Just this year alone, solo debuts have appeared from Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, Hamilton Leithauser, Damon Albarn, and coming in July, Jeff Tweedy. These join a tradition that spans every genre, from Peter Tosh to each individual Spice Girl, and has produced some of music’s most iconic and most regrettable collections. Below, we have 20 favorite solo debuts from key members of established bands, picked according to our own arbitrary rules and surely forgetting a gem here and there. These 20 solo albums are all special and worthy of attention.
20. Pusha T (Clipse)
My Name Is My Name
Probably the most overdo album when it finally came out last year, though a couple mixtapes were released to hold over Clipse fans, Pusha T may not have hit the grand slam that some wanted. After all, with Kanye West making beats for you with years to perfect the songs, you’d think a classic was due. And maybe classic is a little beyond what was achieved, but the album still is often excellent, with “Numbers on the Boards,” “Nosetalgia,” and “King Push” all commanding people’s attention for something beyond Pusha’s name, yet the album still holds the title My Name Is My Name.
19. Jónsi (Sigur Ros)
Many of the artists on this list will be praised for living up to their band’s high standard, and for continuing the sounds explored in their past. Jonsi is an example of the other spectrum, where Go sounds nothing like Sigur Ros except for the same voice coming through the speakers. Jonsi even sings in English partially on this album. Trading post-rock for whimsical, new age pop, Jonsi had people wishing he remained a solo artists, which is rare, and likely was changed by the release of Sigur Ros’ most recent.
18. Jason Lytle (Grandaddy)
Yours Truly, the Commuter
Grandaddy wasn’t a band in the traditional sense, and the albums were all Lytle’s songs, with the band contributing what always seems like a minimal amount. So, Yours Truly, the Commuter sounds like a Grandaddy album because Jason Lytle solo isn’t much different. More importantly, it sounds like the Grandaddy album their final collection should have been, with Lytle seeming inspired by his new isolation, choosing to focus on the in-between state rather than here or there.
17. Atlas Sound (Deerhunter)
Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel
In 2008, when Bradford Cox offered up his first solo album as Atlas Sound, it was probably the least anticipated solo offering on this list. Pitchfork acclaimed the record, as well as anything Bradford had done or was to do, but it is still not an easy listen. What is fascinating about Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel is how much of future Deerhunter and Atlas Sound is seen in the collections DNA. “River Card” is a longing dream that could fit on any of Cox’s releases. “Winter Vacation” drifts close to what Panda Bear was doing around them. And the closing title track is shoegazey filtered through Cox’s knack for mixing the beautiful with the abrasive. A good solo debut can be a sign of what is to come, and Cox’s first is exactly that.
16. Jack White (The White Stripes)
Before he recorded Blunderbuss under his own name, Jack White had launched side projects The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs, broken up with Meg White, the other half of the White Stripes, and even tried his had at acting and production. The fear with a Jack White solo record was that it was just a result of running out of other things to try. Needless to say, the album was a huge hit across the board and picked up right where the White Stripes left off.
15. Björk (The Sugarcubes)
It’s debatable whether Björk can be included, as her actual solo debut was released in 1977 when she was 11. But, after the demise of her band The Sugarcubes, Björk titled her first solo album Debut, letting everyone know exactly what she felt about her child recordings. The album was probably Björk’s most commercially viable release, but now 20 years after appearing, “Human Behavior” still sounds like the future. Impressive.
14. Beyonce (Destiny’s Child)
Dangerously in Love
The first three real songs on Dangerously in Love are “Crazy in Love,” “Naughty Girl,” and “Baby Boy.” And that was all anyone needed to be convinced that Bey was much more than anyone anticipated when the Destiny’s Child solo projects were first discussed. Beyonce took the reigns in every aspect, from writing to hiring to recording. She surrounded herself with the best in the business, including her future husband Jay Z, but the only one responsible for where she is now is Beyonce, and the five Grammys she took from her debut paved the way.
13. Doug Martsch (Built to Spill)
Now You Know
One of the more obscure titles on our list, Now You Know was the solo debut from Doug Martsch, songwriter from Built to Spill. The reason why it is ignored is the same reason it is great, namely that it plays against Martsch’s band and their sound and opts for acoustic slide guitar frequently. The result is an intimate, often beautiful collection that is as affecting as any Built to Spill album, with recently songs turning up as Built to Spill songs to cover. Sadly, Martsch has not made an album of near as high quality since, but “Impossible,” “Heart,” and “Dream” are all such gifts, it makes that pill easy to swallow.
12. Fever Ray (The Knife)
As half of The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s progression as an artist is easy to track, from “Heartbeats” to Silent Shout to Shaking the Habitual. The constant is always her voice, at least in terms of how the music sounds, and that voice is even more crucial on Fever Ray, a powerfully cold album that emersion itself in minimalism, creating an illusion that little is happening until your guard is down. By disarming the listener, Fever Ray creates an environment where beauty and danger coexist in the most natural ways, creating an album that feels like instinct, like Andersson knows something that all of us don’t.
11. Morrissey (The Smiths)
Viva Hate was released just six months after Morrissey’s final Smiths album, making you wonder if he just was hiding these songs under his pillow or what. Regardless, Moz’s solo career seamlessly extended from his band career, with iconic singles “Suadehead” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday” pleasing fans that were worried his songwriting magic might be lost outside of his band.