The best debut albums (and EPs) of the year… so far!

It’s perhaps never been more daunting to be an emerging artist. Gigging is out of the question while temporary lockdown means that plenty of new bands have had to slam the brakes on any momentum heading into this summer. Constant self-promotion and half-baked video sessions are the norm – many unable to make a penny. To those powering through and trying to turn this period into a positive – NME salutes you.

But aside from the doom, pockets of light have emerged. These banging debut albums – EPs and mixtapes included – from Emma-Jean Thackray’s freeflowing jazz to Do Nothing’s righteous rage and Public Practice’s disco-punk grooves suggest that when we look back at 2020 – rising artists continued to thrill.

There’ll be some new names and a few familiar ones, but know that these collections are the very best of the bunch.

Easy Life – ‘Junk Food’

There are songs on this mixtape that deserve to be right up there in the UK charts. Whether it’s the funky ‘Nice Guys’, the wonky ‘Earth’ or the tongue-in-cheek ‘Dead Celebrities’, there’s proof here that Easy Life are becoming some of Britain’s most astute and witty songwriters. Key track: ‘Dead Celebrities’ Read the full review Thomas Smith

070 Shake – ‘Modus Vivendi’

On ‘Modus Vivendi’, she 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 project sculpted away from current trends. Key track: ‘Under The Moon’ Read the full review Dhruva Balram

Sofia Kourtesis – ‘Sarita Colonia’

Following on from 2019’s self-titled debut, the Peruvian-born, Berlin-based producer gleefully gobbles up the sounds and inspirations of her habitats and conjures something truly unique on ‘Sarita Colonia’. This EP’s title track would no doubt have been a sweaty staple in the dance tents at this summer’s festivals. Key track: ‘Sarita Colonia’ Thomas Smith

Emma-Jean Thackray – ‘Rain Dance’

There’s some dextrous playing in Thackray’s new EP, ‘Rain Dance’. Whether it be on the smoky double-opener ‘Rain Dance/Wisdom’, the hip-hop leaning ‘Open’ or dancefloor dynamo ‘Movementt’ – Thackray’s vision is fully realised alongside her most ambitious compositions to date. Key track: ‘Movementt’ Thomas Smith

Sorry – ‘925’

A playful mix of indie, electro, jazz, pop and experimental music, ‘925’ has fun with the old maxim that there are no new ideas. Take lead single and signature song ‘Right Round The Clock’, which gleefully rips off 1980s band Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’. Key track: ‘More’ Read the full review Jordan Bassett

Do Nothing – ‘Zero Dollar Bill’

If you’re faced with a sense of confusion or boredom at the state of things in life right now – then Do Nothing are the people providing your anthems. After all, the band have said they deal in such currencies. This EP has all the makings of a legendary first statement. Key track: ‘Fits’ Read the full review Rhys Buchanan

Rina Sawayama – ‘SAWAYAMA’

What do Limp Bizkit, Korn and Rina Sawayama have in common? Answer – they’re all pros in creating nu-metal smashes. On ‘STFU!’, the lead single for Sawayama’s debut album ‘SAWAYAMA’, the British-Japanese singer rails against the racist micro-aggressions she’s had to put up with throughout her life. Key track: ‘STFU!’ Read the full review Hannah Mylrea

Jessie Reyez Before Love Came To Kill Us

Jessie Reyez – ‘Before Love Came To Kill Us’

As introductions go, this album is an immediate insight into who the Colombian-Canadian musician is: ferocious in both her feelings and talent, unfiltered and extremely powerful. She isn’t messing around in this missive to an ex and you can bet that attitude carries through to the rest of this heart-stoppingly good record. Key track: ‘Coffin’ Read the full review Rhian Daly

Headie One x Fred again.. – ‘GANG’

The music feels far more experimental and rooted in melancholy than his previous work. The fact that it features Jamie xx, FKA Twigs, Slowthai, Octavian and Sampha also reflects just how much Headie’s star is starting to climb. Key track: ‘Smoke’ Read the full review Thomas Hobbs

Ambar Lucid – ‘Garden of Lucid’

On her debut full-length, the New Jersey-based artist continuously, seamlessly, and seemingly indiscriminately, switches between Spanish and English – often in the same verse, sometimes even during a single sentence. The collision allows full immersion in the engaging, commanding delivery and the mystical, dream-like atmospheres crafted on the record’s nine tracks. Key track: ‘Universe’ Read the full review Luke Morgan Britton

Yaeji – ‘What We Drew’

Yaeji has described the project as diary-like and while its fluctuating sound certainly has a sketchbook quality, the mixtape is full of searching and reflection lyrically too. ‘IN THE MIRROR 거울’ describes that familiar feeling of mile-high contemplation, while closer ‘Never Settling Down’ is a promise to keep true to oneself. Key track:  Read the full review Luke Morgan Britton

Buscabulla – ‘Regresa’

The journey home to Puerto Rico for the pair has been perilous, but that mix of rage and hope is potent. They see a better community on the horizon, but know that they must be a part of its foundations – ‘Regresa’ is a magnificent rumination on those complex emotions. Key track: ‘NTE’ Read the full review Thomas Smith

Public Practice – ‘Gentle Grip’

Recorded largely in guitarist Vince McClelland’s home studio, it gives an alternative to Dua Lipa’s super-polished pop take on the shimmying sounds of the ‘70s, feeling delightfully handmade as it struts through 12 sublime tracks that transport you out of the four walls of your home and into a world much sparklier, sweatier and fun. Key track: ‘Cities’ Read the full review Rhian Daly

Nation of Language – ‘Introduction, Presence’

The Brooklyn new wave trio pair incisive synth-pop and brutally sad lyricism on their debut and make make riveting case for ’80s revival on their enthralling debut album. Key track: ‘Tournament’ Read the full review Rhys Buchanan

India Jordan – ‘For You’

Inspired by formatives years in the North East, India Jordan strikes the perfect balance between joyous euphoria and vulnerable emotion. Be prepared for utopian rave weapons and would-be festival anthems. Key track: ‘I’m Waiting (Just 4 You)’ Read the full review Ben Jolley

Sports Team – ‘Deep Down Happy’

Their journey thus far has been a gloriously messy trip of seemingly stupid decisions, underdog heroism and pure passion, filling a gap in the lives of many bored and disenfranchised indie fans. This is the sound of a band who are done being the underdogs. Key track: ‘Here’s The Thing’ Read the full review Will Richards

Westerman – ‘Your Hero Is Not Dead’

‘Your Hero Is Not Dead’ is an entrancing exploration of the psyche that considers the fallibility of being human. Amid its waterlogged guitars and metronomic drum machine beats lie gleaming acoustics and chirping synths. Comparisons to lofty folk experimentalists Arthur Russell and John Martyn are justified. Key track: ‘The Line’ Read the full review Charlotte Krol

Bob Vylan – ‘We Live Here’

‘We Live Here’ is now a reflection of the frustration being displayed right now – it’s painful in its directness and that’s exactly the point. The release ends with ‘Moment Of Silence’ which plays out dead air. It’s an ‘over to you, we’ve said our piece’ moment. Key track: ‘Here’s The Thing’ Read the full review Rhys Buchanan

The Lazy Eyes – ‘EP1’

Their blend of vintage instrumentation and explorative feel-good rhythms has lead to comparisons in Tame Impala and King Gizzard. Sure, these names are flung at every new group in their field, The Lazy Eyes debut EP does encapsulate the magic of such heavyweights, packing all signs of another psych giant. Key track: ‘Tangerine’ Read the full review Rhys Buchanan

Jockstrap – ‘Wicked City’

How on earth does one describe this new EP by Jockstrap? ‘Wicked City’ bubbles with the joy of creation as Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery dance around one another, her plaintive songwriting draped in his wild, fizzy production like an intoxicating mist. Key track: ‘The City’ Read the full review Luke Cartledge

Remi Wolf – ‘I’m Allergic To Dogs’

‘I’m Allergic To Dogs!’ is about as solid a record you could hope for from an artist who plucks from their favourite music but doesn’t diminish their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. It’s a creative, fun and uninhibited collection of soulful songs that will sharpen those yearnings for carefree partying post-lockdown. Key track: ‘Photo ID’ Read the full review Charlotte Krol

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