No matter how successful an artist or band may later become, their first offering is in many ways the most defining. Here, We Are Unseen pick their all time favourite debuts, and explain what makes them stand out from the crowd.
White Lies: To Lose My Life
Besides its sombrely uplifting core, what makes To Lose My Life – the debut album of self-
ascribed post-punk band, White Lies – so worthy of its merit is the raw emotion that manifests itself clearly and confidently in each track.
Recognisable as a concept album, it is an honest, realistic confrontation of the fears that plague every human mind: death and loss. Whilst such themes may seem unappealing to potential listeners, it is impossible to resist the appeal of its glistening music.
Notably, among the beautiful sounds and the deep reflections, there are discernible influences of artists such Joy Division and Talking Heads, and even the masters of poetic melancholy themselves, the Smiths. That’s what makes this album so profound: it encapsulates all feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, whilst simultaneously creating a happy, nostalgic feel, through resurrecting the bittersweet element of the seminal British independent music scene.
It’s difficult to approach issues pertaining to our own mortality, but White Lies make it almost easy to do so, through their ability to intertwine lyrical music with sobering language. Resulting from this effective colaboration is an auditory experience able to satiate musical appetites and feed intellectual queries at the same time, making this album nothing short of a masterpiece.
Along with Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, Autechre formed part of the nineties British techno triumvirate with their first album, Incunabula. Released in 1993 as a collection of the bands work rather than a conscious, cohesive album, the duo became more preoccupied with sonic exploration than their contemporaries. The albums only single ‘Basscadet’ in particular, with its glitchy percussion, came to define the group’s later sound.
Despite being more of an early work compilation than an album, the record is the most wholesome that Autechre have produced, as the pair continually became more inaccessible, and abandoned the relative simplicity of tracks like ‘Bike’ and ‘444’, which are more in the ambient techno vein than the vaguely danceable music seen in their current work.
Ultimately this is the only album by the duo to avoid the cold, mechanical feeling of a circuit benders’ manifesto, and embrace the idea of creating passively pleasant music. While the album may not exemplify the mad scientist found-sound innovation the duo are known for, it serves as a very good starting point.
Arcade Fire: Funeral
Formed in 2001 by Win Butler and wife Régine Chassagne, Candian band Arcade Fire are miles from your average indie band. The only thing more unpredictable than their weird and wonderful live performances is their constantly changing line-up, which has seen over 25 members come and go throughout their 15 year career. Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral, undoubtedly received legendary status, consistently ranked at the top of lists of the best albums of the 2000s amongst the likes of Radiohead’s Kid A, the Strokes’ Is This It and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, and led them to collaborate with the likes of David Bowie and U2.
The album’s title stems from an unfortunate string of deaths in the families of the band during the period of writing and recording this debut, and this has a clear impact on the emotion and beauty of its composition. However, Funeral is far from gloomy. Through songs such as ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ and ‘Crown of Love’, the album also comments, in a touching and nostalgic manner, on childhood, coming-of-age and love.
Arcade Fire’s quirky blend of accordions, mandolins, glockenspiels and xylophones establish Funeral as a completely immersive and unforgettable debut.
Sophie Ellis Bextor: Read My Lips
Released in 2001, Read My Lips is a quintessential blend of electro, pop and dance music. With a stylistic range spanning from an undeniably groovy cover of Cher’s ‘Take Me Home’ to the diva anthem ‘Get Over You’, this is most certainly a debut album that both itches feet and packs a punch.
Obtaining its overall traction from the fusion of its uplifting style and Bexter’s celestial vocals, the album possesses both a luring and sophisticated charm. Despite its elegance, however, this vibrant collection of modern dance classics does not shy away from the delectably cheesy essence of ‘70s disco and ‘80s electro.
Admiringly, the wonderfully unabashed corniness prevalent in the dance music of yesteryear fully inhabits the album, allowing a pleasant tone to flow throughout each track. Even today, its power still lingers; mostly everyone on the planet will attest that there is not one school disco or engagement party where the timeless classic ‘Murder On the Dancefloor’ isn’t played at least twice.
Read My Lips is, irrefutably, the soundtrack for all disco and boogie lovers alike, suited to dancing uncles at weddings and awkwardly-swaying teens at school discos the world over.
Walter Wegmuller: Tarot
In the late sixties, krautrock emerged as an alien musical phenomenon, absorbing the prevalent psychedelia of the Anglosphere like the Velvet Underground and 13th Floor Elevators, as well as the experimental art music of Stockhausen and Schoenberg, and spewing this mélange onto record. The result was an indeterminate mix of psychedelic sound which makes the Red Krayola look like the Monkees.
Enter Swiss painter Walter Wegmuller and his first album Tarot. To call this the best krautrock album would be disingenuous, but it is certainly the most all-encompassing, recorded with a large collective featuring members of Wallenstein and Ash Ra Tempel, including legendary Klaus Schulze.
The album goes from funk (‘Der Narr’) to psych (‘Der Magier’) to a Tangerine Dream style ambient (‘Der Hohepriesterin’) in just the first three tracks. A resolve of ambition that normally muddies the creative waters is ultimately what defines this album and krautrock as a whole.
Whilst it can fall into the realm of cliché occasionally, that only solidifies its charm as a distillation of the late sixties experimental music scene, mangling both the good and the bad into something completely alien.
Wegmuller is responsible for perhaps the most raw amalgamation of musical influences ever made, and his hamfisted, improvisational approach on Tarot displays the genre at its most honest.
Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
‘Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not’ announces Arthur in 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, inspiring generations of misfits and rebels, including Sheffield-born Arctic Monkeys, whose 2006 album of the same name is undoubtedly up there with the best debuts of all time.
A relatively young band during its writing and recording, the lyrics are an honest observation of life growing up in the suburbs of a city, often comically and cleverly mocking the band’s peers who seem desperate to reject their Northern roots (see ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’). Across 13 tracks, writer Alex Turner covers everything from clubbing (‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’) to prostitution (‘When the Sun Goes Down’), in the intelligent but jokey manner which over the years has come to define the band.
Within a day of its release the album had already become the fastest-selling debut in British history. NME instantly declared Arctic Monkeys as ‘Our Generation’s Most Important Band’ and, 10 years on, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not remains the holy grail of debut albums, the modern classic that kick-started the careers of one of the most successful bands of all time.