My 10 Fav Debut Albums: 2015
Rather than write about my 10 favorite albums of 2015, I decided I’d focus my efforts on the 10 debut LPs by less familiar artists that still tickled-me-pink in 2015. All my best wishes to these 10 artists and hopes for more marvelous sounds in the future!
10. Bob Moses — Days Gone By
Sounds Like: A darker Chet Faker steeped in dance-ish deep house.
Favorite Tracks: “Like It Or Not”, “Talk”, “Tearing Me Up”
My favorite album to write to in 2015. While some could argue their debut’s a tad one-note, I prefer to see it as an excellent foundation for what lies ahead for this duo. As a reference point, I suggest checking out the acoustic version of “Hands to Hold” followed by the original version of “Hands to Hold”. These two musicians are the real deal.
09. Young Guv — Ripe 4 Luv
Sounds Like: Pop. Lots of different genres of pop.
Favorite Tracks: “Crushing Sensation”, “Ripe 4 Luv”, “Wrong Crowd”
Fucked Up has never been an act I could truly get into — a bit too boisterous for my liking — so when I was introduced to Young Guv as “a solo album from that Fucked Up guitarist”, I was initially apprehensive. I had no need to be. Ripe 4 Luv’s a perfect experimental pop album, detouring from pop genre to pop genre without ever feeling too gimmicky or insincere. By the time “Wrong Crowd” rolls around to close out the album, I’m just in the mood for a bit of saxophone and some French individuals whispering sweet nothings into my ears.
08. Teen Men — Teen Men
Sounds Like: If early Vampire Weekend covered MGMT and Starfucker.
Best Tracks: “Township (Not Sure)”, “New Kind”, “Kids Being Kids”
I haven’t heard a record that made me feel like a child in a while. Teen Men’s self-titled debut yanks you out of your current reality and pulls you back to a simpler time. Remember all the wonders (and terrors) of growing up? This record will help you reconnect with the true dreams you used to share with your younger self, if only for a sparse half hour or so.
07. BØRNS — Dopamine
Sounds Like: Lorde, Mika and Hozier cooked up tunes together.
Best Tracks: “American Money”, “Clouds”, “Fool”
There’s a quality about Garret Borns (aka BØRNS) that’s just so effortlessly… cool. His voice glides through each track of his debut album, so sonically pleasing and light that I originally thought the artist must be a female. It’s not. Garret’s a Michigan-born explorer who gave up the glitz and glamor of NYC for the glitz and glamor of LA (or, y’know, a tree house he found on Airbnb.) I’m not 100% sure what Garret’s always singing about, but I’m willing to give him a shot to prove his bonafides down the line. Excited to see if his lyrical chops can match up to his poetic idols, Walter Benton and Rod McKuen.
06. Amason — Sky City
Sounds Like: A Swedish Feist with a tinge of Stars as well.
Best Tracks: “Älgen”, “Went to War”, “Yellow Moon”
This album was released earlier in 2015 and soundtracked quite a bit of my winter in Los Angeles. Bergman’s vocals are strong and direct, devoid of the tinniness that I have difficulty appreciating in some modern day pop phonems. I look forward to a bit more experimentation on their second album — but if their consistency is my biggest complaint, it’s hard to knock their debut.
05. Tobias Jesso Jr. — Goon
Sounds Like: Simon & Garfunkel and/or Randy Newman.
Best Tracks: “Can We Still Be Friends”, “The Wait”, “Bad Words”
I remember the first time I listened to Goon’s opening track, “Can’t Stop Thinking About You”, I distinctly heard the sound of Tobias’s piano pedals hidden softly away in the back of the mix, barely audible. The song’s very polished, professional… but there’s no “Man Behind The Curtain” when it comes to Tobias Jesso Jr., and rightfully so. This debut doesn’t need to concern itself with flashy synths or inglorious flourishes: Tobias’s talent lies in his simple songwriting, nailing what heartbreak feels like time and time again.
Hopefully next time? He learns to bring his guitar along more often… because damn if “The Wait”, certainly one of the most uplifting songs on the album, isn’t also one of his strongest. More of that, pretty please.
04. PWR BTTM — Ugly Cherries
Sounds Like: If Perfume Genius went full glam-punk rock.
Best Tracks: “I Wanna Boi”, “1994”, “C U Around”
It’s funny how certain genres of music can absolutely elude me when it comes to enjoyability… then a ‘queer’ version of that genre appears and I absolutely, ecstatically claim the result to be a favorite thing of mine! So it goes.
PWR BTTM, to their credit, are not just glam-punk rock… although there’s a lot of that in their debut. But there’s also a level of sincerity to their lyrics and playfulness in their observations that make a queer person feel like an actual living, breathing, equal entity. That’s cool, that’s original, and while there’ve been plenty of gender-queer punk rockers in the past, PWR BTTM were my first foray into this wonderful genre. Thus, they deserve all of my relatively n00b-ish infatuation and praise. Excited to see how they experiment with their sound in the future — more than anything, I hope they keep it “gay-mazing”.
03. Boxed In — Boxed In
Sounds Like: If Local Natives and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy combined forces for an album.
Best Tracks: “Mystery”, “All Your Love Is Gone”, “False Alarm”, “Lo Life”
I’ve been waiting almost twelve whole months to write about Boxed In’s debut album. I wondered if it’s hooks would be as lodged in my head after I found it mid-January and, lo and behold, they have — and in spades. From the opener “Mystery”, it’s clear Boxed In’s immediate directive is to get people dancing, bouncing, bopping — to get people moving (which, you know, is ironic for a band whose name is Boxed In). Movement aside, however, Boxed In’s next directive is to make the music actually mean something.
The band is technically a solo effort on the part of Oli Bayston — an ex-member of UK band Keith and a producer who’s worked with the likes of Lily Allen and fellow producer Dan Carey (of Hot Chip, Frank Ferdinand producing fame). This disco-infused indie pop has all the trappings of a promising beginning to a lucrative solo career.
02. Gang of Youths — The Positions
Sounds Like: Early U2 meets early Springsteen meets The National’s baritone vocals and percussion.
Best Tracks: “Poison Drum”, “Magnolia”, “Kansas”, “Radioface”
Gang of Youths’s frontman, Dave Le’auppe, had a shitty year. Or, well, I suppose it’s more accurate to say he’s had a couple of shitty years. After attempting to support his cancer-stricken wife (well, first girlfriend then wife) for a lengthy period of time, the two divorced, Le’auppe tried to kill himself… and then he finally got his shit together and released an astonishing debut album that deals with all of it. And I mean all of it. The album is at times somber, at times dire, at times pulsating, at times angsty, at times uplifting — in fact, all of these elements rear their head in just the album opener, “Vital Signs”.
“Magnolia”, the standout for me, deals with the night of Le’auppe’s attempted suicide. The song immediately after (and my second favorite track), “Kansas”, sheds light on Le’auppe’s love of both The Wizard of Oz and its coming-of-age symbolism over almost solely string instruments (none of which are guitar).
Most fascinating to me, the album’s technically Christian rock. Le’auppe’s still “looking for God in this thing… still asking where He is in all this bullshit.” The album helped me realize that, while not Christian myself, I am still searching, still looking, for where He/She/It “is in all this bullshit”. Perhaps that search never ends but this album’s a nice stepping stone on my journey of personal self-discovery and a great jumping off point from a band I expect to kill it on their sophomore outing.
01. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Sounds Like: If The Derek Trucks Band and The White Stripes combined forces, but Meg White was singing (and, like, also singing well.)
Best Tracks: “Pedestrian At Best”, “Small Poppies”, “Depreston”, “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party”
It’s perhaps a bit unfair to put Courtney Barnett in this category — she’s technically been around with official solo material since 2011 — but as I’m solely ranking debut LP’s, Courtney’s fits the profile. It’s just that, to put it bluntly, Courtney’s debut is leagues ahead of the other contenders in this category.
Lyrically, production wise, and (perhaps most importantly) presence wise: Courtney’s established herself as both an artist unafraid to provoke (she’s covered two semi-controversial tracks: Kanye West’s “Black Skinheads” live and, post-album release, “Shivers”, an Australian cult hit written by Rowland S. Howard which has lyrics that begin: I’ve been contemplating suicide / but It really doesn’t suit my style) but she’s simultaneously an artist who’s still consciously uncertain of who she even truly is (on “Small Poppies”: I don’t know quite who I am, oh, but man I am trying / … I used to hate myself but now I think I’m alright.) It’s admissions such as the latter rather than the provocations of the former that make Courtney truly stand out in my eye — especially after more than four years into her solo career.
And nowhere is this vulnerable version of Courtney more clearly present than the wondrous “Depreston” — the only song from the debut album I singled out when I highlighted my top 50 songs of 2015:
“Depreston” (is a) simple yet vivid lyrical soufflé which nails the hollowness of how impending maturity so casually creeps up on us.
More than anything, it’s that creeping maturity in Courtney’s consistent output that I look forward to keeping an eye on. I also hope she never truly figures out who Megan Trainor is… for her own sake.
Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Julien Baker — Sprained Ankle
Leon Bridges — Coming Home
City Calm Down — In A Restless House
Cotillon — Cotillon
EL VY — Return To The Moon
Guy Garvey — Courting The Squall
Joywave — How Do You Feel Now?
Lusts — Illuminations
Oh Wonder — Oh Wonder
Shamir — Ratchet
SOAK — Before We Forgot How to Dream
Victories at Sea — Everything Forever
Years & Years — Communion
[NOTE: Jamie xx’s In Colour is not in contention since his collaboration with Gil-Scott Heron, We’re New Here, is technically his debut. If you disagree, then (technically) In Colour would be numero uno. There, HAPPY!?]