Take a moment to think of your favorite band, or if it's too difficult to pick just one, grab a favorite at random. In the unlikely event that you've selected an artist with a single album, well.. this week's list is for you. This is going to be all about bands who've put out a lone full-length, and left fans wondering what could have been.. would they have gone on to release one fantastic album after another? Or simply fall back into mediocrity, or worse, become total shit? In any case, here are ten bands and their solitary albums, which have surely made far more people than just me why the hell they didn't just crank out at least a few more albums. Anyway, on with the list... Operation Ivy - Energy
Well before both ska and pop-punk exploded in the mid to late 90s, Operation Ivy put out their one, highly influential, incredibly fun, and highly appropriately titled album, Energy. While clearly drawing on early 80s punk and second wave ska, Energy was really groundbreaking not just in its approach with blending the styles but with how fucking energetic the whole thing is. The twenty seven tracks breeze by, and even the songs that are less pleasant lyrically (Officer comes to mind) have such a carefree attitude that it rubs off on the listener. While Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman went on to bigger things with Rancid, Energy remains a stone cold classic.
Deltron 3030 - Self Titled
Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala are all quite familiar with collaboration, but here they were each arguably at their peak. Armed with great futuristic beats to match the album's sci-fi theme (laid out brilliantly by Del, with humor laced social commentary) yet never taking itself too seriously, Deltron 3030's debut is textbook alternative hip-hop. There's been a lot of talk of a sequel to this, but sadly it remains mostly that, and this is a story that deserves a quality follow-up.
Circle Takes the Square - As the Roots Undo
There are so many original takes on post-hardcore here that it boggles the mind. Ambient sections, traded off male and female vocals, thrash metal-inspired guitar, frantic, grindcore-inspired drums, mumbled poetry, harps, and so on and so forth. So much random shit is thrown into this album that it's a wonder it worked at all, much less as tremendously well as it has. Perhaps a follow-up never came because the band was conscious of this, and feared never being able to get everything to click this well again.
The Avalanches - Since I Left You
Second only to DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, Since I Left You is the most impressive mix of samples on an album. Everything is mixed perfectly, which is even more impressive when you consider how varied the sampled artists are - and yes, if you're not familiar, the Avalanches blow Girl Talk away. This is perfect party music - it's fun, it's relentlessly feel-good, and if you pay attention you're bound to recognize something. Now there's just the matter of following it up... the joke is that the second album has long been completed, and the band is still waiting for all the samples to clear.
Radiation 4 - Wonderland
Likely to be some of the most bizarre and challenging metal you'll ever hear. Radiation 4 forcibly puts awkward time signatures, styles, and even genres together (Tick. Tock. Tick.'s angry offbeat hardcore concluding in that almost clown-reminiscent "la-la-la-la-la-la" being a perfect example) and makes it sound not only easy, but even charming. From epic to silly and everything in between, it's easy to imagine that perhaps the band said everything they wanted to with Wonderland, but you can't help wondering if they could've gotten any weirder than this.
Gospel - The Moon Is a Dead World
One doesn't really associate progressive rock with genres names like "Emo" (or the even more unfortunately named "Screamo"), but that's exactly the angle Gospel took with their one and only album, The Moon Is a Dead World. The music is heavy, erratic, and raw, but its aggression really comes second to the emotional aggression, which is even more unrelenting and engaging. Post-hardcore, screamo, whatever you want to call it, this album is one of the most unique of its kind, and is a definite must-hear.
Mad Season - Above
An excellent effort from a mid 90s supergroup comprised of members of the grunge elite, Above is a dark, harrowing trip through Alice in Chains vocalist Layne Staley's mind, with a bluesy approach to the music courtesy of Pearl Jam's Mike McCready on guitar and top blues bassist, John Baker Saunders. The rockers are harsh, the blues jams are fun, and the gentler tracks are downright haunting. This is clearly all we're going to get, what with both Saunders and Staley being dead (and both due to heroin use), which is a damn shame - Above suggested that this band was capable of even better.
Jimmy Chamberlin Complex - Life Begins Again
While we're on the subject of 90s alternative, how about that Jimmy Chamberlin! The Smashing Pumpkins drummer founded a solo project in the early-mid noughts with a jazz fusion-meets-alternative rock sound in mind, and it's accomplished surprisingly well on their debut. Along with songwriter Billy Mohler, Chamberlin constructs highly progressive (and at times beautiful) fusion built around his excellent drumming, with a revolving door of guest musicians (including Billy Corgan) helping out. What with Chamberlin's involvement in the resurrected Pumpkins, this may end up being a one-off, which is a shame - it's easily the most accessible and fun that any recent rock-based approach to jazz fusion has been, and Pumpkins fans would do well to give it a listen.
Yndi Halda - Enjoy Eternal Bliss
What with the post-rock scene burgeoning at the time of this release, it's remarkable how well it was able to stand out. Yndi Halda prove themselves to be masters of not only establishing tension and progression, but with instrument application as well - there are special little moments where a traditional drumbeat with pop up with a sweet violin hook riding it before crashing into something else, or a lone, intensifying bluesy guitar being joined by strings, horns, and marching drums, but they never feel random or the result of meandering. The approach used here is very similar to that of post-rock pioneers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but much brighter and uplifting. And four years later, it's starting to look sadly as if they've nothing else to say.
The Postal Service - Give Up
Here's one where it's easy to think that perhaps it's for the best that the musicians involved (Death Cab's Ben Gibbard and Dntel, or Jimmy Tamborello) don't seem anywhere near following up their collaboration's debut. Give Up just has a certain air about it, like it was created at just the right point in not just the collaborators' lives, but in the music scene as well. Everything, from Gibbard's lyrics to Tamborello's quirky electronic flourishes, feels so genuine, and even fresh - upon its release, there really wasn't anything else that sounded like it, and it's spawned quite a bit of mimicry, both well-conceived (Bright Eyes' Digital Ash in a Digital Urn) and god-awful (anything by Owl City) alike. Even now, seven years after its release, it still sounds unique, and stands quite well on its own.