As we’ve passed the halfway mark of the year, we’re taking stock of what’s already come. NME’s Albums Of The Year list (so far) highlighted the biggest and best full-length releases; a who’s-who of 2022’s starry musical cast. And here at Radar, we’ve had a similarly explosive and exciting slate of releases. As festivals have returned for their first full summer since 2019, we’ve been able to embrace and enjoy the debuts like we haven’t been able to for some time.
In our list of 2022’s best debut albums (so far, of course), we’re highlighting the newcomers who’ve made a real statement of intent: from Belgian electro-pop to noise-rock from the heart of Chicago. Here are the debut albums that have been banging out of the Radar desk’s stereo this year…
Thomas Smith, Commissioning Editor (New Music)
Words: Sam Moore, Thomas Smith, Sophie Williams
Alfie Templeman – ‘Mellow Moon’
Who: The Bedfordshire singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has been drip-feeding new music through a variety of formats since 2018. So the arrival of his debut LP proper in May, which is packed full of colourful pop sounds and candid reflections on his struggles with his mental health, felt like a real statement of intent. “With this album, I pushed myself to be more honest than ever,” Templeman told NME. “I want people to see that this is a new chapter.”
What NME said: “The songs are immediate and involving: there’s real angst between the synth stabs on the glistening ‘Broken’, his biggest and boldest pop moment to date, its rippling keys giving way to a deliciously juddering chorus.”
Key track: ‘Broken’ SM
Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul – ‘Topical Dancer’
Who: The Ghent, Belgium-based dance duo’s debut is one of the most fun records you’ll hear all year, but it packs a powerful punch. Adigéry’s wry lyrics tackle racism, misogyny and everyday microaggressions, marking her out as a compelling narrator for the dancefloor. “There’s a certain peace on certain topics that has come to me,” she told NME. “Like on ‘Blenda’, racism is something I still encounter, but writing that song made me gain strength. It helped go beyond it and not feel victimised, something I’ve felt for a long time.”
What NME said: “They have created an album that works just as well as the soundtrack to a killer house party as it does a necessary act of rebellion against the negative forces in our society.”
Key track: ‘Blenda’ SM
CMAT – ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’
Who: Across her heartfelt debut, Dublin’s new country-pop star Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson – AKA CMAT – deftly expresses her self-aware sense of humour while showcasing her ability to craft playful pop. “I think a lot of people think that I’m a humourist or comedy songwriter,” CMAT told NME. “I take [my music] very seriously – I hope with this album those people may finally understand I’m actually really, really good at writing songs.” Mission accomplished.
What NME said: “This record offers a maelstrom of mistakes and confusion and glee and love and loneliness and hope – and the mess of it all makes for the biggest gift.”
Key track: ‘Every Bottle (Is My Boyfriend)’ SM
HAAi – ‘Baby, We’re Ascending’
Who: Australian-born, London-based dance producer and DJ Teneil Throssell followed up her breakthrough 2020 EP ‘Put Your Head Above The Parakeets’ with the joyous and self-aware ‘Baby, We’re Ascending’ in May. Featuring big-name collaborations with Hot Chip‘s Alexis Taylor and Jon Hopkins, this optimistic and euphoric full-length effort has further justified the great excitement surrounding HAAi.
What NME said: “‘Baby, We’re Ascending’ feels as though it was made to carry you through the tender transition from night to daybreak, watching the sun rise as you ride the bus home. It’s light and transcendent, but also assured of itself even in its most vulnerable moments.”
Key track: ‘Purple Jelly Disc’ SM
Horsegirl – ‘Versions Of Modern Performance’
Who: With their thrilling debut album, the Chicago trio – who are signed to seminal label Matador (Interpol, Pavement) – marked themselves out as rock heroes-in-waiting: the riffs are dynamic and bright, while their shared vision is future-facing and commanding. In their music you can hear a little bit of Sonic Youth and the Smashing Pumpkins, but a whole lot of something of their own, too – this record showcases an abundance of potential.
What NME said: “Compelling from its first note to its very last, the record presents a band who, yes, are still in their infancy, but clearly know who they are and what that sounds like.”
Key track: ‘Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)’ SW
Koffee – ‘Gifted’
Who: The Jamaican’s debut album was like a blast of sunshine into a world otherwise mired in dreary goings-on. This would come as little surprise: Koffee became the first woman to win Best Reggae Album at the Grammys in 2020 with her mixtape ‘Rapture’, cementing her place as an artist pushing her scene – and sound – forward.
What NME said: “Given its creator’s effortless vocals, smart lyricism and obvious ability to craft new bangers, ‘Gifted’ will only add to the clamour surrounding Koffee’s name: time will tell how far she will continue to rise from this point.”
Key track: ‘Shine’ TS
The Linda Lindas – ‘Growing Up’
Who: It’s a story that’s been told far and wide: four young musicians were catapulted to viral success in May 2021 thanks to a brilliant, barnstorming performance of their song ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’. ‘Growing Up’, released a year later, marked a new chapter for the LA band as it solidified the idea of what The Linda Lindas represent: a bright, focused group of pals determined to keep the spirit of punk alive.
What NME said: “It can be easy to forget the intricacies of growing up: sure, we remember the personal and existential questioning and the painful or embarrassing lessons, but do we also remember facing all of that with intelligence, resilience and open-heartedness? To hear all of this across an album made by those actually in the thick of it is immensely valuable.”
Key track: ‘Growing Up’ SW
Los Bitchos – ‘Let The Festivities Begin’
Who: The London-based four-piece enlisted Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos to produce their fittingly titled debut ‘Let The Festivities Begin’, which mixes surf guitars, boundless positivity and sounds from Argentina, Peru and Turkey. “We don’t care what people think about [our music], because we love it and find it funny,” drummer Nic Crawshaw told NME. “We’re just lucky that people get it.”
What NME said: “‘Let The Festivities Begin!’ is the surf-exotica soundtrack to post-pandemic fun.”
Key track: ‘The Link Is About To Die’ SM
Luna Li – ‘Duality’
Who: Luna Li has been chipping away with her spritely indie-pop for some time now, but she must have been doing something right to alert her peers: this debut album features fellow risers like Dreamer Isioma and established names like Beabadoobee and Jay Som. Together, they plot a gorgeous course.
What NME said: “Although she says she’s still figuring out what or where her place is, ‘Duality’ gives us a beautiful window into where she’s at and where she’s been since beginning work on it in 2017.”
Key track: ‘Trying’ TS
Mallrat – ‘Butterfly Blue’
Who: Brisbane’s Mallrat (real name Grace Shaw) became one of Australia’s brightest alt-pop prospects after her woozy 2017 breakout single ‘Uninvited’ initially marked her out as one to watch. May’s ‘Butterfly Blue’, with its sweet melodies, witty lyrics and dreamlike soundscapes, has done the Mallrat hype no harm at all.
What NME said: “It’s ordinary, dreamlike, and utterly relatable – the very essence of Mallrat, on her most compelling release of many to come.”
Key track: ‘Rockstar’ SM
The Mysterines – ‘Reeling’
Who: The array of young rockers in the British music scene is plentiful, but the Liverpool group have always stood out from the crowd. At first, it was the sheer power of Lia Metcalfe’s show-stopping voice, but with their full-length debut, The Mysterines took their time to write epic songs to match their vocalist’s top-tier talent.
What NME said: “‘Reeling’ is gripping throughout, and the band always seem ready to ascend to another level.”
Key track: ‘On The Run’ TS
Omar Apollo – ‘Ivory’
Who: The genre-hopping Mexican-American musician has been building a solid fanbase over the past five years, and with good reason: people just can’t get enough of Omar Apollo’s mix of groovy hits, guitar licks and tender sonic expressions of love, lust and heartbreak. Apollo leaned more into his R&B side on his lush debut LP ‘Ivory’ to great success – what can’t this man do?
What NME said: “The arrangements are consistently lush and layered, while Apollo’s pleas of confusion, unrequited crushes and disappointments often evolve into glossy alt-R&B triumphs.”
Key track: ‘Tamagotchi’ SM
Wet Leg – ‘Wet Leg’
Who: Bursting with ample indie hooks and whizzing guitars, all delivered with a healthy serving of their whimsical sense of humour, Wet Leg’s self-titled debut proved that the Isle of Wight duo are more than worthy of the huge hype that’s been built up around them over the past 12 months. The world is now surely Wet Leg’s own to go forth and conquer.
What NME said: “A thrilling record, it adds new attractions to the Wet Leg carnival while revisiting those that made everyone fall so immediately in love with them in the first place.”
Key track: ‘Ur Mum’ SM
Yard Act – ‘The Overload’
Who: The Leeds four-piece are the latest example of Yorkshire’s strong tradition of producing great guitar bands. In James Smith they have a frontman capable of dazzling both on record and on stage, while their tunes have even found their way into the home and heart of Elton John, who has just contributed to a new version of their track ‘100% Endurance’. Elton bloody John!
What NME said: “Their journey is a reminder that the most rewarding endeavours – in life or art – sometimes arrive later than you expect or had hoped. Good things may come to those who wait patiently, but for those who put the graft in, like Yard Act, it tastes all the sweeter.”
Key track: ‘The Overload’ SM