Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind (1997)– Just squeaking into our timeframe is Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut release. Its bigger hits you know: songs like ‘Semi-Charmed Life’, ‘Jumper’, and ‘How’s It Going to Be’ dominated the airwaves for years. But what makes this album great are the darker moments of its non-single tracks. I’ve written more about this elsewhere, so I’ll settle for noting that this is kind of the album for me (with only one real runner up, to be mentioned next). When this album came out it – literally – remained in my stereo for over a year. I listened to it so much that – again, literally – the laser of my stereo burned the disc. It is, unequivocally, my favorite album of all time.
The Receiving End of Sirens – Between the Heart and the Synapse (2005)– I have a feeling that you’ll be reading more about this album before this post is through. It is the only album to come close to matching Third Eye Blind in life-importance for me. Three lead singers, three guitar players, amazing melodies, amazing harmonies, heart-pounding rhythms, riveting programming, wildly successful lyrics. This album was – and still is – entirely unmatched in its scope; we may never see another like it.
Forgive Durden – Wonderland (2006) – A byproduct of the same incredible Seattle scene the produced Gatsbys American Dream, Forgive Durden and their brimming-with-character debut Wonderland were occasionally written off as being nothing more than a Gatsbys knock-off. Which is both a shame and utterly untrue. Wonderland offers tremendous musicianship, beatiful melodic construction, and clever lyrics (the album’s closer, ‘Cue the Sun’ takes its name from The Truman Show – how can you not love that?) and deserves both your ear and your respect.
The Mars Volta – De-Loused In the Comatorium (2003) – This album basically gave birth to modern prog-rock. I once attended a Mars Volta concert and was astonished to watch as the show, like this record, opened with ‘Son et Lumiere’ bleeding into ‘Inertiatic ESP’ and an entire crowd of screaming fans (not the place one would expect to find complex rhythmic understanding) precisely cheered and fist pumped their way through the syncopated, borderline arhythmic transition that blends those songs together. Any album that can make so many people appreciate something so bizarre is a remarkable acheivement.
Further Seems Forever – The Moon Is Down (2001) – Maybe I’ll discuss the Further Seems Forever reunion in more detail later, but the important takeaway here is how great their debut release, The Moon Is Down, truly was and is. This is an album that blends grace with power, anger with compassion, and intricate technical work with soaring melodies. Further Seems Forever was far from a one-trick pony and it may even be that How To Start A Fire is the better album, but there is something uniquely personal and charming about The Moon Is Down. And, oh, the lyrics that Chris Carrabba has penned here – a thing of emo beauty: “These bonds were always fake, crafted for safety’s sake. But pasted wings and foil rings do not an angel make.”
This was tough for me, but instead of just rolling with my favorite début albums (many of which really grew on me over time), I went with ones that blew me away – for good or for bad – right out of the gate.
As Cities Burn – Son, I loved You At Your Darkest (2005) – Although not the first album I heard by the band (that was Come Now Sleep), I knew I was onto something special from the very first time I heard it. This band is everything I love about hardcore and heavy music but amped up to 11; tons of melody, great understandable scream, and sounding like no one else in the genre. This album hooked me, and it has had me singing its praises every opportunity I get.
Saves The Day – Can’t Slow Down (1998) – I heard this album upon first entering college. I loved it immediately, allowing it to open the floodgates of fast skate punk music into my life. It also led me to investigate Lifetime (who majorly influenced this record), who would go on to be all-time favorites of mine. See, up until that point, I only learned about music from those compilations they sold for 2-3 bucks next to the register at Hot Topic (I hang my head in shame; It wasn’t that bad back then, I swear). So if a band wasn’t on Epitaph, Nitro or Fat Wreck, I didn’t know about them. Saves the Day was my introduction to that fast melodic east coast flavor that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.
The Postal Service – Give Up (2003) – It’s funny how an album can capture the hearts of so many people. I have yet to meet a person that doesn’t like this album, or at least didn’t love it for a time before it became totally played out. This album holds up very well nearly a decade later, and ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ might be one of the greatest openers in the history of music. It will leave you close to tears if you dare listen to the words that Ben Gibbard speaks. We may never get a sophomore album from TPS, but damn if they didn’t impress me on their first and only album.
(I question my 23 year old self with these last 2 selections, but when they débuted, I was stoked)
My Chemical Romance – I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2002) – My god, I loved this album. I heard this little band from NJ who was on Eyeball Records on an Internet radio station, right as this album was released (Fun Fact: this same Internet radio listening stint also introduced me to Spitalfield). I had to special order it, because they were too small for Tower Records to carry. I got it in the mail, and it didn’t leave my stereo’s rotation for months. I tried to convince everyone around me that this band was something special, but I couldn’t even get one solitary person to go see them with me at a local college cafeteria when they toured through. What’s funny is that I still like MCR, except for most of The Black Parade, and think they are fun to listen to, but this is still my favorite record of theirs by a long shot.
The Used – The Used (2002) – Before we all knew that Burt was a total douche, I don’t think anyone who heard this little record came away feeling anything but impressed. I mean the music was cool and all, but man could this little twerp sing. He had an impressive scream, but holy shit could he belt out a tune. Seriously. The Used would have probably gone down as legends if only Burt had died of an overdose or car accident right after this album was released. Then we could have all speculated how great the band would have gotten, rather than been forced to witness just how horrible they could become. No I don’t listen to the album at all anymore, but I do remember myself (and everyone around me) being phenomenally impressed with the pipes on the singer of this crazy good début.
Death By Stereo – If Looks Could Kill, I’d Watch You Die (1999)– If anyone says anything negative about this band, they haven’t heard this album. DBS’s début is markedly different from the rest of their catalog due to massive line-up changes. If Looks Could Kill… is a perfect blend of punk, hardcore, and thrash metal, and it is outstanding from top to bottom. There are no weak tracks and the intensity is kept at a maximum from start to finish. The tragic thing, is that unless you grew up in the Orange County hardcore scene in the late 90’s, this album is largely forgotten.
Make Do and Mend – End Measured Mile (2010) – This is definitely a newer selection, as it is only two years old, but that says a lot about my feelings for this album. I am pretty diligent about keeping my Last.fm account up to date, and in one year, this album had reached the top of my all-time playlist, being eclipsed only by Thrice. It is aggressive, yet melodic; the vocals are gritty, but provide for some outstanding sing-a-longs. Every part of this album, right down to the rhythm section, is calculated and spot on. It moves where it needs to move, and breathes where it needs to breathe. James Carroll’s lyrics are extremely personal and they really hit home with me, considering where I was at that time in my life. I had high hopes for the follow up that came out this year, and I was a bit disappointed, but I will always have End Measured Mile. I also saw them play twice while touring on this album, and the songs may even be better live.
Panic! At the Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005) – Brennan pretty much said it all here, but this album is wildly underrated. The layers, OH the layers! There is so much going on here, and it is so incredibly unique. Show me another album that sounds anything like this album and I will punch you in the face and call you a liar. Seriously. I’m just going to call it a phenomenal “pop” album and be done with it.
Finch – What It is to Burn (2002)– I have already written about my love of Finch’s other album here. I have more coming on this album later, so I won’t go into it too much, but this is not your average début Have you heard Thrice’s Identity Crisis? That is a début: full of mistakes and handfuls of songs that just really aren’t that good (for the record, I loved, and still do love, that album). WIITB is an album that sounds like it was put out by seasoned veterans.
Damien Rice – O (2002) – Here is my random pick, the one that is not like the others. Damien Rice’s début is soft, eloquent, and emotional. O was one of the first singer/songwriter albums I had ever listened to, much less liked, but it opened the flood gates to so many other artists for me. Like all the others here, O is flawless from top to bottom. My favorite part of the album may be its intimacy, as many times I feel like I am in the same room with Rice as he is playing. It’s also an album you can enjoy with your lady, as well as by yourself on a late night drive. ‘The Blower’s Daughter’? Forget about it.
Circa Survive – Juturna (2005)– This album accomplished something truly incredible. It managed to merge ambiance, technical prowess, melody, and emotional outburst into one astonishingly powerful record. It was was beyond the grasp of genre, borrowing from prog rock, indie, emo, post-rock and punk in equal measure, and it helped usher in a new era of sound along with a very similar album that happens to have appeared in two other writer’s selections – The Receiving End of Sirens’ Between the Heart and The Synapse, which just so happened to come out six days after Juturna.
Manchester Orchestra – I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child (2006)– Those of you that know me well are likely unsurprised by this choice. Not only am I a huge Manchester Orchestra fan, but this album, much like Juturna, is a landmark in the evolution of the post-hardcore scene, but instead of going into the ambient weirdness (that is, awesomeness) that Circa Survive provided, the boys from Atlanta went in the direction of indie rock. Songs like ‘The Neighbourhood is Bleeding’ and ‘Golden Ticket’ speak to the influence of Death Cab For Cutie while ‘Wolves at Night’ and ‘Now That You’re Home’ speak to a more traditional rock sound. Of course, the centrepiece of the album is ‘Where Have You Been’ which sounds like it could have just as easily appeared on Brand New’s The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me – an incredibly strong compliment.
The Killers – Hot Fuss (2004)– While I am not a huge fan of their more recent efforts, I have to give credit to The Killers for Hot Fuss. The album is admittedly stronger at the start than the finish, with ‘Jenny was a Friend of Mine,’ ‘Mr. Brightside,’ Smile Like You Mean It’ and ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ all appearing before the halfway mark, but it is a collection of memorable sing-along tunes the whole way through. Most impressively, no two songs are sound alike. ‘On Top’ features keyboards that would make Usher groove, ‘Andy You’re a Star’ is driven forward by slow and deliberate almost-clean guitars and plaintive vocals, and ‘Believe Me Natalie’ features rolling drums and multiple vocal parts. Brandon Flowers may have a stupid name, but he sure knows how to write a strong tune.
Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood (2003)– Say whatever you want about ‘Sex on Fire,’ this album is genuinely good. It features the punk infused southern stylings that made the band a massive success, before they decided to write much less interesting mega-hits (that I must admit, are still kinda good). Caleb’s half-sung-half-screeched vocals on ‘Trani’ and ‘Spiral Staircase’ may be acquired tastes, but they have an allure that I can’t deny (and honestly, I wish he had put them to use on better songs), and the whole band pulls out some magic when it comes to garage rock hits like ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘Happy Alone.’ If you hate Kings of Leon but have never heard this album, give it a shot – there’s rocking to be had. They sound like a completely different band to the one that wrote ‘Use Somebody.’
Taking Back Sunday – Tell All Your Friends (2002)– This is a bit of a personal classic. There are certainly other albums that are more deserving of a spot on this list, but I couldn’t stop myself from giving some praise to an album that played a huge role in my younger years. Adam Lazarra offered up some of the best emo lyrics ever written in lines such as “Hoping for the best, just hoping nothing happens. A thousand clever lines unread on clever napkins. I will never ask if you don’t ever tell me. I know you well enough to know you’ll never love me” and “The truth is you could slit my throat and with my one last gasping breath I’d apologise for bleeding on your shirt,” while John Nolan put forth some of the greatest backup vocals ever recorded. Where You Want To Be may have been stronger musically, but they never captured the intensity of this album again.
The Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) – There are few début albums in the last 15 years that have been as successful as Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Upon its release, the album was the fastest selling UK album of all time – even more than Oasis’ Definitely Maybe! While the record isn’t exactly a musical masterpiece, it is undeniably enjoyable. Not only is the album riddled with clever guitar hooks and catchy drum beats, but many of the lyrics are surprisingly humorous. Alex Turner’s writing displays a unique wittiness that adds a dimension of comedy not often reserved for a rock album. Plus, the fact that he sings with a raw Sheffield accent makes the album all the more memorable.
Billy Talent – Billy Talent (2003) – This is an album that I directly associate with high school. Not only because I was in high school when the album was released, but because it touches on many teen issues with just the right amount of disgruntled angst. Songs like ‘Try Honestly’ and ‘The Ex’ became instant anthems for teens to sing (and scream) to, while tracks like ‘There’s Nothing to Lose’ (which follows the tragic story of a bullied teen) showed that the band was willing to tackle much more serious issues as well. Subject matter aside, all the tracks in this album are incredibly catchy and well produced, especially for a début record. If you didn’t grow up in Canada, you probably missed out on this one, but for myself and many of my peers, this was a defining album for our generation.
The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003) – I consider this to be one of the riskiest début albums in recent times. Then again, it’s not that risky when you are the former singer and lead guitarist of At the Drive-In – you know that people are going to listen to you, so you can afford to experiment a bit (or a lot). What I love about this album is the amount of freedom each musician had to experiment and try things that were truly different. For some bands, this is a recipe for disaster, however, the calibre of musicians in The Mars Volta allowed this experiment to work. In addition to Omar’s limitless guitar parts and Cedric’s theatrical vocals, De-Loused also features the bass stylings of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His fellow bandmate, John Frusciante, also makes an appearance on the twelve minute epic ‘Cicatriz ESP.’ Volta’s drummer at the time, John Theodore, also deserves a lot of credit for keeping all of these lunatics together. Even if The Mars Volta is not your cup of tea, anyone should be able to appreciate the great musicianship apparent on this record.
The Receiving End of Sirens – Between the Heart and the Synapse (2005) – I had the unique pleasure of listening to this album for the first time live at Toronto’s Opera House in 2006. I knew absolutely nothing about TREOS at the time, but by the end of their opener ‘Planning a Prison Break,’ I was hooked on this band. I was astonished by the degree of depth their music possessed, both instrumentally and lyrically. I remember thinking to myself that night, that it must have taken forever to write and record this album, because there is just so much going on. It is an album that you can listen to over and over and still find something new to focus on each time. If it’s not the three part vocal harmonies, then maybe its the trio of guitars. If not the intricate racing bass lines, then maybe its the beautifully written lyrics that flow through each track. As much as I listen to this album, it never gets old.
The Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004) – The Arcade Fire’s combination of spirited vocalists and varied orchestral melodies creates a sound that is unlike anything else I have ever come across. This wide range of instrumentation is what allows The Arcade Fire to produce songs of hugely differing style and tone. Every song on Funeral produces its own unique emotional response; each song paints its own picture. There are few bands that are capable of writing music like this and even fewer that do it as well as The Arcade Fire does. Funeral is not just a great début, it is simply a great album.
Coldplay – Parachutes (2000) – I may lose some hipster street cred with this choice, but I have to include Parachutes – it’s just too good of a début. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard ‘Yellow.’ My first reaction was, “Oh man, this is on KROQ, I’m not supposed to like this.” But I did. The entire album is solid, and most importantly, has withstood the test of time.
Shai Hulud – Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion (1997) – Easily the most brutal vocals to ever be recorded by a prepubescent teenager, this Chad Gilbert fronted version of Shai Hulud blew me away at first listen. The record encapsulated everything I had always loved about east coast hardcore, with it’s fast beats and energetic vocal lines, but it contained a melodic element that I had never heard presented that way before in hardcore music. With the precociousness of Matt Fox’s guitar playing and the technicality of their songwriting, Shai Hulud took hardcore to a new arena with this album. It kicked off a world of possibilities in the land of hardcore and made it acceptable to be both musical in one’s songwriting and aggressive at the same time. When I recently found out that Chad Gilbert would be back on vocals for their latest release, I was stoked to say the least. Let’s just hope he’s as good as when he joined the band at the tender age of 14.
Muse – Showbiz (1999) – Putting Muse on this list seems a bit unfair in many ways, and maybe not quite challenging enough to the list, but I just couldn’t resist. To me they are easily the most talented three piece band around right now, and possibly one of the top three piece bands of all time. There doesn’t seem to be anything this band can’t accomplish, whether it’s experimenting in new musical styles or dabbling in instruments previously unknown to them. This was the album that started off their journey as a band and it is still relevant today – a huge accomplishment. If this album was released tomorrow, it wouldn’t seem outdated, it would simply seem to be another album in the discography of a band that has been known to release things outside of the realm of whatever the popular sound is. I would put this album on here for the intro song ‘Sunburn’ alone. That has to be one of the most catchy piano riffs I’ve ever heard.
Glassjaw – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence (2000) – Ahhh, the album that inspired a thousand lousy copycat acts. You can’t blame Glassjaw though. The album was artsy prog-metal at its finest and it was fronted by one of the more unique vocalists at the time. Though Daryl Palumbo has widely been compared to Mike Patton (whom he admits to admiring), the legions of fans who would eventually flock towards Glassjaw (for the most part) had likely never heard of him, so Daryl quickly became a vocalist worthy of worship for his unorthodox delivery and guttural screams. At the time of its release, the album was unique and didn’t really fit into either the hardcore or nu-metal scene. The music was enlightening and artistic while Daryl’s vocals were deliberate and yet so passionate that he seemed to legitimately lose control at times. They were a band writing music for the sake of music, and they produced a masterpiece of an album in doing so.
Minus The Bear – Highly Refined Pirates (2002) – When mathcore band Botch broke up, I admit that I didn’t feel anything good could possibly come from it. I must, however, now say that I was completely wrong. Minus the Bear has to be the most interesting band to hit the indie music scene in years. With their unique approach to songwriting, especially from a rhythmic standpoint, their début full length brought a new dynamic to a dying musical scene. With former Botch guitarist Dave Knudson at the helm on guitar, Minus the Bear has been able to carve out a style all their own, creating songs built on foot tapping dance beats and laden with a healthy dosage of fingertapped countermelodies. Not only is this album brilliant to listen to on a stereo but it’s amazing to watch the band perform the songs live. Plus, if there’s anything that one can be happy about with the demise of Botch and the emergence of Minus the Bear, it’s the fact that their pension for awesome song names didn’t disappear. That is apparent with songs like ‘Thanks For The Killer Game Of Crisco Twister’ and ‘Get Me Naked 2: The Electric Boogaloo.’ I mean, how could you not love an album with songs like that?
Further Seems Forever – The Moon Is Down (2001) – Being both a Strongarm and Dashboard Confessional fan, it was odd at first to hear this concoction of old. But after just a short listen, I found myself hooked. The technical and melodic musicianship from Strongarm combined with a vocalist as talented as Chris Carrabba proved to produce an album beyond any one of its peers. At the time of its release, there didn’t seem to be anything else out that held water when compared to The Moon is Down, and that made the wait for another FSF record that much harder. Every subsequent release has been great since then, but there is a rawness and organic quality to their first album that they haven’t been able to capture on anything since. Musically, they may have grown from album to album, but the passion that was put into their début release is something that I’m not certain they will ever be able to bottle again.