The 20 best debut albums of 2020

These artists made memorable first statements with their debut albums

Debut album releases are not best-suited for pandemics. The releases ought to be celebrated out on the road, scrambling from city to city for in-store gigs and signings, or at the live shows and festivals in the ensuing months. More than ever, a release-week boost is crucial to supporting emerging artists and establishing a career.

This lot have been creative, though. They’ve spun the situation into positives with live-streamed gigs, virtual record signings and listening parties on social media to celebrate the fruits of their labour. And they deserve to be celebrated.

Over at the Radar section we’ve been harping on about the following records all year long, celebrating releases from new artists across the globe and throughout the musical spectrum. From electro-punk and droning shoegaze to drill breakthroughs and nu-metal-indebted pop, an array of artists have stepped up their game in a year that’s been anything but uneventful.

Contributors: Ali Shutler, Ben Jolley, Hannah Mylrea, Katy Hills, Kyann-Sian Williams, Luke Cartledge, Mia Hughes, Rhian Daly, Rhys Buchanan, Sophie Williams, Thomas Smith, Will Richards.

070 Shake – ‘Modus Vivendi’

Who: G.O.O.D Music-affiliated rapper with a taste for ambient, emo-tinged epics
What NME said: “On Modus Vivendi, 070 Shake manages to craft a sound that’s anthemic, and built for festivals and clubs; but within the grooves, she’s precise. Nothing feels out of place. This is a project sculpted away from current trends.” Read more
Key track: ‘Guilty Conscience’

Bartees Strange – ‘Live Forever’

Who: Washington, DC indie hero with a fan in Paramore’s Hayley Williams and The National
What NME said: “The record resists conforming to genre at every turn, blending shades of indie rock, hip-hop, punk, country and more — often within the same song. It’s more than just a signifier of Cox’s varied musical appetite: it’s a deliberate defiance of the racist pressure on Black artists to subscribe to a single mould.” Read more
Key track: ‘Boomer’

bdrmm – ‘Bedroom’

Who: Hull-based shoegazers writing about the trials and tribulations of young life in the North
What NME said: “bdrmm have mastered that fine art of conveying emotion through their music with a deft intelligence, and their debut immerses you with each listen and says: ‘Hey, it’s okay to screw up now and again – but learn from it.’ A glorious and human introduction, this is without doubt a modern-day shoegaze classic.” Read more
Key track: ‘Gush’

Beabadoobee – ‘Fake It Flowers’

Who: ‘90s-loving Londoner making alt-rock for a new generation
What NME said: “The leap from bedroom-dweller to teenage riot instigator has been a swift and fruitful one, and what could be considered derivative is genuine in every sense.” Read more
Key track: ‘Care’

Boy Pablo – ‘Wachito Rico’

Who: Norwegian indie-pop heartthrob pays tribute to his heritage
What NME said: “‘Wachito Rico’ exudes a breadth of musicianship that proves Boy Pablo is no flash in the pan, despite having found viral fame overnight. This magnificent debut confirms that Lady Luck – and YouTube algorithms – couldn’t have smiled on a more deserving individual.” Read more
Key track: ‘Wachito Rico’

Chubby and the Gang – ‘Speed Kills’

Who: West London hardcore punks living life in the very fast lane.
What NME said: “Sonic diversity is indeed on display on ‘Speed Kills’, although the pacing of the record, which crams 13 tracks into just 28 pummelling minutes, is practically breakneck.” Read more
Key track: ‘All Along The Uxbridge Road’

Crack Cloud – ‘Pain Olympics’

Who: Canadian art-punk collective fusing community spirit with forward-thinking creativity
What NME said: “A sonic journey that mirrors the real-life one that the collective remain on, ‘Pain Olympics’ is a disturbing, joyous, cataclysmic listen that travels from claustrophobia and fear into wide-eyed expressions of joy.” Read more
Key track: ‘Ouster Stew’

Dominic Fike – ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ 

Who: Floridian new-age rockstar coming good on the hype with assured debut
What NME said: “Like Post Malone, Fike dips his toe in every genre possible, from party-pop (‘Chicken Tenders’, ‘Wurli’) to slinky R&B (‘Vampire’, ‘What’s For Dinner’), all of which comes with just about the right level of self-pity (‘Superstar Shit’). His dexterity – and awareness of when to duck out of a song and move on – ensures that this ride never goes screeching off the side of the road.” Read more
Key track: ‘Chicken Tenders’

Don Toliver – ‘Heaven Or Hell’

Who: Cactus Jack-signed rebel who ropes in label boss Travis Scott for explosive debut
What NME said: “Sultry slow jam ‘No Idea’ had everyone whining their arms dancing with their pals, dogs, soulmates – you name it. And everyone’s love for the infectious dance made Don Toliver rap’s new super crooner.” Read more
Key track: ‘No Idea’

Ela Minus – ‘acts of rebellion’

Who: Bogotá-born, Brooklyn-based producer making bruising techno-punk to protest alongside
What NME said: “This innovative debut album fuses urgent anthems with meditative moments to soundtrack the momentum of change” Read more
Key track: ‘megapunk’

Headie One – ‘Edna’

Who: London drill star elevating himself to a household name
What NME said: “The rapper’s Drake-featuring debut studio album caps off a wildly prolific period of ascendance, and is a clear (and persuasive) bid for transatlantic stardom” Read more
Key track: ‘Ain’t It Different’

Jessie Reyez – ‘Before Love Came To Kill Us’

Who: Deathly-exciting Canadian hand-picked to support on Billie Eilish’s recent (but aborted) world tour
What NME said: “A heart-stoppingly good record on which the 28-year-old is fascinated by death and mortality. It’s there in the title and infiltrates most of the songs.” Read more
Key track: ‘Do You Love Her’

Megan Thee Stallion – ‘Good News’

Who: Houston star who turned a difficult year into a swashbuckling debut
What NME said: “On her debut, the 25-year-old combines West Coast samples with the Southern sounds of her youth. The message: she’s staying sunny, despite her setbacks.” Read more
Key track: ‘Cry Baby’

Moses Boyd – ‘Dark Matter’

Who: Mercury Prize-nominated drummer makes a beeline for the dancefloor on stunning solo debut
What NME said: “Boyd’s ‘Dark Matter’ – his solo debut as a producer and band leader proper – draws on such a melting-pot of genres and styles where complex jazz rhythms sit alongside electronica, dance, rock, grime and pop. Whilst its head leans towards the mathematical with its polymath rhythms and intricate structures, its heart is firmly on the dancefloor.” Read more
Key track: ‘2 Far Gone’

Nova Twins – ‘Who Are The Girls?’

Who: Devilishly-heavy and vivid punk-rock from trailblazing UK duo
What NME said: “A hyperactive album that blends influences but refuses to play by anyone else’s rules, it’s a defiant, excitable debut.” Read more
Key track: ‘Vortex’

Rina Sawayama – ‘SAWAYAMA’

Who: British pop newcomer whose stellar debut album dabbles with futuristic-pop and nu-metal
What NME said: “From the raucous nu-metal to glittering R&B, ‘SAWAYAMA’ is an honest, genre-exploding self-portrait. Drawing on every aspect of her identity, Sawayama creates an expansive musical account of her personal history, all bolstered by her impressive experimental song-writing techniques. And on top of that, she’s somehow managed to make nu-metal sound effortlessly cool.” Read more
Key track: ‘STFU!’

Samia – ‘The Baby’

Who: Coming-of-age indie rock from sardonic, direct New Yorker
What NME said: “Part Brooklyn-punk, part folk-troubadour, ‘The Baby’ marks the coming-of-age of an intriguing songwriter, who isn’t afraid to take on the anxieties and uncertainties that keep you awake in the small hours.” Read more
Key track: ‘The Wheel’

Sorry – ‘925’

Who: Domino-signed South London gang master the studio in dense, delightful debut
What NME said: “The London band nick ideas from the previous generation as if slipping £20 notes from their parents’ purses. It’s so brazen it’s actually exciting” Read more
Key track: ‘More’

Sports Team – ‘Deep Down Happy’

Who: Cambridge lot writing compelling, raucous love-letters to old-school indie
What NME said: “The gobbiest new bunch on the block cement their early promise with a debut album full of hedonism, tribalism and untamed energy” Read more
Key track: ‘Here’s The Thing’

Working Men’s Club – ‘Working Men’s Club’

Who: Pulsating electro-punk brainchild of Todmordon’s Syd Minskey-Sargaent
What NME said: “An attention-demanding debut that couldn’t have come at a better time. Hope, despair, destruction and the desire for new beginnings, their chaotic energy makes perfect sense in these strange times.” Read more
Key track: ‘Valleys’

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