‘Tigermilk’ wasn’t supposed to be Belle and Sebastian’s debut album. For that matter, Belle and Sebastian weren’t even supposed to be a band at that point in 1996. Stuart Murdoch and pal Stuart David submitted a few of their demos to a Glasgow college for an annual program in which a single is pressed and released on the school’s custom label. The organizers liked what they heard so much, they asked the band for more songs. ‘Tigermilk’ was the result, with 1,000 vinyl copies pressed for purchase.

Recorded in three days with friends playing various instruments, ‘Tigermilk’ – which received a proper reissue in 1999, after the band had already released its first two albums – comes off like the tentative first steps toward the group’s central themes and sounds. Murdoch formed a group from the record’s participants, eventually shaping his love-obsessed folk songs into glorious indie pop that was as big as it was personal. And it all started with ‘Tigermilk.’

Murdoch wrote all 10 of the album’s songs and had performed many of them by himself at open-mic nights over the past three years. You can pick out the skeletal frames of many tracks, which became fully formed chamber-pop songs once the seven-piece Belle and Sebastian got behind them. But it’s hard to imagine cuts like ‘The State I Am In,’ ‘Expectations’ and ‘I Don’t Love Anyone’ any other way. For a record that came together quickly, cheaply and with no hope for any sort of widespread distribution, ‘Tigermilk’ sounds explosively big and confident.

Belle and Sebastian wouldn’t start charting in the U.S. until 2000, when their fourth album, ‘Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant,’ cracked the Top 100. Besides, the limited number of copies of ‘Tigermilk’ – which celebrates its 17th anniversary today – available at the time wouldn’t have made a dent on any chart anywhere. After its 1999 reissue, the album eventually went gold in the U.K. and charted throughout Europe. Not bad for what essentially amounts to demos thrown together for a little school project.

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