Bands break up all the time. This is an established fact, and depending upon how many of your favorite band's original members are alive, sane or producing concept albums, it can be a welcome one. The only difference this year is the purely unfair share of fallen rock soldiers that will have ended with it. The announcements of their demise came quickly and with a strange range on the surprise spectrum: Some of 2011's dead bands ended before their time (LCD Soundsystem), a lot of them ended after their time (R.E.M.), and some of them past even the point where they should be reasonably allowed to continue to exist (t.A.T.u.). Below, Backbeat put together the year's five hardest hits to the industry, accompanied by five songs to make you even sadder about your loss.
Jenny Lewis' indie dream-pop outfit ended with a whimper via an "indefinite hiatus" most fans already called by its eventual name: Death. But in the thirteen years the group spent on repeat in dorm rooms and first apartments across the country, its legacy was cemented in a series of career-defining moves across the spectrum: from Saddle Creek to Warner Bros., from lovely to stunning, from small-town to sold-out. AlthoughUnder the Blacklight
came with heavy accusations that the band had sold out, the L.A. quartet played graceful, brainy and sincere rock that wasn't afraid to show its seems. If you count Lewis' solo career separately from Jenny and Johnny, the band leaves a generous handful of side projects in its wake, though some of them are today on "hiatuses" of their own.
Before die-hard fans criticize the fact that this is not, to be sure, an original White Stripes song, consider the point: At no point in their way-too-short, occasionally-too-baffling career did Jack and Meg White produce any track, song, sound or show that was not, definitively, a White Stripes moment. Regardless of their constantly fluctuating personal relationship, the duo played and eventually championed a brazen brand of rock so heavy on Jack's blues influence that at times the result was blatant retro-punk. With fourteen years, six albums and two current side projects under the band's belt, the surprise behind their demise is softened by the fact that their musical generation earned a solid second archetype to sit beside the Strokes.
You'll have to forgive us for the song choice above, but is there really any other option to accompany this reflection? R.E.M>'s September decision to leave a scene it revolutionized was a sad one, if not a surprising one. For more than three decades, Michael Stipe and his motley crew of nerdy but raucous rockers stood as brave archetypes of rocktivism, a mix of anthemic musicianship and sincere political activism that falls somewhere between caring too much and playing too hard. Perhaps that is why, when it came time to pull the plug 31 years in, that decision was accompanied by the same sort of bravery. Can you take a stand against taking a stance anymore? While we're at it, can you continue to be epic college rock decades after your first fans graduated? The answer is yes, but only if you're R.E.M.
How many hearts broke when Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon announced their relationship had ended?Ours did.
And despite the fact that their record label, Matador, insists the band's future is "uncertain," the eventual fact is that the future of the haltingly eerie noise-rockers is looking dim these days. If you take a few clues from earlier entries on our list, the October announcement that Sonic Youth, together only one year less than R.E.M., is on indefinite hiatus should send you desperately running for their B-sides. And there are some glorious ones: Before it began to crumble slowly inward, before it began to break, Sonic Youth cornered its career on sounding carefully, beautifully broken.
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When LCD Soundsystem toured with Arcade Fire in 2007, it was almost as difficult to tell which band was really the headliner as it was to distract yourself from James Murphy's dance-punk even after it had been followed by the small Montreal circus that is Arcade Fire. The beauty behind Murphy's brilliance comes through most easily in the fact that all three of his band's albums can soundtrack absolutely any moment in time, regardless of how far or near that moment is from the guys' home of New York City. Always equal parts brutal and gentle, LCD Soundsystem mixed lyrics that were savvy to the point of being prophetic with a sound that was brash to the point of nostalgia to become the soundtrack of sloppy nights, messy break-ups, high school reunions, first kisses and quarter- and mid-life crises the world over. Their spot at the top of the list is founded in their ability to soundtrack a loss of their magnitude better than anyone else could.