After this week’s bombshell announcement of Christopher Owens leaving Girls (and likely ending the band), I’ve taken it upon myself to honor Girls’ exceptional, if brief, catalog by chronicling a list of ten notable bands that disbanded after a maximum of two full-length albums (excluding EPs, live albums and compilations).
Owens and JR White made a splash in the fall of 2009 with their stunning debut, Album. They followed up Album within a year by releasing the gorgeous six-song EP, Broken Dreams Club, in November of 2010. Though only six songs, Broken Dreams Club had more depth and endurance than thousands of other full-length albums released that year. It’s an achievement that makes the limited Girls discography feel like three nearly flawless full-length releases. Girls’ final album (although fans were unaware of that upon its release back in September) Father, Son, Holy Ghost was a towering masterpiece that both fell in line with the band’s stellar releases to the point and transcended their massive promise. So, if this is the end of Girls, let’s toast their brief and magnificent history of two albums, one EP, and three best releases of their respective year by diving headfirst into more bands that showed exceptional promise but dissolved with only one or two full-length releases under their belts.
Girls – “Vomit”
Bands with Two LPs or Less:
From 1976 until Ian Curtis’ devastating suicide in 1980, Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris created songs with a distinct sound and voice that have influenced thousands of bands in the years since and have become more popular today than during Joy Division’s life at the height of British punk. Joy Division’s discography started with the landmark debut, Unknown Pleasures, and culminated with Closer, which was released posthumously in the days following Curtis’ death. Though Sumner, Hook and Morris would go on to be arguably as influential in their decades as New Order as they were in Joy Division, the two masterpieces from the Manchester foursome are as magnificent of a two-album discography as in the history or rock music.
Joy Division – “Transmission”
Sex Pistols and their single, essential album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols is arguably the most influential release in the history of punk and one of the landmark albums in the lifetime of rock and roll. The album was the lightning bolt that started a cultural revolution that impacted the landscape of music, attitude and style for the entirety of the 35 years have passed since it shot to #1 on the UK charts. From “Anarchy in the UK” to “God Save the Queen” to “No Feelings,” Sex Pistols’ one-off masterpiece is a blistering, raging eleven-song testament to the power of rock and passion infused with a vital voice grabbing you by the throat and refusing to let you escape everything that needs to be heard.
Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the UK”
Neutral Milk Hotel
Emanating from the Elephant 6 Collective, Jeff Mangum’s brilliant brainchild, Neutral Milk Hotel, has created a legacy as influential and mysterious as any band in the past 20 years. Neutral Milk Hotel’s discography is limited to two albums: the debut release of On Avery Island and the 1998 bona fide masterpiece In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Tens of thousands of words could be written here about the 21st century influence and inarguable greatness of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but what is important for this list is to recognize the stunning originality of the musicianship and the tremendous depths of the songwriting that Mangum delves into throughout the album’s eleven songs. After longing for seclusion to escape the public eye for the majority of the past decade, Mangum has triumphantly resurfaced in the last few years to play handfuls of shows to enthusiastic crowds. The band released the Ferris Wheel on Fire EP of previously unreleased material in 2011, but the brilliant Neutral Milk Hotel discography still stands at two (for now).
Neutral Milk Hotel – “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
The Modern Lovers
The Modern Lovers, fronted by Jonathan Richman and rounded out with Ernie Brooks on bass, David Robinson (who would go on to play with The Cars) on drums, and Jerry Harrison (later of Talking Heads) on keyboards, existed from 1970 to 1974 in the original incarnation. Steeped in a heavy Velvet Underground influence and capitalizing on the incomparable lyricism of Richman, The Modern Lovers exhibited an extraordinary amount of promise, but the band dissolved before they even released a debut album. Their two excellent albums, The Modern Lovers and The Original Modern Lovers, were recorded between 1971 and 1972, but neither found its respective release until 1976 and 1981. What resulted was a collection of defining proto-punk songs that bridged the Velvet Underground with the litany of songwriters that would latch on to Richman’s smart, sly lyricism for decades to come. Although Richman would continue and use The Modern Lovers tag as his backing band for years, The Modern Lovers truly lasted for those four early 70’s years with two retroactively released albums.
The Modern Lovers – “Roadrunner”
Derek and the Dominos
Eric Clapton’s band Derek and the Dominos only lasted from 1970 to 1971, and they released one of the most essential albums in the history of rock and roll. Rounded out with Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Duane Allman’s majestic slide guitar, Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is a timeless blues-rock achievement that showed how extraordinary the band could be playing together…before everything fell apart due to insufferable tension.
Slint was an indie band from Louisville, KY that played a tough-to-categorize brand of music fell between the genre poles of noise rock, post-hardcore, math rock and college rock. The legendary Steve Albini had a major hand in fleshing out the distinct Slint sound on album when he produced the band’s debut, Tweez in 1987. Shortly after recording what would be their quintessential sophomore record, Spiderland, Slint broke up, but Spiderland and the re-release of Tweez both went on to bring Slint widespread acclaim that heralded them to be unprecedented masters of a new sound that would continue to influence emerging bands for the next two decades.
Slint – “Breadcrumb Trail”
London band The Libertines, fronted by the dual songwriting team of Carl Barat and Pete Doherty and produced by Mick Jones of The Clash, produced arguably the most quintessential debut/sophomore album tandem of the 21st Century with the brilliant one-two punch of 2002’s Up the Bracket and 2004’s The Libertines. The twenty-six flawlessly blistering and melodically rich garage-punk songs in The Libertines’ discography are rooted in all the best parts of The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Beatles and countless great bands in rock and roll history, but The Libertines brought those influences to a new generation with a bullet. There is not a wrong step, dull moment, weak track, or anything short of brilliant on Up the Bracket or The Libertines. The Libertines were true perfection in their short run before all things unraveled and everybody went their separate ways.
The Libertines – “Horrorshow”
The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses became Manchester rock and roll giants in the late 80’s and early 90’s before breaking up after their widely disappointing sophomore album, Second Coming. However, their self-titled debut is one of the best debut albums in the history of rock and roll, and there are many camps that argue it is the best album ever released. Any band that splashes on the scene with that kind of promise only to disappear a few short years later is nothing short of a tragic and magnificent story. The Stone Roses have triumphantly reemerged in recent months to perform a hugely anticipated world tour, but no new material has yet to see the light of day beyond their first two albums.
The Stone Roses – “She Bangs the Drums”
In the mid-90’s, The Fugees rose to a level of tremendous popularity that bridged critical and commercial success thanks to their unique brand of genre-bouncing hip-hop that pulled from reggae, soul, rap, pop and Caribbean. The band only had two albums, 1994’s Blunted on Reality and 1996’s The Score, but Lauryn Hill, Pras and Wyclef Jean would all go on to receive varying levels of musical success after the multi-platinum The Score and its massive hit cover of “Killing Me Softly.” Lauryn Hill, in particular, received universal acclaim for her one and only solo, musical and cultural masterpiece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, in 1998.
Death From Above 1979
Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger stormed the music in 2004 with a wall of gloriously loud guitars, crashing rhythms, furious tempos and more than a few hooks with their single remarkable album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. Keeler and Grainger parted ways in 2006, but the noise-rockers reconvened in 2011 for a string of raucous live shows, starting with a literally riotous showcase set at SXSW in Austin. No new material has emerged, so DFA 1979 makes this list as a one-album force of nature whose influence has spread to hundreds of emerging bands over the past half-decade.
Death From Above 1979 – “Little Girl”
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