January 29, 2009 | Comments ()

By TK | Music | January 29, 2009 |


Sometimes, you can’t help but think of your favorite bands like friends and lovers. You’ve got your longstanding, steady, reliable friends—the bands that you’ve followed through long and distinguished careers, that have quiet personal lives and rock-solid chemistry; they’ll eventually announce their retirement, and you’ll have a nice little nostalgia session listening to their ten-odd records and remembering their live shows. You’ve had a few flighty relationships over the years, too—bands that caught your ear for one decent album, probably on the strength of one killer single. It was a sexy fling, but you either lost touch completely, or later encounters never matched the intensity of that first romp. But occasionally, when you least expect it, the stars align, and you meet someone that just knocks your socks off. Undoubtedly, this is someone who lives at light speed—a band whose music you just cannot stop feeding into your aural cavities; a record that doesn’t leave your player for weeks or months. And you think: “this could be the one.” This isn’t a one-night stand, but a relationship that maintains the hot-and-heavy well past the honeymoon phase. You can’t help but be excited at what the future holds.

Inexorably, inevitably, though, something will shatter this dream. The greatness you’ve found is simply too much to sustain, and this treasure will be torn from you, prematurely and tragically. Likely, it will come as a shock; you’ll stumble across the news of the breakup while searching for word of a new album or tour, and it will ruin your day. You’ll continue to listen to their scant few albums, and every time you hear a godawful new band, you’ll miss them terribly.

Here, dear friends, are some of my favorite bands that met premature ends (though not due to the death of a key member). Some you may have heard of, some not; I hope, though, that I can inspire a few of you to give them a more serious listen. And, of course, share your own musical heartbreak in the comments.


Big%2BWreck.jpgBig Wreck
Boston, MA
1994-2002

Big Wreck remains, to this day, one of my favorite rock bands. I first heard them in 1998 on MuchMusic. They were doing a live performance of “Blown Wide Open,” from their 1997 debut record In Loving Memory Of…. The album was a decent seller in the U.S. and a major hit in Canada (birthplace of lead singer Ian Thornley), producing a top-ten single in “The Oaf.” Combining heavy, brooding rhythms with airy leads and Thornley’s rasping, versatile voice and thoughtful lyrics (and a little slide guitar), Big Wreck carved a unique and immediately mature sound from the post-grunge atmosphere. Sadly, they went largely unnoticed as America turned its attention instead to Matchbox 20, (fucking) Creed and the (goddamn) Spice Girls.

Big Wreck’s brooding sound was absolutely perfected for 2001’s The Pleasure and the Greed. Whatever optimism Thornley held on Memory was discarded here; the album is dark and haunting and introspective and unforgettable. His voice wades through a swamp of thick guitar riffs with a jaded determination that leaves you rapt for all of the record’s 67 minutes. Weighed down by poor marketing and its ambitious 16-song track listing, though, the album failed to gain critical or commercial success. The band broke up in 2002.

Legacy: Vocalist and primary songwriter Ian Thornley did time as a session musician before launching the band Thornley. He released Come Again in 2004, showing flashes of Big Wreck’s former brilliance but wandering too often into Saliva-esque territory. A follow-up record, titled Tiny Pictures, is slated for release in February. The lead single, “Make Believe,” can be heard on the band’s website; I’m sad to say just how cookie-cutter the song sounds, like it could have easily been on a stupid Daughtry album. Sigh.

Also: Nickelback has covered their song “Mistake,” causing me to ponder self-hatred.


Format.jpgThe Format
Peoria, AZ
2001-2008

The rise (kind of) and fall of The Format is a true testament to the ineptitude of the music industry. Despite receiving almost no marketing or support from Elektra Records, their 2003 major-label debut Interventions + Lullabies was a major hit around Phoenix and sold over 100,000 copies nationwide. Extensive touring helped gain the band a solid national following, aided by popularity on college radio stations of the impossibly catchy single “The First Single” (intentionally ironic, like the band’s name). Seriously: if you can get through this song without clapping, your inner metronome may be faulty.

The Format’s debut overcame its clearly college-age hipster mindset by setting the lyrics over beautifully written pop riffs, and by being at the same time not-overly-clever and disarmingly honest. It’s very much an open-windows-on-a-summer-day record, one that’s highly sing-along-able but for singer Nate Ruess’ ball-tucking range.

The road quickly got bumpy; Elektra Records folded while The Format was working on their sophomore album. Their new label, Atlantic Records, didn’t care for the 70’s-pop direction in which they were heading, and unceremoniously dropped them. The decision to release Dog Problems independently (on a label created by their management firm) proved a wise one, as the record was critically acclaimed and even found itself on a number of major publication ‘Best Of 2006’ lists. Dog Problems managed to maintain the band’s sunny musical disposition while Ruess lamented growing and feeling older, bad relationships and breakups with snark and irony. Carrying gorgeous harmonies over the aforementioned 70’s-pop sound and a greatly expanded musical palette, it’s a pleasant and self-aware pop album that never drowns itself in triteness like so many indie-rock outfits.

After touring almost nonstop through 2006 and remaining quiet through most of 2007, The Format posted a message on their website on February 4th, 2008, officially announcing their end:
“We have just put out word that we will not be making a new Format album. Please understand this was a tough decision and we’re both upset about it. While we accept there will be false speculation as to why, understand that Sam and I remain extremely close and in fact are still passing the Twin Peaks box set back and forth in an attempt to figure out who REALLY killed Laura Palmer. We also want to thank everyone with and within the Format, particularly Mike, Don, and Marko, whom without, none of this would have ever even been fully realized. We both suggest you support their musical talents and whatever they decide to do. And lastly we want to thank the fans who made this the best 5 years of our lives.”

Legacy: Nate Ruess has formed a new band called, simply, Fun. A demo recording of their first song can be heard at their “official site” (redirects to their myspace page). They’ve toured with Jack’s Mannequin and expect to release their debut in February.


Refreshments.jpgThe Refreshments
Arizona
1992-1998

The Refreshments’ 1996 major debut, Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy remains one of my favorite records. With apologies to the just-mentioned group, this album and this band are just plain fun. The music is southwestern-flavored, upbeat and spicy, and the lyrics, dealing with such complex issues as maniacal women, booze, Mexican hookers, booze, lost erections, and booze, are laugh-out-loud funny. Fizzy is an album from which I can still sing every single word. It’s a fucking blast every time. Despite having a smash-hit single in “Banditos,” The Refreshments were unable to generate much hype for their 1997 follow-up; why is a mystery to me.

Actually, scratch that. It’s no mystery. This nation of dumbasses decided to tape “Banditos” from the radio (which was clearly the cool thing to do) rather than buy the fucking record.

If all of those morons had listened to the whole album, they’d have excitedly realized that 1997’s The Bottle and Fresh Horses was exactly what they wanted: more of the same. More catchy lead hooks, more songs about the desert, cowboys and dirty sex, and more maracas. It doesn’t hold the same special place in my collection as Fizzy, but it’s still of hell of a listenable southern rock record. It’s kind of like Young Guns II that way; if you dug the first, you’re gonna like the sequel.

For me, though, it’s really that remarkable debut that puts them on this list. There are enough memorable songs on The Bottle and Fresh Horses to make me pine for another Refreshments album. The band split up after that record’s release.

Legacy: Frontman Roger Clyne regrouped with the Refreshments’ drummer to form Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. They play a number of Refreshments’ songs in concert, but the feel of their music is distinctly more country, which doesn’t really do it for me.
Also: Roger Clyne still looks like Scott Stapp in 1970’s cowboy clothing. Oy.


spacehog1a.jpgSpacehog
Leeds, England
1994-2002

There are two reasons why Spacehog may not quite belong on this list; I’ll get to the second in a few moments, but the first is that they have an excellent three-album catalog, and three good albums are a hell of a lot from a modestly successful 1990’s-era band. A glam-rock band, at that. Not quite a skin-tight jumpsuits/feathered hair glam-rock band (The Darkness), just influenced by acts like David Bowie and Queen. Outer space is a recurring subject in their lyrics, and their music has a buzzy, atmospheric sound befitting their somewhat strange themes. Despite scoring a massive hit, “In The Meantime,” from 1995’s Resident Alien, Spacehog’s subsequent records didn’t garner much attention. It’s a sad thing, really, because they continued to hone their spacey rock sound, giving off a more inventive vibe on 1998’s The Chinese Album while maintaining the tight musical stylings of their debut and leaving room for a few of their odd and fanciful diversions (“Captain Freeman,” “Skylark,”). Their last album, 2001’s The Hogyssey—aside from being a flat-out great rock record—contains one of the coolest songs you’ll ever hear: a funked-up version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” called “The Hogyssey.”

The band split up after a final tour supporting The Black Crowes and Oasis.

Legacy: Spacehog’s members have been involved in a number of projects since the band’s end. However, this brings me to the second reason they may not belong on this list: Spacehog reunited for two shows in July of 2008, and announced later in the year that they’ll begin work on a new record. Two new songs have recently been posted on the band’s myspace page. (Private squee!)


The Killers
Las Vegas, NV
2004

The Killers stormed onto the scene in 2004 with Hot Fuss, a spectacular synth-rock debut. However, after bleeding that record dry, they seemed to disappear completely. The band’s members re-emerged in 2006 under the informal (as in: this is what I call them) name “The Shitty Killers,” and have released two albums. They both suck. Not just the singles, either; both albums are shit from start to finish.

I might add that the best song the (good) Killers ever recorded is only on the Limited Edition of Hot Fuss, and that’s “Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll.” In the wake of the Shitty Killers, this title is gloriously ironic.


Poster Child
Cleveland, OH
2004-2006

This acoustic duo was the talk of thirty or so people in Cleveland for a few days, somewhere between 2004 and 2006. They played all over Lakewood, sometimes to crowds as large as forty or even fifty dedicated friends, family members and drunks. Never fear, though, friends. If you weren’t there to experience a Poster Child show, I present to you the chance of a lifetime. The duo will be reuniting this Saturday, January 31st, to play a fundraiser at Merry Arts Pub & Grille, 15607-1/2 Detroit Ave. in Lakewood, Ohio, from 5-9pm. If you’re in the Cleveland area, you’d be remiss in not attending. It’s for a good cause. A night of decent original music and marginally competent covers shall be enjoyed by all.


Yes, that was a shameless plug. Fuck off.


Sean Kufel is an engineer who, sadly, does not drive trains. He can very rarely be found sitting still, and right this minute is probably practicing for the show this weekend, hoping his voice holds up. He lives with his wife on the west side of Cleveland.

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Bands That Died Too Young / Sean K.

Music | January 29, 2009 | Comments ()



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