All good things must come to an end and, in 2011, a whole lot of good things did exactly that. Indie rock godfathers R.E.M. released their 15th album – the sturdy, rewarding Collapse Into Now – before quietly calling it a day, while LCD Soundsystem went out with a bang, staging a series of euphoric farewell shows in New York that played out like one glorious, long goodbye party. And since the vacuum a breakup creates can leave you feeling lost, disoriented and alone, we’ve put together a list of rebound bands to help you get through the difficult times.
R.E.M., by J. Edward Keyes
Years Active: 1980 September 2011 The Breakup: After essentially inventing American indie rock in the '80s and then following it to its logical conclusion headlining arenas without compromising their core values (name one other rock band of their size that never licensed a song for use in a commercial) R.EM. quietly, gracefully called it a day in the latter part of the year. People like to scoff at their fate in the years following founding drummer Bill Berry's departure, but to return to those albums particularly 2007's Accelerate and this year's sublime Collapse Into Now -- is to hear a band learning to scale down and make consistent, respectable records for a large, dedicated following. "I want Patti Lee proud, my brothers proud, my sisters proud," Michael Stipe says in the final song on the group's final album, referencing both his family and his chief musical inspiration. That the Patti Lee in question joins him on that song's chorus makes it safe to say he accomplished those goals.
The Decemberists: After years of feinting in this direction, Portland’s best librarycore band fully embraced their college rock youth on The King is Dead, turning out a record rich with Rickenbacker jangle. There’s a reason “Calamity Song” sounds almost exactly like “Gardening at Night” that nervous guitar hook was provided by Peter Buck himself. Hearing him pluck out such familiar, welcome phrasing is the musical equivalent of, “We can still be friends.” Ski Lodge: Though the vocals are a far cry from Michael Stipe’s elegant bleat, the tangle of guitars and herky-jerk rhythms particularly on the breathless “I Would Die to Be” sound like they crawled from the South in the early ’80s.
The White Stripes, By Maris Kreizman
Years Active: 1997- February 2011 The Breakup: Sometimes the most significant breakup comes years after the divorce. Ex-spouses Jack and Meg White enjoyed a fruitful run as candy cane-colored garage rock revivalists, but in 2011 they called it quits.
The Black Keys: This bluesy garage rock duo may not have the most striking of wardrobes, but they do have great chemistry. Just like Jack and Meg, they’ve achieved mainstream success even as they remain critical darlings. Ty Segall: After years of playing in a bunch of lo-fi garage bands, Ty Segall went solo in 2008 and mastered the art of simultaneously playing sloppy and slick.
Sonic Youth, By Andrew Parks
Years Active: 1981 - October 2011 (?) The Breakup: Awkward. That's what Sonic Youth became the very second Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore indie rock's very own Brad and Angelina, sans the imported children announced their split after nearly three decades of being the coolest married couple alive. How nice of them to spare the rest of the band (guitarist Lee Ranaldo, drummer Steve Shelley and bassist Mark Ibold) their squabbling and stop making music together for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Ranaldo has already announced a new solo album with such esteemed special guests as Alan Licht, Nels Cline and his old SY buddy Steve. Hopefully Moore will respond with a tasteful folk record like his excellent Trees Outside the Academy LP the world doesn't need another unlistenable noise artist, dude and Gordon will tap Pussy Galore's Julie Cafritz and Boredoms' Yoshimi P-We for a Free Kitten full-length that lives up to the title of their 1995 effort Nice Ass.
No Age: Like Kim and Thurston, No Age’s Randy Randall and Dean Spunt know just how to toe the delicate line between nihilistic noise and meaty, meaningful hooks. Another important parallel: They’ve also been embraced by the art and fashion world through collaborations with Rodarte, Doug Aitken and photographer/filmmaker Todd Cole. So we can expect a lot more than records from the L.A. duo in the coming years. The Megaphonic Thrift: If you’ve ever seen the Megaphonic Thrift live, then you know why we think the Norwegian group is a suitable substitute for Sonic Youth. Between their love of flippant feedback and masochistic melodies, they might as well start covering Daydream Nation or Goo on the side for some extra cash. And the name for that proposed side project? EVOOL. Like the Rachel Ray catchphrase, only with a subtle Sonic Youth reference from 1986.
LCD Soundsystem, By Laura Leebove
Years Active: 2001 - April 2011 The Breakup: "I was there/ I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids," James Murphy says in LCD Soundsystem's first single, "Losing My Edge." Murphy did bring dance music to the punk kids, and nearly a decade and three full-lengths later, he decided it was a mission accomplished. A couple months before the release of 2010's This Is Happening, Murphy announced that the band would be playing its final show in April, a glorious three-plus-hour set at Madison Square Garden that ended with "New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down."
Holy Ghost!: New York duo Holy Ghost! released their debut LP this year on Murphy’s DFA Records, and it’s full of disco and electropop hooks that, in songs like “Do It Again” and “Hold On,” aren’t too far off from Murphy’s own. M83: M83′s Anthony Gonzalez writes songs that are more about childhood than about getting older, but he and his band share LCD’s affinity for euphoric, room-filling dance music. This year’s bombastic double-album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming has widened their fan base exponentially, putting M83 on track to leave just as big of a legacy.
Broken Social Scene, By Jayson Greene
Years Active: 1999 November 2011 The Breakup: On their second, breakthrough record, You Forgot It in People, the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene leapt startlingly from the proverbial bargain bin to the forefront of indie. Warm, welcoming, and radiating generosity, You Forgot It In People doesn't sound like a "big" record, and BSS don't feel like an Important Band, at least in the initial sense; there was no righteous, defining order of business to their mission. They were just a bunch of smiling Canadians who loved a wide array of pretty sounds. Nonetheless, they collapsed indie's distinctions between "big" and "small" rarely, if ever, had ten or more people gathered together to make sounds as small, wispy, and diaphanous as you can find on YFIIP. And yet, when they wound up the whirring full-band engine, you got glorious skyscrapers like "KC Accidental", "Almost Crimes," and "Lover's Spit." For the next several years, they were the mellow sun at the center of indie, a big messy tangle of friends that never stopped combusting, reforming, or breaking off into little side projects. After their appropriately epic, intensely personal Forgiveness Rock Record, the band called it quits gracefully, poignantly, and with dignity, the way break ups happen in romantic comedies.
Feist: At least we still have Feist. Leslie Feist sprang from the background vocalist howling in the background of “Almost Crimes” to become our foremost purveyor of enigmatic, cool-blue adult-contempo. Though they are bound together by her rich, pond-still voice, each record she releases sounds sneakily different than the last, and this year’s Metals proved that BSS’s magpie-sensibility DNA lived on in her music. Hooray For Earth: These eMusic Selects alums have BSS’s Technicolor way of painting with guitars and synths to create a big, glowing canvas of gentle color. They also know their way around a brain-rattlingly catchy hook that you can actually feel traveling to the very tips of your synapses the first time you hear it.