LGM’s 50 Favourite Début Albums Part Three: #30 to #21

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<<<<< #50 to #41

<<<<< #40 to #31

Label this the “Hello, you – that’s a smashing blouse” introduction. I’ve spent far too long wading through this début albums thing. I have a life, you know. Things to do, people to meet, shins to kick. The publisher who showed interest in my novel now thinks I’m dead, and it’s all because of records. Or if not records, then I’m definitely blaming you.

#30 Nine Inch Nails / Pretty Hate Machine And whilst it’s easy to dismiss the whole Trent Reznor shtick – the lyrical juvenalia, the shock rock undertones – there’s an astute synth-pop record peeking through the mist. A punchy sort of equilibrium, referencing Reznor’s understanding of the first wave of British synth-pop. Best known for the sharp voltage of ‘Head Like A Hole’, the stand-out track to these ears has always been ‘Something I Can Never Have’ – fragile and haunting.

#29 Chapterhouse / Whirlpool Should you wish to strip this type of music down to its base components – the swirling guitar, the waves of crashing texture, alluring backing vocals, songs that when placed back to back, slide towards some kind of togetherness greater than the sum of its parts – this début has it all, and then some. Certain records make the listener tremble – and its not always wise to work out exactly why. Perhaps all you can admit when you look into the mirror is that this album enfolds you in its echoed embrace. This, ladies and gents, is the definition of swoon.

#28 The Teardrop Explodes / KilimanjaroKilimanjaro’s peppy horns, sweeping synthetic strings and trebly guitar sound unsettlingly ‘wrong’ when the whole thing kicks off with “Ha Ha I’m Drowning”. Julian Cope’s lyrics seem both oblique and overly wordy, sung in a strangely English-Scott-Walker way. Yet by the time you get to the third track: the heady, anthemic single, “Treason”, you’ve settled into this surreal mix as if all records should be made this way. Like the rival Bunnymen, they’d used the neo-psychedelic template but whereas McCulloch’s crew used the Velvets and the Doors as their touchstones, Cope was also into Roky Erikson and krautrock. It also wasn’t insignificant that the sessions for this album were conducted on large quantities of hallucinogens. Also, whereas the Bunnymen specialised in powerhouse grooves and epic choruses the Teardrops had an innate gift for a poppy hook and beguiling melody. Side two’s love songs, ‘The Thief Of Baghdad’ and ‘When I Dream’, put you in pure psych pop heaven.” – Chris Jones, BBC

#27 The Vaselines / Dum-Dum This list features a fair amount of Glasgow jangle – for which I offer no apologies. There could have been even more; Orange Juice and Teenage Fanclub being obvious omissions See also: Edinburgh’s The Shop Assistants, who perhaps came closest to the sheer rough-and-tumble joy behind the Frances McKee / Eugene Kelly axis. As with the preceding EPs, Dum-Dum sounds like it was recorded in a launderette, with random ideas thrown in its direction in the hope that some stuck. They did.

#26 The Cure / Three Imaginary BoysRecorded practically live over three nights with few over-dubs, the album is stark, angry and strafed with Robert Smith’s urgent guitar. Punk’s predecessors and contemporary nightmares made it into the mix – ‘Object’ evokes Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie; ‘Subway’ could be sister to The Jam’s “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight”. (Fiction Records’ boss Chris) Parry and engineer-cum-producer Mike Hedges gave the collection an icy veneer that upset Smith in 1979, but now feels starkly reflective of its moment” – Simon Morgan, BBC

#25 The Magnetic Fields / Distant Plastic Trees Because it isn’t simply about the music. This isn’t a construct that sits in isolation, quarantined in the ambient thrum of an amplifier or the vinyl’s precious grooves. Instead, the attraction to sound feeds from the relationship between each track and every listener – that unquantifiable element unpinning the experience of aural verisimilitude. It’s music as context. The sights, sounds and emotional flavours that serve as backdrop to a song breaching your awareness. This is music as an extension of memory, sonic structures that embed themselves into who you are – or who you were and what you’ve now become. Also – ’100,000 Fireflies’. Haunting, knowing, wonderfully erudite. It’s specifically unorthodox – a début single (!) that employs an obtuse arrangement, archaïques instrumentation, and in Susan Anway, a vocalist whose warmth isn’t immediate – yet the assemblage directly points to the striking; a paean to savage, undercut ennui.

#24 Wendy Carlos / Switched-On Bach Moog. Moog moog moog moog moog… I could write an essay on this. Or I could simply admit that a kitsch exhibition re-defined the music I’ve proceeded to listen to on a daily basis – because no further words are necessary.

#23 My Bloody Valentine / Isn’t AnythingIt feels more like a partnership at work due to the audibility of Shields and Butcher at various points, a potential dialogue at play between two selves as much as internally. It’s not aiming to bring down firmaments – and who knows what Shields might have done if he had Loveless‘s budget and indulgence at work? But the relative limitations – again, in retrospect – were standard operating procedure for a band still making their mark, before ‘Soon’, ‘To Here Knows When’, ‘Only Shallow’ and the many echoes and after-echoes to come. An album recorded quickly for a label that could barely afford it from a band deciding to twist and mutate into something more than they had already been. It’s had its own legacy with time too, playing out sometimes in quieter home-recorded corners, sometimes as extension of rough-and-ready bleary, angry yet beautiful sprawling. And it still sounds good.” – Ned Raggett, The Quietus

#22 Jeff Buckley / Grace It’s not easy to consider Grace in isolation; would our appreciation be any different had he lived, and his début merely pointed the way into deep back catalogue? I think so; gifted his father’s voice, he used it to express an inordinate vulnerability; the first verse of ‘Last Goodbye’ alone – “You gave me more to live for / More than you’ll ever know” is like a punch to the solar plexus; one of the finest relationship requiems ever recorded. This isn’t an album without issues; the production’s far too clean, an execution as if hermetically sealed. The qualities that endeared his music to me back then – the emotional dexterity, the angry-young-man urgency are still there; it’s my ability to assimilate that’s become deadened through years of self-abuse and jangly guitar. But then I place Grace delicately on the turntable, and the voice makes so much sense all over again.

#21 Aztec Camera / High Land Hard RainIf there is a theme to High Land Hard Rain, it’s about unrequited and requited love, and the key track lyrically and musically lands square in the middle of the album, the dramatic centrepiece. ‘We Could Send Letters’, at 5:51, is the longest song on the record, and it feels like the key track in Frame’s eyes. The opening is perfect – golden acoustic chords backed by a punchy descending bass line – and then it just gets better. Clattering drums, angelic voices in the chorus, the most exquisite jazz-inflected acoustic soloing from Roddy which wouldn’t sound out of place on an Bert Jansch record, and the Frame vocals – concerned, urgent, pleading but never desperate – behind a lyric telling his love to hold on. There’s scarce a bum note anywhere on High Land Hard Rain. ‘Walk Out to Winter’ and ‘Back On Board’ both summon the sensation of renewal and optimism forcing though doubt and uncertainty. ‘Lost Outside the Tunnel’ is the sound of a feel-good smokey club trio. ‘Pillar to Post’, going straight into the chorus, soars from the first note. Even ‘The Bugle Sounds Again’, which does contain a rather wobbly trumpet solo, makes sense as an inner voice calling just one more time for a stab at love.” – Richard Folland, Popmatters.

The Vaselines / Dum-Dum

LGM’s 50 Favourite Début Albums Part Two: #40 to #31

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<<<<< This way for #50 to #41 (also for the arcane exclusion rules).

A series in which I sit here growing steadily more inebriated whilst a conviction swells that I’ve got all the right records, but very much in the wrong order. Next episode out soon.

#40 Wire / Pink Flag Pink Flag was a fractured snapshot of punk alternately collapsing in on itself and exploding into song-fragment shrapnel. The record’s minimalist approach means the band spends only as much time as needed on each song– five of them are over in less than a minute, while a further nine don’t make it past two. It’s clear you’re not getting a typical 1977 punk record from the opening seconds of “Reuters”, an echoing bass line that quickly comes under attack by ringing but dissonant guitar chords. The tempo is arrested, lurching along to the climactic finale when Colin Newman, as the narrating correspondent, shouts “Looting! Burning!” and then holds out the lone syllable of “rape” twice over descending chords, which grind to a halt over chanting voices. It’s all the bombast, tension, and release of a side-long prog opus in just three minutes.” – Joe Tangari, Pitchfork.

#39 Dubstar / Disgraceful In which the melancholic, kitchen sink thrust behind elements of the Smith’s theme palette is given a contemporaneous, hi-rise makeover. Morrissey himself receives a name-check in the excellent ‘The Day I See You Again’, but Disgraceful is neither coy nor copyist – by moulding ennui-laced strands of understatement around a pop sensibility it eschews backwards-glancing melodramatics. This is very much a mid-’90s record, for sure – many of the swerves and feints (and especially the synthetic drum loops) could only have been recorded there and then – but there’s a wistful charm to this; layers of mournful, minor-key synths that ape the string section (see breakthrough single ‘Stars’). Gentle guitar arpeggios hidden behind verse. Two intelligent covers – Billy Bragg’s ‘St Swithin’s Day’ and a version of ‘Not So Manic Now’, originally recorded by the somewhat feyer Brick Supply – that both develop from the original. And to top it all off, Sarah Blackwood’s hard-edged northern vowels – quite sexy in a certain, dispassionate light – feel incredibly well-suited to every song, all detached, even passive on occasion, a delivery that makes lines such as “I’ll tell you straight as we undress that things got better when you left” feel even more loaded.

#38 Siouxsie And The Banshees / The Scream “Some unique hybrid of the Velvet Underground mated with much of the ingenuity of Tago Mago-era Can… leaving spaces that say as much as the notes being played. Certainly, the traditional three-piece sound has never been used in a more unorthodox fashion with such stunning results.” Nick Kent, NME

Scheduled for later in the summer; a proper piece on The Scream. A record that clamours for a closer attention.

#37 Portishead / Dummy Remote. Breathy. Disattached. The subtle undercurrent of unhinged danger – and that’s just Beth Gibbons’ voice, trapped for posterity on much of this via hand-held tape recorder and a Martini it’s almost too much effort to sup from. The brio behind Dummy is in how it treats it source material not as reverence, nor as passive backdrop, but an essence both minimalistic and organic; sure, some of its stylings are a give-away to time and place, but this is the sonic equivalent of a kiss from Nicola Six in an underground bunker as soundtracked by a strung-out John Barry – which is high praise indeed.

#36 Lloyd Cole & The Commotions / Rattlesnakes Poised, elegant, bookended by two tracks – ‘Perfect Skin’; ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ – that exemplify the warm, enfolding intelligence rampant in Cole’s back catalogue. Rattlesnakes is a loving embrace of a record. Of an ilk you yearn to return to.

#35 ABC / Lexicon Of LoveAt its best, Lexicon of Love sounds not unlike Scott Walker fronting Chic. You might be forgiven for thinking that nobody in their right mind would want to mix hi-energy hedonist’s beats with existential crooning, but Martin Fry sounds very much in his right mind, high on his own wordplay as brilliant couplet after brilliant couplet trips off his silver tongue. Even the bits where he gets the female backing vocalists in and whispers to them don’t sound too cheesy. This is largely because there’s so much commitment in his voice that Lexicon’s songs – potential hits, every one of them – demand to be taken seriously. Philosophising like ‘Your Reason For Living’s Your Reason For Leaving’, set against elastic bass lines, runs a little deeper than the heart of Saturday night, and makes you forget so many of the rules: that disco is meant to be flippant, that it should have been dead by 1982, that an Eighties production like this isn’t meant to sound so lush.” – Tom Cox, The Observer

#34 World Of Twist / Quality Street Missing from this run through début LP territory is 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?) by the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu. Partly because Bill Drummond’s 1986 solo album The Man is formal grounds for exclusion, and also… well, unlike their finest work, it’s a Situationist prank that doesn’t translate all that effectively in a musical context, the string of unauthorised samples that so riled the music industry (and Abba’s management) a means to an end. A much more successful début – far more subtle with its subversion – arrived via Manchester, which like a crafty market trader hawked its wares to all yet kept the finest merchandise for itself. World Of Twist dressed up, had fun, employed a nice lady named Julia to provide “swirls and sea noises”, delivered a ferocious live set, acted the goat, captivated a small but knowing following, recorded an solitary album that only hinted at so much promise, then duly fucked off, (half of the band reappearing a few years later as Earl Brutus, who were ever better).

#33 Pixies / Come On Pilgrim We can skip any is this an album? exercise; we’ve been beaten to it.

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This is all about lyrical intensity, deconstructed then rebuilt across a framework that threatens to spin off toward hyperactivity. There are moments in this where Black Francis sounds like he’s about to kick off a bar brawl. Others where his wide vocal range hits stigmata. The Joey Santiago guitar lines (far too verdant to be called ‘riffs’) threaten to burn up in the desert sun, Kim Deal adds the coos in just the right moments, and it’s fuzzy yet tight, and coy, and over far too quickly; the EP / mini-album / whatever-you-want-to-call-it that Hüsker Dü must have listened to before thinking: “shit”.

#32 Mogwai / Mogwai Young Team If we’re content to label Mogwai as post-rock (the reality is not quite as simple, but there are better environments than here for the sub-genre categorisation debate – superior venues we know as bars), then MYT is the only album of its ilk to feature in this list. Previous work disqualifies Battles, Explosions In The Sky’s first LP fails to forcibly shake off that third on the bill in a Texas roadhouse vibe, whilst Godspeed’s début is perhaps a little too insular for these tastes. Which is a back-handed way of heralding Mogwai’s consistency – the Chemikal Underground logo on the sleeve a mark of quality. There’s a delicate, thoughtful nature to each guitar cadence. A seam of measure and restraint that’s so easy to blow on a first album, frequently punctuated by echoed speech bubbles way down in the mix (as well as an Aidan Moffat vocal that’s slightly higher up, but almost as impenetrable). And then the climax: ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, a grinding, sixteen-plus minute bear-hug of a track that never loses sight of its objectives.

#31 Roxy Music / Roxy Music I wasn’t around in the monochrome soup we now know as 1972. In some respects I wish that I were, purely to witness Roxy appearing from out of nowhere to flick the switch marked COLOUR. A lounge band from some distant future; pure Art School, of course, but so much to look at as well as to listen to. The début was messy, almost deliberately placed off-kilter with its weird angles, uncontextual tape effects, and instrumentation all in the wrong sector of the mix – even the production has an unclean glamour about its person. Ferry’s lizard-smooth vocals work so well when backlit by knowing unorthodoxy, such as on ‘Ladytron’ or the warped Weimar that is ‘Chance Meeting’; there are moments all over the shop when Andy Mackay’s sax pops up with mischief smeared across its chops – and I haven’t even mentioned Eno or Manzanera yet; an album I’d struggle to define in 1,500 words, let along a tenth of that.

Dubstar / The Day I See You Again

LGM’s 50 Favourite Début Albums: #50 to #41

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Meanwhile on Twitter, individual breakdowns of favourite début albums has been a “thing” on my timeline for a while – and jolly good reading all this has been too. There’s little for me to bring to the party… only that someone from a long ago twisted my arm to come up with my own interpretation, and I’ve never been all that proficient in saying “no”.

Of course, ranking records is a fool’s game for the simple reason that any list is is a temporary construct. A snapshot of a certain time and a certain mood. It doesn’t make it any less valid, but don’t ask me why I’ve ranked the disc at #34 higher than that at #35, because I’ll have changed my mind tomorrow. In fact I think I’ll have to amend this shortly to squeeze in the first Drugstore LP.

I’ve also been strict in my interpretation of début album by excluding those by any artist who jettisoned the more faceless entities of their band by going solo (hence no World Shut Your Mouth. No Viva Hate). Also excluded: débuts by bands that obviously morphed from other successful entities – by which no Lazer Guided Melodies. No Movement. No Public Image: First Issue. No Kraftwerk. No Peng! And no Soul Mining – because the first The The LP arrived under a Matt Johnson byline two years earlier (and wasn’t half as enchanting). Finally, a purist’s breakdown would comprise only first albums that were never improved upon. The following list doesn’t abide by those rules, but I have highlighted those débuts that were never surpassed in blue, just to keep the anoraks happy.

Pruning the list was brutal. Records that just missed the cut: Horses by Patti Smith. Garlands by Cocteau Twins. No Ride, Gene, Talk Talk. No Suicide, Field Mice, Echo And The Bunnymen. Culling The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray triggered wailing and gnashing of teeth. Ditto The Return Of The Duritti Column. I also had to yank the excellent Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes by TV On The Radio from the countdown – and all because they self-released the first long-playing entry in their discography, and gave them away for free in coffee shops.

Of course, the following is wildly subjective – and (unlike the corresponding favourite tracks list I compiled a few years back), not particularly eclectic (although there are hopefully a few curveballs). Too white, and dominated by girls and boys playing synth chords in unusual patterns, or records with floppy fringes and an ’80′s / ’90′s sensibility. A list of favourites, then – not a run through best; I’m (almost) sorry. To keep the word count down I’ll do this batches, commencing with the first ten on this arbitrary journey; the rest over the next few days…

(Edit: also, see the bottom of this piece for a confession)

#50 The Dandy Warhols / Dandys Rule OK An LP that’s all primary colours and cartoon inflexion, reminiscent of the psychedelic tonality of Hanna-Barbera animation circa 1972. There are a few albums of this vintage that it’s easy to associate with warmth, tenderness, cheekiness, and variants there-of, but few possess these qualities in quite the same concentrations as the Dandy’s début. This is charm generated from its sprawling, unfocused stoner-rock nature – toned and compact aren’t adjectives to wield here – and whilst much of their later material suffers from being too consciously commercial (even if, somewhat perversely, they were never commercial enough for a Capitol Records desperate to turn them into a singles band) or just plain meh, this particular LP is all the better for being rough around the edges. Highlight: undoubtedly ‘Genius’, which manges to be simultaneously engaging, brittle, and as high as a kite.

#49 Saint Etienne / Foxbase AlphaSurely the most purposeful and unique thing they ever did, an anticipation and redemption of a decade dominated by record-collection music and cool kids quoting film dialogue. There’s a dark irony in the fact that the ‘Cool Britannia’ we all got so sick of was built on a retro-glazed version of the sixties’ swinging London, when only a couple of years earlier Saint Etienne had helped build a London that actually felt cool and easygoing – and better yet one you could live in without feeling like you were selling out to the past. Of course the London of Foxbase Alpha is slippery and diffuse and maybe you couldn’t fit it on a T-Shirt, but that’s only because London extends a little bit further than Carnaby bloody Street and Soho” – Tom Ewing, Freaky Trigger

#48 Bis / The New Transistor Heroes Glasgow sci-fi skate pop, all sugar-rush spikiness. Punters like me purchased early Bis records precisely because sophisticated, conformist pop music is generally such a turn-off. We liked the fact that Manda Rin shrieked her lyrics like an over-excited puppy. We fed off the amateurish sheen, the kitsch pop-culture references, the exuberance. Never mind that Bis went very wrong afterwards; this is pop!

#47 The House Of Love / The House Of Love AKA the Creation album. As opposed to the Fontana album with the butterfly artwork that shared the same title. It’s a hazy disc, confused and a little contorted, and also quite beautiful in it’s soft appropriation of psychedelic notions. On first listen Guy Chadwick’s vocals appear nondescript, only to hit you with unexpected warmth when you least expect it, whilst there’s enough going on with the guitar interplay to maintain interest long after the run-out groove.

#46 Add N To (X) / Vero Electronics This contains two tracks – over seven and eight minutes long respectively – titled ‘A Very Uncomfortable Status’; this is as good a description of the Add N To (X) sound as any. Vero Electronics is not so much music as sonic wainscotting, performed by horny machines on homemade analogue synths. By avoiding the slightest hint of melody it’s genuinely unsettling. Scary, even. Gets under your skin. A soundtrack to invasive medical procedures, and probably beloved by wasps.

#45 Pram / The Stars Are So Big, The Earth Is So Small… Stay As You Are In no way should this work; Rosie Cuckson spends the album singing different songs to the ones the rest of the band are twirling with. It’s full of dissonant chords, screeching samples, 60′s reference points played at the wrong speed, toy instruments. Counter melodies ebb and flow as if disinterested (such as on the beguiling ‘Loredo Venus’); ‘Milky’ sounds like a primary school music lesson. ‘Dorothy’ like a tamazepam Jefferson Airplane. And to cap it all off, there’s the 16 minutes 12 seconds of (mostly) instrumental ‘In Dreams You Too Can Fly’, during which the trumpet has a mental breakdown. And you know what? It’s all bloody marvellous.

#44 LCD Soundsystem / LCD Soundsystem The damage isn’t physical – and neither is it damage, come to think of it. Rather, this is a disc that highlights the possibilities when vision is aligned with musical guile. It detonates across preconceived notions of how this type of music should function. Because the sound is cultivated. Ground tilled hard by those with an implicit understanding of musical posture. The sonic textures are incredibly clear and sharp, radiating out in solid arcs of chic, coy electronica – because some records know exactly what they’re about, and thus can pitch it perfectly.

#43 Can / Monster Movie If only all things Krautrock hadn’t been so incestuous, there’s a fair chance this list would have a far greater Motorik rhythm section; the Music von Harmonia LP, for instance, is an astonishing début – one of my favourite albums of all time – only Harmonia were two thirds Cluster, one-third NEU!, and those dumb rules above (the first NEU! LP is also excluded) come back to bite me. Monster Movie isn’t effective as later material; this was the band still trying to feel out both line up and a reciprocal relationship with record industry at large. A compromise, then, full of VU-lined psychedelia and free jazz grooves that threaten to goose you up in the middle of the night. Also, vocalist Malcolm Mooney quit the band soon after this on the advice of his psychiatrist, because Can’s off-record sounds were so intense – that’s recommendation enough in my book.

#42 Fischerspooner / #1 If some records last a lifetime, others exist for but a flicker. Acts aligned to vogue simply hang out of context; Warren Spooner lacked the musical chops to operate in any other environment, Casey Spooner the peacock who never needed the music in the first place. But if a flicker then how brightly it burned. #1 is something highly evocative, hugely resplendent, a wonderfully exotic drag queen of an LP (all pristine skin and mesmerizing gaze, fragrance by amyl nitrate). A soundtrack to the sultry and the alluring, very much flaunting its catwalk trashiness – it looks good, feels good too – and I make no apology for becoming hypnotized. ‘Emerge’ is peerless. The cover of Wire’s ‘The 15th‘ adds glamorous depth. And the rest ain’t too shabby, either.

#41 Slowdive / Just For A Day There are certain records you can’t but not fall into. Emotional literacy of the higher order, each track a caress. Just For A Day took a critical mauling on release; music press folly – this is The Cure’s Disintegration as reimagined by the lightest touch of rain on a warm, Spring day, Rachel and Neil’s harmonies embracing beneath the trees. The guitars are beautiful, shimmering, the layers of distortion dreamy and graceful; tracks such as ‘Brighter’ and ‘Catch the Breeze’ ripple with an inner depth. Just a lovely, meditative LP, then.

Pram / Milky

#40 to #31 >>>>>

Edit. Ah – that confession. After first publishing tracks #50 to #41, it came to my attention that the record originally placed at #46 wasn’t in fact their début at all (thanks, @HarryDBastard), which makes me some kind of Google-averse idiot; serves me right for being all smug in the opening paragraphs. #46 has been wiped from history, #47 through #50 have been shuffled up a notch, and a new #50 manoeuvred into place. Let’s label this a lesson learned, shall we?