Whether it is because of artistic differences, in-group fighting, or just a loss of passion for their projects, there are many reasons why bands choose to break up. However, most groups wait until at least their second album to evaluate whether or not they can continue on. Some prominent examples include The Stone Roses and Neutral Milk Hotel. For some groups, though, it was best to call it quits after one album, rather than persevere at the expense of artistic quality.

I have compiled a list of bands who can be classified as one album wonders. My only criteria for this list was that each group only have one album to their name, that the break up was a conscious decision not influenced by a member’s death, and that there are no plans for a reunion or a second album. These three groups’ legacies can only be evaluated through their one proper album and their early releases. However, for these bands, their limited output speaks volumes about their uniqueness and impact.

Death From Above 1979:

To say that the break up of Death From Above 1979 was devastating is an understatement. The Toronto duo of Sebastian Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler were making music like few others in 2004, when their debut album “Your A Woman, I’m A Machine” was released. They were one of the original power duos of the 2000’s, combining the overdriven bass lines of Keeler and the manic drumming of Grainger to create music that was loud and brash, yet somehow appealed to the dance floor. Songs such as “Romantic Rights” and “Blood On Our Hands” assaulted the eardrums with their hooks and both menmber’s sheer amount of energy in their playing. This translated exceedingly well live, as they brought that same vibe to whatever venue they played. I was fortunate enough to see them at SXSW 2005 with, of all people, my dad.  It seemed like this group was primed to break big if they continued to hone in on their trademark sound.

However, as Keeler would later explain, both men had begun to develop artistic differences and wanted different things with the group’s sound, and on August 3, 2006, Keeler posted a memo on the band’s website announcing that they had decided to officially break up. According to the post, although they both had wanted to break up for over a year, they felt obligated to stay together for the fans. While Keeler has experienced a decent amount of success as one  half of electro-house duo MSTRKRFT and Grainger has his own project with his group, Sebastian Grainger The Mountains, the two will always be remembered for their white hot album that proved that two people can rock just as hard as any full band.

Desaparecidos:

As the prolific leader of Bright Eyes, Connor Oberst is a folk artist who writes very personal and character-driven lyrics about love and everyday life, all sung in a hushed and fragile voice that has come to be his calling card. For a brief period in 2001 & 2002, however, he morphed himself into the leader of the feverish punk band Desaparecidos. The group’s sole album “Read Music/Speak Spanish,” saw the usually timid Oberst release all his inhibitions, writing overtly political lyrics about consumerism and living in America while delivering his vocals in a sort of raw and angry tone. The band also played their instruments to reflect his newfound energy, making for arrangements that would not have been out of place on your average punk album. The result was a record that was ripe with catharsis and one that made little or no allusions to Oberst’s day job. Songs like “The Happiest Place On Earth” could easily have been the fist pumping anthem of indie kids who had been disillusioned by what America had stood for both before and after September 11.

Of course, Desaparecidos was always a side project, and when Bright Eyes began to gain popularity, Oberst decided that he did not have enough time to dedicate to the band. They parted ways in 2002, and the other band members have since moved on to other projects. Despite this, some of the qualities of Desaparecidos can be seen in Bright Eyes’ later work. The political leanings of Oberst’s lyrics would continue to show up in his songs, particularly on “When the Presidents Talk to God,” arguably one of his most famous songs. Since he somehow has found the time to juggle fronting Bright Eyes, a solo career, and being a member of super-group Monsters of Folk, one can only wish that Oberst would manifest his discontents through the energetic medium of Desaparecidos once more in the near future. Even in the new America of the Obama administration, I’m sure there are many things that still anger him to the point where all he wants to do is shout about it over an electric guitar.

Life Without Buildings:

Life Without Buildings were truly in a league all their own. The Scottish band played music that was technically sound and catchy as all get out, but their real X factor was in front woman Sue Tompkins. She brought an absurd amount of energy to her vocal delivery, talk-singing stream of conscious lyrics with everything she had, sounding fragile one minute and passionate or angry the next. It was a wholly unique style, and it keeps the band sounding fresh upon repeated listening. She almost single handedly carried the band, and helped to differentiate them from their peers. All of the proof needed can be found on their 2000 debut, “Any Other City.” There are still very few albums that sound like it today, and it earned the band a massive amount of respect in many indie rock circles.

Even though there was nowhere for them to go but up, the band broke up in 2002 for seemingly unknown reasons. It’s unfortunate really, as it would have been interesting to see where they would have taken their sound to next. “Any Other City” was so full of life and energy that one can only imagine that infectiousness carrying over into subsequent releases. The band’s influence, however, cannot be denied. Band leaders such as Art Brut’s Eddie Argos and Jack Barnett of These New Puritans owe Tompkins a great deal of gratitude, as they have utilized her talk-sing vocal style to enhance their own work. Additionally, Life Without Buildings were among the first in a wave of Scottish bands in the early 2000’s to gain critical success, paving the way for the likes of Dogs Die In Hot Cars, Sons and Daughters, and We Were Promised Jetpacks.

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