Congratulations, young band: you’ve released your first album. The Internet is abuzz with love, and everybody has completely fallen for your undeniable genius. Now immediately make another record at least as good as your first or everybody will hate you forever.
It’s not easy being a band. You’ll face tremendous pressure if anybody anywhere in the world likes you. That’s why people talk about the “sophomore slump,” the streak of bad luck that supposedly falls upon bands brave enough to release a second album.
Here then are 10 artists that avoided the sophomore slump by completely avoiding it. None of them officially released a second album. They’re not the only 10, of course, but they’re the most memorable.
10. Young Marble Giants
Colossal Youth, 1980
Welsh three-piece Young Marble Giants were so committed to minimalism that they only put out a single full-length. Colossal Youth followed a handful of EPs and compilation appearances and marked both the fullest exploration and final end point of the band’s sparse and haunting sound. The deep alienation of the band’s catchy pop songs is underlined by the profound space between the band’s dry bass lines, stabs of guitar reverb, drum machine and simple organ and vocal melodies. They broke up shortly after Colossal Youth’s release, and despite a few live reunions since 2007 have yet to release a second album.
9. Life Without Buildings
Any Other City, 2001
Rock critics use the word “art” to refer to any band that’s ever read a book before. Sue Tompkins of Life Without Buildings is a true artist, though, with a thriving career and shows in galleries around the world. That drive to keep creating and moving on to new things is one reason the band split after a single fantastic record. Tompkins’ elliptical sing-speak evoked any number of comparisons but no true influences; she’s more earnest than Mark E. Smith, more heartfelt than Björk, and unlike anyone else. Of course her vocals wouldn’t be as powerful if they weren’t tied to such excellent songs. Life Without Buildings got lumped into the “postpunk” revival of 2000/2001, but their pop songs owed less to dance-punk forebears than the warm guitar rock of Television or early Talking Heads.
8. The Unicorns
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone, 2003
Self-consciously “goofy” indie-pop group the Unicorns was one of the first big Internet buzz bands. The Unicorns came from nowhere (okay, Canada) with a debut album on an obscure Montreal label best known for serious sound artists like Tim Hecker and the psychedelic cartoon of Acid Mothers Temple. That album got a rave review from Pitchfork and quickly made the band college-radio and indie-pop favorites. The Unicorns broke up a year later after constant touring, a widely panned follow-up single and an absurd digression into rap. At least Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Tapes ‘n’ Tapes got to put out a second album before the Internet destroyed them.
7. Skip Spence
Alexander “Skip” Spence played in Summer of Love legends like Jefferson Airplane and the Quicksilver Messenger Service and was a founding member of the would-be supergroup Moby Grape. By 1969 drugs and schizophrenia sent him to Bellevue for six months. As soon as he was out he recorded his one solo album, Oar, on which he plays every instrument. Oar isn’t just a favorite of misery junkies who lionize damaged artists but a classic collection of darkly psychedelic folk-rock. Somehow it’s even more depressing than Big Star’s third album. Spence worked sporadically with Moby Grape after Oar, but he never made another solo album. Heavy drug use lead to periods of homelessness and committal throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and he died of lung cancer in 1999.
6. Rites of Spring
Rites of Spring, 1985
The tag “emo” has stuck to four or five distinct subgenres of punk music over the years and now basically just refers to a fashion sense. But it originated in D.C. in 1984 with Rites of Spring, who aimed to replace the (by that point) tired and thoughtless aggression of hardcore with deeper and more honest emotion. The result was a derivation of hardcore with melody and guitar solos that sounded similar to Hüsker Dü. Rites of Spring put out one album and an EP before breaking up in 1986. A few years later singer Guy Picciotto and drummer Brandon Canty formed Fugazi with the former Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye.
5. The La’s
The La’s, 1990
What would tampon ads and commercials for teen romantic comedies do without the La’s? The Liverpool band’s one album gave the world “There She Goes,” which has become ubiquitous while its author sunk back into obscurity. La’s main man Lee Mavers was a notorious perfectionist whose one and only album was released against his wishes by a label that got sick of waiting after three years and three different producers. It doesn’t matter that the single and album were hits in his native England; Mavers still hated the record and promised to re-record it while also working on a follow-up that still hasn’t arrived.
4. The Monks
Black Monk Time, 1966
Black Monk Time is what happens when a group of American servicemen in 1960s Germany form one of the most plodding and single-mindedly savage groups of any era. The Monks’ primal garage rock landed with a thud, both sonically and commercially, but Black Monk Time is easily one of the most acclaimed and important cult records of all time. The band’s rhythmic and repetitive stomp predated the official dawning of punk by a decade but sounds absolutely timeless, as grumpy young men with no recording budgets have basically attempted to recreate Black Monk Time a thousand times over the last 45 years. Fans of the Fall (a band that missed this list by a good 35 albums or so) should definitely take heed, but then they probably all know about The Monks already.
3. Sex Pistols
Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, 1977
It would’ve been more shocking if the Pistols stuck around long enough to make a second LP. Every marketing gimmick has a shelf-life and the Pistols’ was particularly short. Bollocks is a musical Ouroboros, as its reputation has cycled from “dangerous salvation of rock ‘n’ roll” to “embarrassing cartoon” multiple times over since 1977. If you can ignore big sweeping statements and the misplaced notions of grandeur forced upon it you might be able to appreciate its relatively frills-free take on caustic rock ‘n’ roll recidivism. And hey, at least two people responsible were in on the joke, which is probably two more than The Police.
2. Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley has an extensive discography, but only one full-length studio album was released with his approval. That record, Grace, assured Buckley a permanent seat among the pantheon of undergrad make-out music. Numerous singles, EPs and live releases came out after Buckley’s death in 1997, including a collection of songs he had recorded for his second album but rejected. That release, Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk is considered an official album by many, but we’ll respect the wishes of the dead and consider Grace his only official full-length.
1. Lauryn Hill
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1998
Lauryn Hill is the Jeff Mangum of R&B, only exponentially more popular and successful. Both put out widely adored albums in 1998 before eventually disavowing the spotlight. Only Hill had to deal with the pressures of mainstream celebrity and a best-selling album, though. For a brief spell she was on top of the entire industry, winning multiple Grammys in 1999 and headlining arena tours. She gradually disappeared with only a forgettable Unplugged live album, a handful of soundtrack appearances, and a 2010 single to her name since.