THIS TOURNAMENT IS NOW OVER – JOY DIVISION’S UNKNOWN PLEASURES TRIUMPHED OVER FOURTEEN AUTUMNS AND FIFTEEN WINTERS BY THE TWILIGHT SAD IN THE FINAL.
After such a successful Best Album of All Time Tournament (GO IN RAINBOWS), we decided it would be a form of madness not to come back with something else. Plus, editor Fran Slater really needs some lockdown distraction. So here we are…
We put the subject of this tournament to a Twitter vote and you lot overwhelmingly voted for Best Debut Album. We already had a bit of plan to make this a bigger competition this time, with 32 albums instead of the 16 we had previously. It was to be 30 from our writers and two from you. But when we put out the call for which albums you’d like to see in there, we got more than 120 votes. So here we are. With a 64 album monster tournament!
Below, you’ll see who has nominated what and our writers will tell you why they picked their choices (Picky Bastards privilege, I’m afraid). So after you’ve had a look at the shortlist, get over to our Twitter and get involved.
Those kind folks at Record Culture have also supplied £50 worth of Record Tokens for the competition, too. You’ll need to retweet the matches throughout the tournament and follow both us and them on Twitter to be in with a chance of winning. We’ll offer a £20 token at the end of the second round and a £30 one after the final. So get retweeting and following!
We’re now onto the second round, and you can check out the matchups below:
Kirsten Loach – Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (2003) – I can’t believe this album came out 17 years ago, when I was just 17 years old! Seems like forever ago, but it’s an incredible debut that sounds just as fresh and energetic now as it did back then. Wish I could say the same for myself.
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) –This was my choice for the Best Album of all Time tournament and I’m sticking with it. It bloody well deserves to win something, surely?
James Spearing: Portishead – Dummy (1994) – At the risk of becoming a Dummy bore, here it is again. I couldn’t claim it was the best album ever and then not enter it into this, could I? I also now know there are loads of Portishead fans on Twitter so it’s got to be in with a shout for the win this time.
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm (2005) – ‘It’s so cold in this house, it’s so cold in this bed’ jumped out of my speakers in my empty and poorly heated student halls room one February morning in 2005. It was like Kele was speaking directly to me. Something special set Silent Alarm apart from all the other indie band debuts of the era and I wrote all about why for Picky Bastards last year.
Fran Slater: Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2008) –There’s a lot of love for Bon Iver at Picky Bastards headquarters, but also a fair bit of disagreement about what his best work is. For me, it’s the debut. I love everything he has done since but there are very few albums in existence that speak to me in the way this one does, and has since the very first time I laid ears on it. The voice, the creativity, the perfect flow, the harrowing story of how it came to be; this album shows a gamechanging artist at his very best.
Eminem – The Slim Shady LP (1999) – Controversial and problematic as it might be at times, there can be no denying that this album changed the face of music upon it’s release and ushered a whole new generation into hip-hop music. And okay, it kind of sucks that it took a white rapper for this to happen. But that doesn’t take away any of the lyrical dynamism, technical skill, outrageous storytelling, heartbreaking honesty, and downright hilarity that is displayed on this album. And it is impossible to overestimate the affect The Slim Shady LP had on a fifteen-year-old version of me, which I have spoken about it in more detail in a recent article.
Constantine Courtis: Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992) – The ultimate protest band. A debut album that instigated and propagated the cry for a social revolution and political reform, as relevant back in 1992 as it is today. RATM’s sound is as fresh now as it was then, influencing hundreds of rock bands along the way. 10 instantly recognizable, beloved hard rock /hip-hop crossover epics. Win it for the people.
King Crimson – Court of the Crimson King (1969) – Very few bands’ debut album can claim it were responsible for the creation of a new genre and sound. “In the Court of the Crimson King” created Progressive Rock back 1969. It also happened to include “Epitaph”, one of my favourite songs of all times and “21st Century Schizoid Man”, famously sampled by Kanye on “POWER”. Many a mainstream/classic debut album will deservedly make this list. Very few will contain the artistry and imaginative youthfulness of “In the Court…”. If you haven’t, give it a listen. Oh and vote for the underdog – go on!
Kim Fernley: The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) – In 1967, The Velvet Underground & Nico attacked society’s boundaries, singing about prostitution, sadomasochism, and recreational inebriation. From the sobering lyrics of Heroin, to the chaos of The Black Angel’s Death Song, it’s a raw and mesmerising record. They have influenced pretty much every decent band that has followed. I don’t say this lightly: The Velvet Underground & Nico will be relevant forever.
The Strokes – Is This It (2001) – ‘Even though it was only one night, it was… fucking strange.’ The Strokes awoke rock ‘n’ roll from its coma and propelled the New York scene, treating us to countless other incredible bands. Is This It is effortlessly cool from beginning to end, and every note of every song is a masterpiece.
Sam Atkins: Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid (2010) – It’s hard to think of a debut album that’s as daring, adventurous, memorable, and downright funky as The ArchAndroid. An 80 minute, 2 suite concept epic it introduced the world to the undeniable musical force that Janelle Monáe is. Extra shout out to the opening run of songs that blend together effortlessly.
Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004) – The moment The College Dropout was released hip-hop, Rap and Pop music was never the same again. From the hilarious opener ‘We Don’t Care’ to the reflective ‘Last Call’, everything on this album is essential and soulful. It set Kanye up to be the defining artist of the decade.
Fliss Clarke: Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991) – Blue Lines is an immersive journey into the depths of melancholy and hope wrapped in a blanket of beats, bass, and soul. It is the groundbreaking trip hop manifesto in album form and a stone cold classic. ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, ‘Five Man Army’, ‘Hymn of the Big Wheel’ – all nine tracks are stand alone triumphs and yet there’s a cohesive mood so distinctive and it broke open the scene, changed British music for ever, and somehow still sounds fresh today.
Patti Smith – Horses (1975) – “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” – surely the best ever opening lyric of an album and discography. Patti Smith’s 1975 debut Horses deserves to win this based on that alone. But if that’s not enough there’s the whole emotional gamut of this raw, raucous, mysterious, poetic, bold, and deeply beautiful work of art from the OG punk priestess.
Will Collins: The Streets – Original Pirate Material (2002) – It’s tempting to focus on how modern Original Pirate Material sounded when it came out, with its welding of garage beats and club culture to 3 minute pop songs. But it also exists in the vein of great British pop. Listen to these tracks and you are dealing with the same expertly crafted vignettes and narratives that made the Kinks or Squeeze so captivating. The sign of its greatness is that almost 20 years later, it doesn’t sound dated at all.
Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (1978) The Kick Inside is where it all began for Kate Bush, and it’s an incredible album that takes familiar hallmarks of late 70s songwriting and crafts a singular, unique album. Her voice, distinctive commanding and dripping with emotion, ties it all together. It’s all the more impressive when you realise she wrote many of these songs when she was 17!
Nick Parker: Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced? (1967) – If you want to hear a seismic shift in the direction of all guitar music in one neat little package, you should have a listen to Are You Experienced?. Hendrix’s first masterpiece has so many highs, and is all the more incredible an achievement when you take into accounts that this complex and nuanced collection of hooks was recorded on only four tracks (the average today might be perhaps ten times that). Unbelievable.
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) – Anyone who’s heard Whatever People Say I Am… should be able to tell it has some of the most honest portrayals of English (particularly Northern) life for a 20-something ever recorded. The energy behind these sometime poignant, often hilarious, stories is matched perfectly by the furious pace of most of the tracks on this album. Matt Helders’ perfectly on point drumming creates the sharp edges these songs need, but it’s obviously Alex Turner’s lyrical mastery that leads the way in a near-perfect debut.
Pete Wild: Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994) – Jeff Buckley’s debut has the precocity you’d expect from a debut – the over-reaching, the sense of ‘hey why don’t we throw everything in!”, moments of stillness, fragility, raw emotion, savage noise, crystal poise. It’s a thing of beauty undimmed by age, made all the more poignant because this, really, is it. Everything else that followed was a decision made by family members or record company execs. This is the only true Jeff product (if you don’t include Live at Sin-e, yeah, ok, ok). A marvel.
REM – Murmur (1983) – REM’s debut has about it now the quality of an antique object, that can only be viewed by newcomers through the funnel of everything else. But when it was released you heard it everywhere. And in the years since it has wound its tendrils about my heart. It’s all but impossible to overstate the influence of REM on Americana, growing out of the Husker Du world and basically creating Americana in the same way that the Beatles invented pop. Plus, you know, it’s an album of great songs. Which is kind of what I want from a debut.
Tom Burrows: Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979) 17-year-old me, having heard every reviewer of every band I loved compare the music to Joy Division, finally gets a copy of Unknown Pleasures. I know about Ian Curtis’ death, I’ve seen the masterful, waves-on-blackness Peter Saville front cover, but I’ve only ever heard the standalone single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. I still remember the feeling after merely hearing ‘Disorder’. Curtis’ repeated cry of “feeling” against the expiring rattle of drums on the opener is haunting to this day. Unknown Pleasures isn’t just for teenagers who’ve felt low, it’s for anyone who has ever felt – or yearned to feel – anything.
The Avalanches – Since I Left You (2000) – Since I Left You is a record that sounds like no other – despite being created from thousands of samples. The genius of it is the way that the music is assembled to sound nostalgic and familiar. It brings up distant warm memories that you can’t quite pin down – because they’re feelings buried deep in your psyche. It’s escapism and adventure – like going on holiday through music. It’s always the first album I recommend to people because it doesn’t matter what your taste is. Try to clear your head, press play and listen to the whole thing (these songs don’t have the same effect on their own). You won’t be disappointed.
Mike Hull: Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) – Among the most influential hip hop records ever recorded, 36 Chambers is an album that continues to stand up and tower over those that followed. Lifted by Rza’s groundbreaking production style, an assortment of distinct clansmen would carve their names into the history books of popular music here. Welcome to a world of New York street crime, king-fu film obsession, sublime vintage soul cuts, and beats as rough as toast. Bring the mother-chuffing Ruckus…
Pixies – Surfer Rosa (1988) – A tour-de-force of rock music that still sounds as immediate and exciting today at it did thirty years ago. The Pixies created such a beautiful amalgamation of wild, snarling noise and effortless, hook-heavy pop aesthetic, like nothing that had ever been heard. Their sound was extraordinarily influential (Nirvana, Pavement, Radiohead, Bowie, PJ Harvey, the Strokes to mention a few). Their legendary quiet/loud style, along with Black’s highly transgressive lyrics, are captured perfectly by Albini’s incredible ability to optimise every essence of the madness.
Matt Paul: DJ Shadow – Endtroducing… (1996) – When I first heard this I had never heard anything like it. Now I’m older and maybe wiser, the only things that come close are weak imitations. It’s an astounding album full of emotion, distilled from disparate sources and set over some addictive beats.
Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002) – No album captures the mood of a place so well. Though other contemporaries maybe became bigger, the artistic vision behind this album helped set the tone for the next 15 years of music.
Fat Roland: Daft Punk – Homework (1997) – Homework was so dirty: it was like rubbing yourself all over with a rusty spoon. It scooped up years of dance music, from Gershon Kingsley to acid house, and ladled our ears in so many ear-bending ways. One of the most confident debuts of all time: daft ‘n’ direkt ‘n’ pretty damn funky. Spoon me, boys.
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992) – We talk so much of Aphex Twin’s nasty windowlickin’ techno, forgetting that he made one of the most addictive ambient albums of modern times. Its gliding Eno-esque sound and warped drum patterns would, more than any other debut work, kickstart a new generation of music makers. Also, if you lick it, it tastes of snozzberries not windows. Tongues out!
Lisa Whiteman: We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships (2011) – This is the record that life tried to hold back, but heart and soul would not let go. The debut from one half of Brooklyn’s Pela is a dedication to past and surviving it; a record that would never have happened unless one person had experienced a number of lifetimes worth of loss and pain in little over a decade. It’s honest, it’s brutally autobiographical and it is the one I will keep close forever. If you start anywhere, go to ‘Book of James’ and never look back.
The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters (2007) – The boys fae Banton can create an overwhelmingly beautiful noise, the gauntlet casually laid down with an earlier EP. This record is a poetic walk through the darker times of growing up, James Graham’s heart on his (probably black) sleeve. From DLT’s artwork, Graham’s zero attempt to be anything other than purescottishman, to Andy MacFarlane’s way of making a guitar provide backing vocals – it is a perfect record. Get lost in ‘Walking For Two Hours’ and ‘That Summer At Home, I Had Become The Invisible Boy’.
NOMINATED BY OUR TWITTER FOLLOWERS:
Gang of Four – Entertainment (1979) – @grahamcox1991
The Libertines – Up The Bracket (2002) – @jwbardwell
Echo and the Bunnymen – Crocodiles (1980) – @PaulWhitter
Elastica – Elastica (1995) – @PaulWhitter
Broadcast – The Noise Made by People (2000) – @cassied1993
Ash – 1977 (1996) – @kikimoon2012
Longpigs – The Sun is Often Out (1996) – @kikimoon2012
Delays – Faded Seaside Glamour (2004) – @F3Lollipops
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985) – @adrianslatcher
IDLES – Brutalism (2017) – @NorthBanker
Manic Street Preachers – Generation Terrorists (1992) – @NorthBanker7
Django Django – Django Django (2012) – @eyeballkidmusic
Kendrick Lamar – Section 80 (2011) – @VanGoghzEar
Fiona Apple – Tidal (1996) – @rihaabrmalik
Supergrass – I Should Coco (1995) – @RageOn73
LCD Soundystem – LCD Soundsystem (2005) – @DHartleyWriter
The Fall – Live at The Witch Trials (1979) – @contentcontig
Throbbing Gristle – The Second Annual Report (1977) – @contentcontig
Gomez – Bring it On (1998) – @mattturpin1979
Air – Moon Safari (1998) – @Elscifo
Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004) – @istiredoflife
Belle and Sebastian – Tiger Milk (1996) – @DavidMooney
Suede – Suede (1993) – @OllyB
Television – Marquee Moon (1977) – @shweeney
Death Grips – The Money Store (2012) – @WilliamMallin
Nas – Illmatic (1994) – @BarrishAli
Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks (1977) – @oforamuseoffire
Fontaines DC – Dogrel (2019) – @roister_doister
PJ Harvey – Dry (1992) – @JFDUR and @peellowlynsee
The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers (2005) – @saintsman61
Tom Waits – Closing Time (1973) – @DanCarpenter85
Sigur Ros – Von (1997) – @DanCarpenter85
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (2017) – @InEarnestBand
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit (2015) – @beardsandennui