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Pretentious Music Alert: The Two-Album Rule

The other day, Brigitte, Lady Amy, and I were having a conversation on the sidewalk outside the local YWCA, about albums we all like. I professed my love of Joanna Newsom's new triple(!) album Have One On Me, while Lady Amy twisted her nose at my mention of Ms. Newsom because "her voice is annoying" and professed her love of the most recent album by Why? called Eskimo Snow. I twisted my nose at what I felt was a dud of an album. Then Brigitte brought up something that I hadn't considered: The Two-Album Rule.

The Two-Album Rule is pretty simple. Unless the musical artist is supremely talented, the rule is that an artist, even one you might like a lot, should only be given two albums before they are set aside for new artists. As Brigitte said, it's not really fair to give a band more than two albums before moving onto the next album.

The two-album rule, in my mind, applies to many artists from the past decade. The Strokes are a perfect example. They had a great debut in Is This It? and followed it up with a solid second album Room on Fire. Their third album? They tried to do shift their sound to something that didn't sound like the first two records, and it was terrible. Now all the band members are doing solo projects. Likewise, the same could be said about Broken Social Scene. I gave BSS much love with their You Forgot It In People and even more love with their masterful self-titled record. Their newest, which came out last Tuesday, Forgiveness Rock Record, while solid, has not really hit me in any way rivaling the high points of those other two records. And why should I waste my time listening to their new album when there are a lot of newer artists deserving of their shot at a window of two-album rule-osity? This year so far, those albums are Malachai's Ugly Side of Love and Free Energy's Stuck on Nothing?

And in years to come, we will surely see if Vampire Weekend's excellent two albums, the self-titled debut and the follow-up that came out this year, Contra, fit into this rule or if they are an exception. Here, then, are a few exceptions to this rule:

The artist is a Total Freakin' Genius.
My favorite band of all time, R.E.M., obviously fits in this mold. Why do they fit, though? I say it has to do with their ability to evolve naturally. They started as a purely power-jangle-pop band (Murmur, Reckoning), slowly evolved into its gothic folk era (Fables of the Reconstruction eventually gave way to Out of Time and Automatic for the People), tackled arena-rock with intelligence (Life's Rich Pageant, Document, Green, and Monster) and eventually settled down as elder statesmen (New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Up). (I choose to ignore their last three albums, Reveal, Around the Sun, and Accelerate).

Likewise, it appears that Joanna Newsom is following the Total Freakin' Genius mold. Her first record The Milk-Eyed Meander was a basic mission statement to her sound, while Ys expanded beyond quirky-voice-and-harp into orchestral arrangements and 12-minute songs. Her latest, Have One on Me, firmly establishes her as the songwriter of the generation, and her quirky-voice theatrics from her first two albums are largely muted here, instead revealing a maturing vocal style and a knack for creating timeless compositions that are clearly coming from the inspiration of a Total. Freakin'. Genius.

Other recent artists that could arguably fit in this mold include Animal Collective, The Fiery Furnaces, and Radiohead. One could make an argument for many other artists that fit this mold. (Like, for example, in the comments section!)

They could only make one genius album, and it's not cuz they went bananas.
This rule applies to artists from the '00s such as The Arcade Fire, Interpol, and ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. The three of those bands made arguably three of the best albums of the '00s with Funeral, Turn On the Bright Lights, and Source Tags and Codes. And, the three of them followed up those masterpieces with mediocre follow-ups like Neon Bible, Antics, and Worlds Apart. My theory: the genius crammed into one LP was just too much to possibly follow up on in future albums.

's combination of bombastic emotions and gorgeous songwriting was so combustible that the follow-up Neon Bible, and its Springsteen ambitions, couldn't possibly live up to its expectations. Antics followed up the foreboding feeling of Turn On the Bright Lights with the weirdly upbeat-sounding songs like "Slow Hands" and "Evil". And Trail of Dead decided to get away from a pure guitar attack by adding (gasp) orchestral elements. All of these follow-ups worked decently on their own, but next to their comparatively masterful other albums, they fall flat.

They could only make one genius album, and it is cuz they went bananas.
Recent news that Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel recently played a show is pretty uplifting, because previous to that, the only explanation for having one genius album for his band is that he went totally bananas. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea has, in time, revealed itself to be one of the best albums of the past 20 years, and the only explanation for why Magnum never made a follow-up is that he went totally bananas. This, of course, is acceptable for musical reasons, because the album is truly a blessing to we mortals. Of course, if Magnum starts making music again, we music nerds can decide whether he belongs in the Total Freakin' Genius category, the Two-Album Rule, or the One Genius Album category. Until then, let's all sing about the King of Carrot Flowers:

What say you, Blogulator readers? Where do you categorize your favorite bands?

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  1. Blogger Sergey | 8:01 AM |  

    автокресла для детей.

  2. Blogger chris | 10:01 AM |  

    I feel like a year or two ago I would have whole-heartedly agreed with you about everything you write about here except Joanna Newsom (snoozefest!) but I must defend Lady Amy here. Eskimo Snow, while admittedly lacking the punch of Alopecia or Elephant Eyelash, is a remarkable grower of an album, showing the soft and obtuse side of Mr. Wolf, which becomes ridiculously rewarding after a handful of listens. Also, I don't know if I'd even call it a follow-up because it's just the tracks from the Alopecia session that they band thought didn't fit with the rest of that album's songs. Also, it might just be that Why? fall into the genius category.

    Also, I am officially in love with Forgiveness Rock Record (besides "Highway Slipper Jam", which is just stupid), whereas I never really clicked with anything more than "3/4 (Shorelines)" on BSS's S/T album.

    Finally, I think Neon Bible is just as good as Funeral, though I don't think either album is genius and generally find Arcade Fire to be overrated (save for "Neighborhood #3").

    Then again, this of course all depends on personal opinion. Many people would call In Rainbows an example of a genius band that never quits, but I found it to be the blandest Radiohead record since Pablo Honey (save for "Reckoner").

    And all my parentheticals prove there are always going to be exceptions.

    All of this said, I love finding patterns in music, so I applaud you for finding one that fits to your taste. It makes me wonder what my album-sequence-pattern is...hmmm...

  3. Blogger Sean | 10:03 AM |  

    You're wrong, Chris. I hate to say it, but you're wrong.

  4. Blogger qualler | 10:10 AM |  

    This morning I gave FRR by BSS another listen and it started to (barely) grow on me. So, perhaps they will fit into that other genius category. And to be fair, I haven't given the Why record much of a shake at all.

    Buuuut, like you said, a lot of it does come down to personal preference, and it's hard for me to get into the new BSS album because I loved (and, upon a recent repeat listen, still love) the self-titled and find the newer stuff to be a little more bland and aimless. Repeat listens are key, though!

  5. Blogger Lady Amy | 11:14 AM |  

    Thank you, Chris! Why? are total geniuses and Joanna Newsom is so so icky. Get a real voice, ok?!

    So Eskimo Snow might seem like it's not as good as Alopecia at first, but Yoni Wolf's lyrics are some of the most amazing stuff I've ever heard (and I'm not just saying that cuz he's super ridiculously hot).

    I'm going to do a little predicting for new stuff:

    -- Phantogram -- I'm guessing they'll fall into the two-album rule. Although I am totally in love with their first record, Eyelid Movies, I can already tell that I don't like the other tracks on the full-length as much as I liked the EPs.

    -- Malachai -- Either they will fall into the genius category and totally revolutionize how indie rock is made, or they will totally go bananas. I don't see how they could do anything else since this amazing record has been out for 3 years in the UK before finally making it across the pond to us. Either the hard-won success will get to them or they will bust out something even more amazing that they've had in the wings for three years.

    -- These New Puritans -- Genius! I loved the catchy straightforward rock of their first album and then they blew me away with a totally different, darker but just as catchy, second record. I am excited to hear what they work on next.

  6. Blogger qualler | 11:47 AM |  

    I thought I had it in the post but I think I dream-wrote it: Chris, I totes agree with you on In Rainbows being a total snoozefest other than Reckoner!

    Lady Amy, Phantogram is the PERFECT example of a band that fits within the two-album rule. They're really fun to listen to now, and will probably put out another perfectly solid record, but I don't see them able to expand beyond that.

    And, it should be said that having two good albums is a fantastic thing, especially considering 95% of music that passes through the ears of stations like Radio K is not single-album worthy, let alone two-album worthy.

  7. Blogger Gillian | 11:53 AM |  

    Congrats on your Blog of Note.

    Cute bloggy

  8. Blogger Brian Bedell | 3:19 PM |  

    Hey there,

    Interesting blog. I like your style. I stumbled here because of your blog of note honor and I like what I see. I will definetly be back for more. Keep it UP!!

    An Alternate Truth/A Fiction Blog

  9. Blogger Papa Thor | 9:11 AM |  

    I have no idea who you guys are talking about, but what I like about this post is imagining all the blogulators hanging out together, like one of those Steve Allen "Meeting of Minds" episodes. (ha! a reference to something you guys don't know about!)

  10. Blogger Old Man Duggan | 3:31 AM |  

    I actually like Accelerate. I was so turned off by Reveal that I didn't even bother with that other fucking album (still don't own it), but Accelerate was actually strong.

    Vampire Weekend's first album had a shelf life of about five minutes.

  11. Blogger Old Man Duggan | 3:34 AM |  

    Oh, and I see Jason Reese from Trail of Dead all the time, as he used to work at the coffee shop I work at now. He's a good guy. That being said, Source Tags and Codes was never really my thing.

    Oh, and I actually really like In Rainbows.

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