Before I unveil my picks for the best albums of the year AND the decade, I'll throw out a few other lists here. Like the title says, this is for bands that released the best debut LPs (EPs were considered but none made it) this year. Keep in mind this doesn't disqualify these bands from appearing in the overall "best of" list. Guess I'll just start from the top with this one:
1. DM Stith - Heavy Ghost
Singer/songwriter DM Stith (born David Michael) released this year's best debut album and one of my personal favorites for the entire year overall. Haunting, dark, and wholly absorbing, Heavy Ghost is an unforgettable trip through Stith's delightfully strange mind. The combination of sincere, insightful lyrics - often dealing with the artist's struggle with faith and religion - and swirling instrumentals - a combination of eerie harmonies, sweeping strings, and acoustic guitars - makes this a musical experience you're not likely to forget.
Pity Dance (MP3 via Asthmatic Kitty)
2. fun. - Aim and Ignite
It's a little strange to consider fun. (yes, lower case AND punctuation intended) true newcomers as all three members have been involved in other projects (The Format, Steel Train, Anathallo), but this seems to be a permanent new project for the boys who have made a fantastic album their first go-round. With the high vocals and sharp writing of ex-Format frontman Nate Ruess to lead them, the trio makes explosive orchestral pop music as consistently fun and fresh as anything released this year. Fun indeed.
3. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains
Right from the opening of the lead track, "And the Hazy Sea," on Cymbals Eat Guitars' first record - I was hooked. The indie rockers take influences such as Pavement and Built to Spill and add plenty of their own unique identity to craft rough, dynamic rock 'n' roll tunes that I have returned to again and again throughout the year. The formula of guitars, drums, and bass is simple and straightforward, but the band is full of ideas which they consistently execute to perfection.
MySpace (download non-album track "Tunguska")
4. Fanfarlo - Reservoir
British indie collective Fanfarlo are, in my humble opinion, one of the most overlooked bands this year. Not just because they've created a stellar first album, Reservoir, but because I think their sound is so universally appealing. Using plenty of brass, strings, percussion and a little of everything else, Fanfarlo's style of epic indie pop is lush, full and beautifully presented. And with strong songwriting thrown into the mix, the results are consistently spectacular.
MP3s via Obscure Sound
5. Memory Tapes - Seek Magic
Dayve Hawk has been around for a while now, releasing music under one moniker or another, but Seek Magic is his first wide-release effort. He makes highly detailed electronica that's difficult to describe but very easy to enjoy, using a variety of effects, instruments and his own vocals in a way that occasionally brings to mind artists like LCD Soundsystem but remains unique to Hawk. The eight songs of his debut cover quite a bit of territory yet they work as a cohesive and compelling whole in one of this year's best first efforts.
Blog (lots of free tunes)
6. Deastro - Moondagger
Deastro is another one-man electronica project (it's a theme, you'll see one more down the line), though Randolph Chabot has received a bit less attention than some of his peers. He's no less talented, however, and the mixture of organic and synthetic elements comprising his music makes for a fascinating sound on his debut, Moondagger. Chabot's lyrics are filled with both bizarre sci-fi references and sentimental declarations, yet somehow his sincerely positive attitude makes it all work with his energetic electro-rock style.
Grower EP (Free Download)
7. jj - jj n° 2
It's possible that the musicians behind Swedish pop group jj have been unveiled, but as of a few months ago, it remained a mystery. But their music speaks plenty for itself anyway, appropriately receiving accolades across the 'net for its smooth, sultry tropical style. With heavenly female vocals, sunny, relaxed beats, and sharp production, jj n° 2 is a brief but absolutely gorgeous record that effectively puts jj on the map, whoever they are.
8. The xx - xx
They've even shared the stage with jj, but lower-case letters aside, The xx has little in common with the Swedes. Now a trio (down a member after some exhaustive touring), The xx creates sparse, haunting pop music led by dual vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, whose soft voices enhance the captivating melodies and darkly sexy lyrics. The album does take some patience and the right setting to really come alive, but when it does, the results are striking.
9. Capybara - Try Brother
Capybara is definitely the least visible band on this list, but it's not for lack of making amazing music. Their slightly freaky folk sound is often subdued but consistently interesting and always melodic, and their debut album, Try Brother, is quite an opening statement. The songs shift and twist, build and subside, rarely going where you expect but entertaining consistently. Capybara deserve more credit than they've been given for this first effort, but hopefully it's a sign of even better things to come.
10. Pictureplane - Dark Rift
The third solo electronica project on this list, Pictureplane is the musical project of Travis Egedy. Egedy is more focused on the club/dance side of things than his peers, but his fractured beats, insistent synths and often listless vocals aren't exactly a recipe for mainstream attention. His proper debut, Dark Rift, is a sprawling collection of avant-garde loops and scratchy production that somehow form cohesive and engaging songs that have certainly made him a person of interest in the indie scene.