Os Mutantes

Os Mutantes

(1968)

Rating: 9.8

What We Said: “Irreverent, infectious, and utterly brilliant, Mutantes thrives on the creative tension between brothers Sérgio Dias and Arnaldo Baptista, and the undeniable charisma of Rita Lee. Bolstered by the eclectic arrangements of Rogério Duprat, it’s a psychedelic masterstroke. Put simply: if you’ve never heard Os Mutantes, you’ve never heard anything like Os Mutantes. That’s as high of praise as we can give.”


January 10 (#10)

Leonard Cohen

Songs of Leonard Cohen

(1967)

Rating: 10.0

What We Said: “There’s dark, and there’s oppressively bleak. Leonard Cohen’s debut album often crisscrosses between one and the other, but it’s simply too beautiful to ever be a complete downer. Sure, it’s mood music, but no record better captures this particular mood. Virtually every track is a highlight, but “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne” make it onto that incredibly short list of songs that could be described as perfect.”


January 11 (#11)

Françoise Hardy

Tous les garçons et les filles

(1962)

Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “Unique among young pop stars of the sixties, Hardy took a hands-on approach to her craft – writing or co-writing ten of the album’s twelve songs, and displaying a sophistication that went far beyond that of her peers. Coupled with arrangements that manage to be simultaneously lush and intimate, Tous les garçons et les filles is a captivatingly nuanced and rewarding first showing.”


January 12 (#12)

They Might be Giants

They Might be Giants

(1986)

Rating: 9.1

What We Said: “…the first glimpse into the brilliantly warped world of John Linnell and John Flansburgh – a Brooklyn by-way-of Massachusetts duo of pop culture obsessives. From the NYC art scene to the national spotlight, TMBG have mastered the craft of witty lyricism, obscure references, and glorious hooks, over a career that now spans forty years.”


January 13 (#13)

The Ventures

Walk Don’t Run

(1960)

Rating: 8.1

What We Said: “[It] sits comfortably in the Venn Diagram intersection of garage rock and surf music, and stands as a landmark of both genres. And it’s one of the better records that you’re almost guaranteed to find in the bargain bin of your local used record shop.”


January 14 (#14)

Tom Waits

Closing Time

(1973)

Rating: 9.3

What We Said: “One of the great late-night albums of all-time, [it] presents a very different version of the singer-songwriter than the one that we would come to know on later masterworks like Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs. But the brilliant songcraft that has always stood at the center of Waits’ work is fully formed on Closing Time.”


January 15 (#15)

Big Thief

Masterpiece

(2016)

Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “…may fall just short of its lofty title, but it’s still one of the better debut records in recent memory. Adrianne Lenker is the star for sure, but the underrated work of guitarist Buck Meek, and an impressive showing from the band’s rhythm section, helped to set the Brooklyn-based group apart from their peers.”


January 16 (#16)

Camper Van Beethoven

Telephone Free Landslide Victory

(1985)

Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “A fascinating blend of genres, Camper Van Beethoven’s debut was one of the cornerstone releases in the mid-eighties college rock scene. Quirky, irreverent, and musically ambitious, [it] was a left field hit for the Northern California group, who mixed punk, ska, and Eastern European folk into an intriguingly unique sound.”


January 17 (#17)

The Beach Boys

Surfin’ Safari

(1962)

Rating: 6.1

What We Said: “While there are some early glimpses at the burgeoning genius of Brian Wilson, Surfin’ Safari often gives way to less-than-stellar work: odd homages to county fairs and root beer, and the utterly inexplicable “Ten Little Indians.” Still, consider what this LP is: a mostly original work from a self-contained pop group. To say that such a thing was rare in 1962 is a serious understatement.”


January 18 (#18)

Love

Love

(1966)

Rating: 8.9

What We Said: “A rousing first effort from the Los Angeles band. While their subsequent work would explore the depths of psych and baroque pop, Love stands firmly in the garage/folk-rock wheelhouse of their regional peers, both celebrated (The Byrds) and obscure (The Dovers).”


January 19 (#19)

Nada Surf

High/Low

(1996)

Rating: 7.6

What We Said: “A sentimental favorite for many of us nineties kids, Nada Surf’s debut album holds up as more than just a blast of nostalgia. [It] was a hit, based on the success of its memorable lead single, “Popular.” But beyond its best-known track, the hooks and energy of songs like “The Plan,” “Stalemate,” and “Treehouse” still resonate.”


January 20 (#20)

The Shins

Oh, Inverted World

(2001)

Rating: 9.3

What We Said: “Built around the songcraft of James Mercer, [it] rivals most anything that emerged on the early-aughts American indie rock scene. Part Zombies, part Beach Boys, part Feelies, Oh, Inverted World would be a crucial piece of indie’s ascent to the mainstream – a move made all the more natural by the album’s abundant hooks, intelligent lyricism, and homespun charm.”


January 21 (#21)

The Clash

The Clash

(1977)

Rating: 9.5

What We Said: “Rather than just sneering along with their contemporaries, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones brought intelligence and classic pop hooks to the mix. In time, the group would destroy any parameters established by the scene from which they emerged, but in terms of raw, gritty rage, The Clash still paces the field.”


January 22 (#22)

Nirvana

Bleach

(1989)

Rating: 7.8

What We Said: “I often wonder how [it] would be remembered if Nirvana hadn’t become, you know… Nirvana. But approach Bleach with patience, and it reveals itself to be a fascinating preview of nearly everything that would make Nirvana such a totemic, era-defining act.”


January 23 (#23)

Nina Simone

Little Girl Blue

(1959)

Rating: 9.2

What We Said: “A brilliant debut from an iconic artist. There’s little on this record that quite predicts the fiery peaks of Simone’s later work, but Little Girl Blue is a thoroughly compelling listen nonetheless. Across its eleven tracks, her musicianship, passion, and legendary intensity are palpable.”


January 24 (#24)

The Sonics

Here are The Sonics

(1965)

Rating: 9.4

What We Said: “While a quick glance of the titles might lead the prospective listener to bemoan the presence of so many dusty old antiques, The Sonics scream new life into these familiar tracks. In fact, many of these takes could reasonably be considered definitive. Where [it] earns its legendary status however is in the original material. The triptych of “Psycho,” “Strychnine,” and “The Witch” are as primal, searing, and vital as anything in the garage rock canon.”


January 25 (#25)

Willie Nelson

…And Then I Wrote

(1962)

Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “Some of the tracks that he had gifted to other artists are included, alongside a handful of new compositions. Generally in ballad tempos, and adorned with with intimate arrangements, these recordings place the emphasis squarely on Nelson’s immediately recognizable voice. That famously reedy tenor sounds perfectly at home on these twelve tracks: songs temporarily lived-in by others, but truly owned by Nelson.”


January 26 (#26)

Neutral Milk Hotel

On Avery Island

(1996)

Rating: 8.9

What We Said: “It’s [Jeff] Mangum’s idiosyncratic melodies that stay with the listener. Recurring motifs aside, these are the kind of tunes that resonate well after they’re over, and while it’s tempting to view Avery as something of a suite, when you stack up its individual tracks, it stands up to nearly any of its contemporaries in terms of individual memorable moments. I’m a sucker for associating the music of an album with its accompanying imagery, but damned if Avery doesn’t sound exactly like that surreal, color-tinted, Victorian-esque cover: a veritable playground of sound and vision.”


January 27 (#27)

Wipers

Is This Real?

(1980)

Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “Divided into + and sides, Is This Real puts its most accessible foot forward on the former, with compact songs like the title track, “Return of the Rat,” and the downright charming “Mystery.” It’s on the flip side where the group previews the artier direction that they would take a year later on Youth of America. “D-7″ is the highlight here, but every track is an impactful example of the rhythm section’s insistency, and Greg Sage’s noise-meets-melody guitar work.”


January 28 (#28)

Exuma

Exuma

(1970)

Rating: 9.7

What We Said: “One of those all-too-rare records that exists in its own fascinating soundscape. A combination of folk, psych, and a variety of Caribbean stylings, [it] defies easy categorization, but is as inviting as it is beguiling. Part celebration, part seance, and part exorcism, Exuma is a thrilling combination of rhythm, melody, and atmosphere. It’s a masterpiece: one that scratches an entirely different itch than any other masterpiece that you’ve ever heard.”


January 29 (#29)

The Shangri-Las

Leader of the Pack

(1965)

Rating: 8.0

What We Said: “A 2008 reissue would attempt to rectify the wild disparity between these two [album] sides, by subbing in contemporaneous singles for most of the original second half. While it’s not a primary source document, it’s a far superior listen, and supports the argument that The Shangri-Las could’ve made a true classic LP.”


January 30 (#30)

Dinosaur Jr

Dinosaur

(1985)

Rating: 6.6

What We Said: “There are a couple of highlights – side openers “Forget the Swan” and “Repulsion” stand atop the pack – but Dinosaur largely finds the band fumbling through a somewhat awkward adolescence. Fortunately, their potential would soon be realized with 1987’s stunning You’re Living All Over Me – one of the finest American indie rock records of all-time.”


January 31 (#31)

Arthur Lyman

Taboo: The Exotic Sounds of Arthur Lyman

(1958)

Rating: 7.7

What We Said: Taboo places heavy emphasis on rhythm and atmosphere, and as a result, it stands as a little bit moodier than the typical Martin Denny fare. However, there’s both a melodicism and intrigue that make it worth returning to.”


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Author

  • 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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