From Late of the Pier to Fever Ray, here's ten records of ferocity and beauty that stand alone in the history books.
In the perpetually chartered hallways of music history, we usually remember the big artists. The five-time Grammy award winners; the icons whose faces have been posthumously ironed on to t-shirts and dishcloths and novelty lighters; the bands who kickstarted scenes that have provided a bedrock for decades to come. As memory fades and we become nothing more than transient souls, carrying around the decaying corpse of our body, the monolithic musicians are the ones we'll remember. In lieu of not being able to afford the heating with our lack of pension plans, perhaps they'll keep us warm.
But what about the groups who never made it past album one? There are plenty of artists who released just a solitary record, whether it was a momentary solo side project from their usual outlet, or whether they were just sacked off by their record label, realised they actually hated each other, or shook hands and moved amicably on to other things. Usually the reason only one exists is because it was terrible or sold really badly, but sometimes a group or artist momentarily enters our consciousness to appear with one record of such spell-binding beauty that it's perplexing why they never made a second. I guess that's the beauty that comes from never having to follow-up your debut with twelve songs about the pressures of fame and the stalking ghouls of drug and sex addiction.
In this list of eight shit hot albums that never saw sequels, we've left out some of the more obvious ones, like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Minor Threat's Out of Step, the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, and The La's self-titled – because how many more times do you need to be told that Grace by Jeff Buckley was good? – and focused on some of the lesser celebrated classics. Of course, many of the artists involved went on to do a buttload of other stuff, but these particular projects stand alone in the history books; flashes in the pan of subculture, popular within certain circles but largely confined to lusted after reissues.
So let this list be something that lives on forever on the internet; these albums may be one offs (for now, at least), but they're as worthy and important as that fifteen CD Nick Cave boxset you have at home.
For Screening Purposes Only
The short-lived London trio Test Icicles rose on that dance-punk wave of the early noughties, back when we played The Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" at house parties and strawpedo'd all things; when all men wore piano belts with tight blue jeans; when Hadouken were classed as grime music. The thing that made Test Icicles unique in such a shallow era for youth culture was that they took the on-trend dance-punk sound, and gloriously hacked away at it like mad teen butchers, stapling on some screamo and stitching in some thrash, until it all sounded less like a sepia photo of James Murphy in a quirky cafe and more like Glassjaw in a rave. Basically, if you were eighteen in the 2000s and hated your parents, then this was the album.
The band quickly parted ways to pursue other projects, and Dev Hynes, of course, went on to become Lightspeed Champion and then – everyone's safe 'I'm a cool person' answer to the question: "What music are you into at the moment?" – Blood Orange. Side note: if you think Test Icicles was a crude name, then you should know they were initially just called Balls. Joe Zadeh
As individuals, they have obviously set the world of rap alight, but as Madvillain, MF Doom and Madlib only released two albums – their debut record Madvillainy, and its follow up Madvillainy 2: The Madlib Remix. Since the latter is a complete remix of the original though – apparently released because Madlib couldn't wait for the official sophomore album to be recorded – the group get through on a technicality. By now y'all should know Madvillainy is pretty much cemented in the crypt of hip-hop history, having influenced a generation of producers and backpack rappers, so if you haven't listened to it yet then congratulations, you've just given yourself a homework assignment. Ryan Bassil
Darby Crash is among the most tragic figures ever to grace the world of music. An LA punk junkie with a deathwish that eventually led to suicide by way of an intentional heroin overdose at the age of 22, Crash was about as violent and poetic as you can get at the same time without being a J.G. Ballard novel.
Stylistically, GI was hardcore punk before hardcore punk was even a thing. It's fast, contemptuous, harsh without compromising on melody, and, perhaps ironically, incredibly full of life. The energy lands somewhere between the destructive chaos of their live performances and the tightly wound structure of their actual music, largely thanks to Joan Jett's unoppressive production, which lays out the band's intricacies clearly, like an insect in a display box. Considering the music was so intentionally stripped back, though, Crash was a wordy bastard, embodying and bastardising every cultural influence from David Bowie to Charles Manson. Reading Germs' lyrics are equally as fulfilling as listening to the songs themselves, which isn't something you can say about most artists, let alone punk bands.
In one way or another, Germs informed everything from skate punk to Sonic Youth to Ratking. Given the time, who knows what more they could have done. Emma Garland
After three albums with The Knife that fucked with the very idea of ever revealing artistic identity, Karin Dreijer Andersson finally bore it all on her solo album, Fever Ray, but in the most Karin Dreijer Andersson way possible; delivering ominous and hair raising confessions in ruthlessly manipulated vocals that veered from angelic to demonic at will. The concept of the album was that it was all inspired by sleep deprivation, and it stands as the most beautiful and accurate piece of art ever made about being frightfully alone in the darkness. Joe Zadeh
Be honest: how much sick readies itself for projectiling when you hear the phrase "indie supergroup"? The only time that it's acceptable to answer "none at all" is when you're thinking of Wild Flag, whose bright but far too brief run culminated with an exceptionally good, exceptionally undemanding, and exceptionally enjoyable self-titled 2011 album.
Comprised of Carrie Brownstein (historically known as the shred machine in Sleater-Kinney, latterly the star of Portlandia), occasional Bright Eyes drummer Janet Weiss, guitarist Mary Timony (of Autoclave) and former drummer for The Minders, Rebecca Cole, on keys, Wild Flag started with a haze of ambitious public statements and gnomic Facebook posts ("What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG.")
They went on indefinite hiatus in 2013, citing the difficulties of being in a band and "living five hours away by plane", leaving us all to cope with one album and a lingering yearning for something more. Francisco Garcia
Life Without Buildings
Any Other City
Remember when you were younger and less constricted by the horrible character you created, the one you thought would impress other people with it's rancid blend of narcissism, cynicism, arrogance and ignorance? The old you that was a bit less afraid of actually being a real human being. The old you that liked things because you liked them, not because not liking them was less of a statement than liking them. The old you that still had a favourite band. The old you that still listened to the lyrics. They're not dead. Not just yet. That old you is still there. Somewhere. Want to draw them out? Put this album on now. Job done. Josh Baines
The Postal Service
So here's a fun story. I found myself at Primavera in The Year of Our Lord 2013, when Give Up was reissued and The Postal Service were playing reunion shows. Early on in the day they were scheduled to perform, I managed to hit my head on something and lost the next four hours of my life to a black hole of concussion and €2 cava. When I came to, in that sudden, icy-clear sort of way that drunk people often do, I had miraculously managed to re-locate all of my friends, acquire a straw hat, and not get funnelled into the sex trade. The only evidence of my disappearance at all was the half-eaten veggie burger I had attempted to preserve in a tote bag. I noticed that, at some point during all of this, the sun had gone down. The next thing I know, the heavy, bristling synth tones of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" rang out across the forum, marking the very beginning of The Postal Service's set. Since they only have the one album, they played the whole damn thing, plus some bonus tracks that appear on the reissue and a cover of Beat Happening's "Our Secret".
Now, I'm not saying that The Postal Service saved my life, or that the healing powers of Give Up rose me from a stupor that could have resulted in the police ejecting me from the premises for falling asleep under a falafel stand – but for an album barely 45 minutes long so loaded with transcendent moments and long lasting cultural influence, you have to admit it's a good metaphor.Emma Garland
Late of the Pier
Fantasy Black Channel
Looking back on Late of the Pier's debut album Fantasy Black Channel is a perplexing proposition. On the one hand, their brand of bubblegum, glitter funk shouldn't make sense in today's environment – one that's free from glow sticks and red skinny jeans. But on the other, the album reaped the seeds sewed by the likes of Gary Numan, Brian Ferry, and their contemporaries The Klaxons to such a fierce degree that its twelve songs of triumphant, unrestrained contemporary dance music continue to sound electrifying – despite it being almost a decade since the British New Rave scene threw up in a bin outside Madame JoJo's and keeled over. It's all because Fantasy Black Channel sounds so alien. It takes a special group of individuals to make something that sounds as otherworldly as this, as though the remnants of house, techno, David Bowie and pop are all fucking each other in a paint splattered orgy. The group still retain a unique cult status – their fans come out of the woodwork every so often, begging them to get back together and make another album. Ryan Bassil