Picked by the Gigwise team for National Album Day
23:00 13th October 2022

More about:

Since 2001, music has changed a lot. Just like the fashion cycle, musical trends have come and gone and comeback again as nostalgia seems to reign supreme.

Kids born in 2001 are now 21 with blossoming music careers, taking inspiration from the current century we’re speaking through. Birthing some of the most exciting new musicians around as well as enduring the talent and impact of 00s voices - who said all the best music was made in the 60s?

To celebrate National Album Day as they focus on debuts, the Gigwise team share their picks for the most defining debuts of the 21st century (so far)...

Avril Lavigne - Let Go (2002)

It would be hard to look back at some of the 21st Century’s best debut albums without recognising both the immediate and long-term impact of Avril Lavigne’s Let Go.

Released in 2002 via Arista Records, Let Go spawned some of the most iconic tracks of the past two decades, most notably ‘Sk8er Boi’, ‘Complicated’ and ‘I’m with You’. I mean, the stats speak for themselves. Let Go sold 18,000,000 copies and on Spotify alone, the top three tracks have been collectively streamed over 1.1 billion times. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the seminal pop punk/pop rock Let Go, which arguably carved a path for the likes of today’s pop punk stars such as Olivia Rodrigo’s teenage angst-filled Sour and Beabadoobee’s Fake It Flowers. Although it may not have been the first pop punk record of its kind, Let Go captured the teenage world so succinctly that it still resonates to this day, proving that it wasn’t just a millennial album but one that has penetrated Gen Z’s consciousness too. 

With killer hooks, anthemic, immaculate production and Lavigne’s gritty vocals, Let Go supercharged the 17-year-old’s musical career while providing a welcome alternative to the bubblegum pop of the late 90s and early 2000s. 

Let Go set a cultural blueprint - both sonically and aesthetically - and there’s no doubt it will be remembered for decades to come. (Aimee Phillips)

Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground (2003)

I don’t believe in ‘guilty pleasures’, but I can see why some people pick Girls Aloud for theirs. I got this album as a Christmas present from my uncle one year, and I don’t remember any other presents I got – I think that’s as sparkling a review as you could get. Sometimes I don’t feel like a gen-z stereotype, but this is another album that has fully shaped how I am. I have such a respect for girl groups as a result of my deep love for Cheryl Cole. It’s arguably pure superficial pop, and I love it. Nothing boosts my mood more than some classic girly pop music on my way to a 9am lecture, especially when the performance of it is so early noughties with its light drum and bass notes and a sped-up pre-chorus which makes me want to dance in the street. Also this album features two of my favourite things: first, when songs have introductions that move from one earphone to the other, my brain is scratched. Secondly, I absolutely LOVE a cover, and I think their version of 'Jump' may please me more than the Pointer Sisters’ – or at least equally. (Evie Gower)

Kanye West - College Drop Out (2004)

I’mma let you finish but Ye had one of the best debut albums of the 21st Century. I could take The College Dropout apart by its beats and bars to prove how it altered the trajectory of modern rap. I could pinpoint how its reinvention of sampling continues to influence music decades on from its release. I could even present it as a prime example of how both production and lyricism can be perfected, but The College Dropout didn’t teach me diplomacy, it taught me to be vocally unapologetic about my beliefs and I believe this album is the most important debut of recent times. The College Dropout is resilience, Ye’s carpe diem. The message of determination injected into each song is infectious. Ye delivered to a generation a soundtrack of support and enthusiasm that he never received from the industry.

This debut tells the story of an underdog, bouncing between self-empowerment and self-reflection. It isn’t a cult record, its universal. Most importantly, The College Dropout boasts the importance and effectiveness of letting the art do the talking. A message that sadly Ye seems to have lost touch with recently. This debut was the birth of a legacy that I yearn will remain worthy of preservation. (Kara Douglas) 

The Killers – Hot Fuss (2004)

We said it in 2013, and we’ll say it again today. Hot Fuss was the indie-rock moment of the 2000s. Yes, we had a lot of great bands at the time: The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Libertines were introducing us to the gritty world of post-punk revival, but the genre was perfected with The Killers’ irresistible tale of murder and sexual ambiguity. Simply put, no one else was doing it quite like them. Hell, since ‘Mr Brightside’ came out, it’s spent a total of 334 weeks in the UK charts at the time of writing. Aside from that commercial madness, you’ve got a slew of even more intoxicating bangers like ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’ and ‘Andy, You’re A Star’.

There will always be cynics that will brand ‘Mr Brightside’ as cringe, but we dare you not to make a scene when it comes on in the club.  This is main character music for the ages. Hot Fuss goes beyond just being the best debut album of noughties indie niche, but as one of the best debut albums of all time. They just don’t make them like this anymore. (Vicky Greer)

Paramore – All We Know is Falling (2005)

For an album released in 2005, Paramore’s debut still packs a punch as one of the timeless pop-punk classics. Released when front woman Hayley Williams was only sixteen, it is an incredible album that personifies the teenage angst and rage of growing up through electric guitars and a lot of bright hair dye (something I think every teenage girl can relate too, especially those who were in love with Williams.) The mix of powerful vocals, sharp drumming and riffs which are so integral to Paramore’s style is clear from this first album: it is a record which solidifies their place in the often-criticised emo and scene spheres of the early 2000s. Most of the songs on this record are actually written about Williams’ parents divorce, and she really embraces pain to create lyrics so profound for a teenager – I am constantly reminded of the lines ‘Maybe if my heart stops beating / it won’t hurt this much’ from Never Let This Go, a song which I think embodies the entire album’s message so well, and proves Williams’ sheer song writing talent and connection to her emotions; making this record one which created a perfect Paramore shaped space in the musical world. (Evie Gower)

Santigold - Santigold (2008)

On her self-titled 2008 studio debut, Santigold (formerly Santogold) crafted an addictive opus where her unique vocal delivery was paired deliciously with glittery, memorable pop production. From the cosy, tender indie ballad ‘Lights Out’ to the hyperactive ‘Say Aha’, Santigold spotlights Santi White as one of indie-pop’s most inventive and astute creators. Listening in 2022, the album is reminiscent of an era of great late-00’s electronic pop, while still fresh and vibrant. (Alfie Verity)

Lady Gaga – The Fame (and then The Fame Monster) (2008-9)

On June 17 2008, pop culture changed forever. In a wave of club-ready synthpop, and a Bowie-inspired lightning bolt across her face, Lady Gaga had arrived to revolutionise pop music. Of course, we didn’t actually realise it at the time – it would be another 6 months before the single reached the top of the charts across the world. But when we fell for Gaga, we fell hard. Quickly following up with ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Paparazzi’, it was obvious that Lady Gaga was no one hit wonder. By the end of the summer, we had The Fame, as powerful a mission statement as any debut has ever been. From the dance-fuelled drum machine beats of ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’ to the more vulnerable side of ‘Brown Eyes’, The Fame gave us a star in every sense of the word. 

But even that wasn’t enough. By the end of 2009, Lady Gaga had somehow managed to improve on perfection when deluxe version The Fame Monster appeared on the scene. ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Alejandro’ and Beyoncé duet ‘Telephone’ launched her from just the Next Big Thing to an unequivocal cultural icon. Her whole journey, from the Grammys to the Academy Award, can all be traced back to this moment. (Vicky Greer)

Florence and the Machine – Lungs (2009)

There is not a single song on this album that doesn’t invoke an ungodly amount of emotion in me. From start to finish, each song makes me FEEL so intensely. I remember downloading this onto my iPod shuffle as a new release, aged 8, and it has remained a constant in my life ever since. I think the release of this album has made me the person I am today: a soundtrack for witchy autumns, feeling mysterious on the bus and dancing in my kitchen, every song smells like floral perfume and patchouli oil.

With the hopefulness of songs like 'Dog Days are Over' contrasting the doom and gloom of 'Howl', there is a track here for any situation or emotion, which is pure talent. To be so versatile in your first feature length album is a feat in itself, but to proceed with that technique throughout your career is incredible. My favourite part of this work of art is how it is so down to Earth and real, with the realism of alcohol dependency creeping throughout the songs – for something so beautiful to be related to pain proves the two often go hand in hand. In short: I love Florence Welch. (Evie Gower)

Keaton Henson - Dear (2010)

Keaton Henson’s impact is forever underestimated, in part due to his mysterious presence in pop culture and cryptic relationship with his audience, own music and identity. Even before we even discuss the importance of Dear, Keaton redefined what it meant to be a musician in the 2010s, just as the peaking of social media came to demand a public presence. He rarely performs, has given interviews via drawings to avoid speaking, and was paralysed by stage fright right at his musical prime. But all that didn’t stop him from releasing a debut album formative in crafting the sad boy/sad girl sound. Tracks like ‘Sarah Minor’ and ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’ will undoubtedly be on the playlists for artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo today.

Defy any genres or sounds that came before it, Dear isn’t even acoustic. It’s scratchy and brutal and dark in a way that sets it apart from the Damien Rices of the world without going to far as to enter the rock world. It’s an album that would’ve launched a star had he let it. But instead, Dear launched a cult figure that remains as elusive as ever despite his impact. (Lucy Harbron)

The Vaccines -What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? (2011)

No album is more reminiscent of cheap vodka red bulls being necked in a dingy, indie-themed bar, probably sporting an Alex Turner poster covering something unsightly near the loos, than What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, the eponymous debut record of The Vaccines.

Dropping in 2011 after a massive swell of, well, expectation, the genre defining record, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? solidified itself as one of the last great releases of the indie landfill era. This being a movement that swept the UK music scene, championing unpolished tracks that thrived in their closeness to the listener's reality- it felt like music for normal people going through normal things that felt bizarrely abnormal. And that's the key to the record's legacy 11 years later, when you can still find 'If You Wanna' and 'Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)' blasted in the surviving aforementioned indie bars.

An innately human charm, incredibly fast, short songs that lend themselves to live performances and house parties, and big indie riffs created an unforgettable record, that caps out at only 35 minutes long. A lot of energy in a small package that holds up against the test of time. (David Roskin)

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (2012)

The year was 2012, ‘Video Games’ had just soundtracked a pivotal moment for Chuck and Blair in Gossip girl and the tumblr sad-girl aesthetic was thriving. As somebody who was one of those chronically online sad-girls when Lana Del Rey burst onto the scene with Born To Die, it was mad to see the way this album permeated through the different subcultures and ultimately I think it came down the fact that 99% of the themes of Born To Die were so thoroughly unrelatable as a 15-year-old, but the album was so cinematic that it was hard not to feel like the main character as you sang along in your bedroom.

Bearing witness to this, it isn’t at all surprising that it’s managed to cement itself as a mainstay in “2014core” memes and to this day, Born To Die is probably the best advertising campaign either flower crowns, Pabst Blue Ribbon, or Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita ever received. (Niamh Pillinger) 

CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe (2013)

CHVRCHES’ debut album The Bones of What You Believe is a very special album – nearly 10 years old but still feels impossibly fresh all these years later. From the opening samples of ‘The Mother We Share’ to the closing synths of ‘You Caught the Light’, this is an album which turned three Scots from indie blog darlings to bona fide synth-pop mainstays and rightfully so with its delicious layers of synths deeply embedded throughout the album.

What makes it so good though? Is it the now semi-iconic ‘The Mother We Share’? Is it the ‘SAY SAY SAY!’ backing vocals on ‘We Sink’? Is it the moment of elation when the synths hit in fan favourite ‘Tether’? Well, all these and so many more. In fact, too many to list. This is an album with so many little moments of genius spread across 48 minutes that even now there’s new bits to be discovered on every listen. ‘The Bones of What You Believe’ is a truly magnificent debut record that not only defined an era of British indie-pop but also, arguably, set the blueprint of what was to come for the rest of the decade. (Josh Williams)

Hozier - Hozier (2014)

Hozier’s 2014 debut self-titled album shot the Irish singer/songwriter into the mainstream, a place not often occupied by traditional blues and soul; both of which feature heavily throughout. Hozier demonstrates the singer’s musical dexterity, from raw blues (‘Alone With You’; ‘It Will Come Back’) to gospel-inspired depth (‘Work Song’, ‘Foreigner’s God’) and upbeat soul (‘Jackie and Wilson’, ‘Someone New;).

Hozier’s impeccable ability to convey emotion is also showcased throughout. His use of religious symbolism and references to literary fables, particularly on the lead single, ‘Take Me To Church’ - which uses such symbolism to criticise the Church - add profound depth to the songs’ meaning, marking the singer as a truly great lyricist.

The album brings the most raw of influences into the contemporary music landscape, a quality that still gives the record a distinctive appeal. Listening today reveals its timeless wholesome nature, some 12 years after its release. (Adam Wright)

Gwenno - Y Dydd Olaf (2015)

It was fitting that the 2015 debut solo outing from Gwenno in Y Dydd Olaf was released on Heavenly Recordings. Sounding as if it jad descended from the otherworldly plains itself, Gwenno's debut feels like the soundtrack to transcendence and was a perfect introduction to the artist.

Cosmic sci-fi, space-pop bliss along with touches of psychedelia, all sung in Gwenno's native Welsh, Y Dydd Olaf is an ethereal masterpiece. True sonic nirvana that isn't just one of the finest debuts, but it very well could and should be deemed as one of the finest albums since the turn of the millennium, period. (Brad Sked)

SZA - Ctrl (2017)

SZA’s debut album, Ctrl, cemented her place in the industry as a versatile and boundary-pushing R&B artist, as she explored the highs and lows of womanhood in a truly outstanding debut album. Complete with stunning vocals and a mix of different genres - from trap to pop - Ctrl’s lyrical content covered breakups, make-ups, and even the struggles of being ‘20 Something’.

From ‘Love Galore’ featuring Travis Scott to ‘Doves In The Wind’ featuring Kendrick Lamar, Ctrl provided a soundtrack to the summer of 2017 and the excitement of growing up and navigating new relationships. An album standout has to be ‘Drew Barrymore’, with cheeky and bold lyrics like “Is it warm enough for you inside me?”. The music video even features a cameo from actress Drew Barrymore herself!

Though this is still SZA’s only album, it’ll be hard for her to top due to its refreshing nature and beautifully experimental sound. (Lauren Cox)

Matt Maltese – Bad Contestant (2018)

Matt Maltese is an artist who will never fail me. The perfect bridging between sad indie music and beautiful crooning, which is perfectly up my street. I don’t care if I’m in a happy relationship: Bad Contestant, an album about unrequited love, will never not be my go-to vinyl to put on my record player.

I think more musicians should embrace using pianos: it is my favourite instrument at the way Maltese plays is full of passion and makes the emotion of each song heighten. His dedication to playing, writing, and producing every part of this album is almost soul-bearing; like I’m operating the confessional booth at the church of alternative music, and Matt Maltese has just stepped in. I often consider the act of self-deprecation in art to be one that’s better left unsaid, or hidden in metaphors, but the straightforward way that Maltese discusses his insecurities – the titular song having the line ‘I ain’t much, but baby I could impress you’ is so honest that it makes my heart melt. Here’s to men embracing their emotion for women they fancy without being egotistical OR aggressive! (Evie Gower)

Fontaines D.C - Dogrel (2019)

From the clattering drums of opener ‘Big’ to the closing drunken waltz ‘Dublin City Sky;, Dogrel is an album that through infectious melodies and vivid lyricism delivered upon it’s hype; despite the poisoned chalice “saviours of rock n roll” label which has been the ruin of many a fresh-faced indie band. Its as exciting as debut records come, bursting with personality with little fat to be found across the track list, moving at a swift pace with a kinetic energy comprised of thumping bass-lines and guitars that rip like speedway bikes. 

It might have its footing in punk-rock, but frontman/lyricist Grian Chatten positions the band away from their contemporaries through his thoughtful reflections on the modern Irish experience and when delivered through his delectable Dublin drawl, it conjures up a sound that’s altogether more articulate and romantic than aggressive. 

Like many debuts, it wears its influences tightly on its sleeve, and subsequent releases have seen the band tighten up in tone, which perhaps leaves Dogrel to be the bands least cohesive release. But based upon sheer individual song strength, it remains undoubtedly their most enjoyable. (Ryan Bell)

The Mysterines - Reeling (2022)

Though Reeling was dropped this year, and so hasn’t been judged by the fullness of time, it feels like it’ll be looked back on as the start of something. Its grungy rock ’n’ roll brings a tangible excitement for what might be next.

After breaking through their local scene in Liverpool, the excitement around The Mysterines now goes much further than merseyside. They’re a band with enough attitude to take on the world, and Reeling is a testament to that fact.

Incendiary cuts like ‘Life’s A Bitch (But I Like It So Much)’ and ‘In My Head’, as well the swagger of ‘Old Friends/Die Hard’ do their bit in carving out the band’s intentions. Tunes like ‘Under Your Skin’, meanwhile, showcase a more sludgy, PJ Harvey inspired sound.

Like Arctic Monkeys before them, The Mysterines have introduced us to a fresh sound we didn’t know we were waiting for. (Adam Wright)

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

More about:

Photo: -