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Breaking the Hype Cycle: 10 Buzz Bands That Avoided the Sophomore Slump

By now, the psychedelic Brooklynites in Yeasayer are probably sick of being compared to Animal Collective. So we hope they don’t mind us saying that listening to their second full-length, Odd Blood, this January reminds us of playing AnCo’s Merriweather Post Pavilion at the same time last year — which is to say, as far as we’re concerned, Odd Blood has set the bar for 2010. A 2007 buzz band with the release of debut All Hour Cymbals, Yeasayer have massively overhauled their sound on the new record, trading the devotional and hypnotic for something that’s more upbeat and darkly revelatory.

This reinvention has saved Yeasayer from the sad fate of so many former critical darlings, from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! to Tapes ‘N Tapes to (dare we say it?) Vampire Weekend: that disappointment we call the “sophomore slump.” So, in celebration of Odd Blood, we offer 10 blog-age artists whose second full-lengths lived up to (or surpassed) the promise of their predecessors.

1. No Age — Nouns (Sub Pop, 2008)
Technically, Nouns is No Age’s first full-length. But it’s the album’s predecessor, 2007’s compilation EP Weirdo Rippers, that threw blog buzz about the duo into overdrive and drew nationwide attention to Los Angeles’ emerging lo-fi punk scene. The question was, with the backing of Sub Pop and a rapidly growing audience, would No Age sacrifice their divine ruckus for a blander, more commercially viable sound? Thankfully, the answer was an emphatic “no.”

Watch: “Teen Creeps”

2. The New Pornographers — Electric Version (Matador, 2003)
When Carl Newman’s New Pornographers debuted in 2000 with a lineup featuring, among others, Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and indie-country chanteuse Neko Case, it was like a dream come true. The supergroup’s first full-length, Mass Romantic, was everything the title promised: raucous, fun… and, yes, romantic. But would these luminaries’ synergy fade after a one-album stand? As it turned out, Electric Version was even better than Mass Romantic, as Newman’s songwriting grew more evocative and his understanding of his bandmates’ particular talents increased.

Watch: “From Blown Speakers”

3. Clipse — Hell Hath No Fury (Re-Up Gang, 2006)
When Neptunes associates Clipse dropped their first album, Lord Willin’, in 2002, they managed to captivate both die-hard hip-hop fans and indie bloggers. But label troubles prevented the rappers from releasing a follow-up until 2006. Had listeners forgotten about Clipse during the four years between releases? If they did, it didn’t seem to matter. Hell Hath No Fury was so raw and tight, it became an even bigger hit — and a more impressive achievement — than Lord Willin’.

Watch:“Mr. Me Too”

4. Atlas Sound — Logos (Kranky, 2009)/Deerhunter — Microcastle (Kranky, 2008)
Not many people listened to Deerhunter’s official debut, the colorfully-titled Turn It Up, Faggot. It wasn’t until 2007’s prickly Cryptograms that the music blogosphere got hooked on the work of Bradford Cox. The next year, the prolific musician released both a solo album (Atlas Sound’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel) and Deerhunter’s Microcastle. 2009 then brought Atlas Sound’s second full-length. How could Cox put out such a dizzyingly large volume of work while touring constantly and still maintain the quality of his earlier efforts? Well, if you know what vitamins he’s taking, kindly point us in their direction.

Watch: Atlas Sound with Noah Lennox — “Walkabout”

5. The Books — The Lemon Of Pink (Tomlab, 2002)
When we first heard the Books, on 2002’s Thought for Food, we were struck by their singularly appealing strangeness. They just didn’t remind us of anything we’d ever heard before. Despite being full of samples, their music never fell into gimmickry. When they put out The Lemon of Pink a mere year later, we worried that they’d run out of clever material; but what resulted was a masterpiece of thoughtful, cinematic minimalism.

Watch: “Take Time”

6. Kanye West — Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella, 2005)
Make fun of Kanye and his inappropriate interjections all you want — he’s still a talented guy. And his breakout 2004 album, The College Dropout, was a major force in revitalizing a mainstream hip-hop world that couldn’t stop rehashing its ’90s gangsta-rap fixations. What came through, instead, in West’s recordings (well, besides his monster ego) was a genuine love of music. When the next year’s Late Registration earned both critical love and an Album of the Year Grammy, it was clear Kanye was here to stay.

Watch: “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”

7. Joanna Newsom — Ys (Drag City, 2006)
Elfin folkie Joanna Newsom first endeared herself to the unwashed indie masses with her satisfyingly-nerdy 2004 release The Milk-Eyed Mender. Her nursery-rhyme tunes referenced linguistics, and her remarkably Muppet-ish voice underlined her outsider appeal. But Mender was only a taste of what was to come on Ys, the harpist’s lyrically-ambitious cycle of long, narrative songs that hearkens back to an oral tradition older than Homer.

Watch: “Monkey and Bear”

8. LCD Soundsystem — Sound of Silver (DFA, 2007)
If there were ever a song more cathartic than LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” a track narrated by that tiresome music know-it-all who’s always bragging that he practiced with Suicide and “was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids,” we haven’t heard it. DFA honcho James Murphy’s brilliant, biting takedown of, well, guys like him fueled a self-titled debut album that dominated 2005’s sweatiest dance parties. And even though the dance-punk craze died out before the release of a follow-up, there was nothing anachronistic about Sound of Silver. The record finds Murphy bringing the intensity down a notch and, on tracks like “All My Friends,” “Someone Great” and “New York, I Love You,” empathizing with the aging hipster he once satirized.

Watch: “New York, I Love You”

9. M.I.A. — Kala (Interscope, 2007)
Music bloggers (and their readers) were an easy sell on M.I.A.: 2005’s Kala boasted killer beats, politically-charged lyrics and a fresh fusion of hip-hop, rock, and South Asian music. But was she anything more than a one-album novelty? As Kala proved, M.I.A. still had plenty more to say. In fact, her unstoppable Clash-sampling single “Paper Planes” was so appealing that it won prominent soundtrack slots in both Slumdog Millionaire and Pineapple Express, and earned its mastermind a decidedly broader audience.

Watch: “Paper Planes”

10. TV on the Radio — Return to Cookie Mountain (4AD, 2006)
TV on the Radio first earned their buzz in 2004, with the explosive, genre-fucking Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. But the guys really got it together two years later, on a sophomore album that boasted higher-quality production and backing vocals from none other than TVotR superfan David Bowie. If their debut established them as a force to be reckoned with, Return to Cookie Mountain proved they were one of the most exciting, original rock acts of the decade.

Watch: “Wolf Like Me”

Which other blog-age bands do you think defied the sophomore slump? Tell us your favorites in the comments below.