Going out on top is an art mastered by a wise few artists who leave in their wake not 10 years of novelty albums, but explosions and the ashes of their contemporaries. Here are seven artists who knew that giving up a great thing is sometimes the best thing to do to keep it great forever

CONTRIBUTORS:
[SH] Scott Heisel
[BM] Brittany Moseley
[JP] Jason Pettigrew
[CW] Cassie Whitt
 

AMERICAN FOOTBALL

They were only active for three years, played a few dozen shows and released a mere 12 songs between a self-titled EP and self-titled LP. But it's actually because of that American Football have a perfect legacy. This Midwestern jazz-emo trio, led by Mike Kinsella (then-drummer of Joan Of Arc, now frontman of Owen) didn't release a single bad song. The odd time signatures and mathy, clean guitar riffs have influenced a slew of bands with the absolutely terrible subgenre designation “twinkle daddy” (cf. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, CSTVT, You Blew It!, etc.), and Kinsella's obtuse, seemingly improvised lyrics are the stuff of endless Tumblr reblogs. (“We're relatively stable and tentatively able/To say whether this uncertainty is for sure”) Basically, all the cringeworthy parts of turn of the century emo came from American Football—and God bless 'em for it. [SH]

BEAR VS SHARK

You know how crazy letlive. are in a live setting? Well, they're not the first band to be that wild onstage. Michigan quintet Bear Vs Shark weren't the first, either, but they definitely brought back the spasmodic, thrashing style of post-hardcore from the grave At The Drive-In buried it in winning over a small but extremely dedicated fanbase who pine for a BVS reunion to this day. And yes, their live show was awesome (just watch the music video for “Catamaran,” featuring a very small guest appearance by yours truly, for proof), but the two full-lengths BVS dropped on Equal Vision in the mid-’00s are essential, too. We're still not sure what frontman Marc Paffi was singing about most of the time, but we just know it was fun as hell to yell along with. [SH]

THE BLOOD BROTHERS

The best thing to come out Seattle, hands down (although I will always love you, Nirvana, for burning down the American hair-metal scene), the Blood Brothers took hardcore’s constructs of speed, velocity and acceleration and spiked it with an underage post-punk guitar hero (Cody Votolato) and two shrieking jet turbines (Johnny Whitney and Jordan Blilie) masquerading as vocalists. Sure, there was screaming in the band’s oeuvre, but the singers’ tag-team attack added another element to their sound, as opposed to the trite “clean/unclean” vocal designation popular with pedestrian “screamo” bands. In 2007, after touring in support of their fifth and final album, Young Machetes (which featured the chrome-melting “Set Fire To The Face On Fire,” as well as the sedate groove of “Street Wars/Exotic Foxholes”), the band quietly broke up, splintering into two units, Jaguar Love and Past Lives. Earlier this year, there were rumors the Bloods might reconvene for a gig or two somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (damned internet). While that did not happen, the Blood Brothers’ intense, perverse, atmospheric and coruscating legacy of recordings will continue to deliver myriad of possibilities for upstart hardcore hellions and the most hungry post-punk practitioners for years to come. [JP]

JAWBREAKER

They're the best punk band of the ’90s, hands down. They never put out a bad record. In fact (and this might be a controversial opinion, but fuck you, it's my website and I can say what I want), they went out on top with 1995's Dear You, an angsty, grungy pop-punk record with some of the darkest lyrics put to some of the catchiest melodies ever. They broke up in 1996 and have stayed broken up ever since, despite countless rumors (and likely endless big-money festival offers) otherwise. And sure, right as we were writing this, frontman Blake Schwarzenbach posted a picture on his Instagram account of himself hanging out with bassist Chris Bauermeister and drummer Adam Pfahler, which will likely stoke the reunion fires again (and perhaps make this blurb redundant since this whole list is meant to be about bands who haven't reunited), but you know what? There is literally a zero percent chance of Jawbreaker's legacy ever being tainted, because they were so fucking great. [SH]

NIRVANA

When Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994, people had only just begun to see the Seattle grunge band’s capabilities were capable of. Today, Bleach is remembered because it’s Nirvana’s debut album, and every kid who’s just discovering alternative music has a copy of the band’s sophomore record. But it was In Utero, Nirvana’s third and final album (and a marked shift from Neverind’s polished sound,) that became a commercial and critical success. The album, which is arguably the band’s best, saw Cobain taking on the distasteful nature of the music industry (“Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”), his relationship with wife Courtney Love (“Heart-Shaped Box”) and his own struggles with depression and fame (“Dumb,” “Pennyroyal Tea”). Less than seven months later, Cobain was dead. “There are some people that you meet in life that you just know that they are not going to live to be a 100 years old,” Dave Grohl said of his bandmate in 2009 to the BBC. “In some ways, you kind of prepare yourself emotionally for that to be a reality.” [BM]

OPERATION IVY

Ask any punk band formed within the past decade about their inspirations, and you will often get an earful about Energy, the first and only Operation Ivy album, which comprised 19 songs, none of which hit the three-minute mark. The band, which featured Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman (who would go on to found Rancid) wielded more influence over the ska-punk genre during their two-year lifespan and inspired more proud and prominent massive back-patch placement than most bands with massive tenures in the genre. When AP asked former vocalist Jesse Michaels about an Op Ivy reunion in 2012, he told us he feels it would be in bad taste to resurrect the band, which grew in popularity after their demise. “It feels to me that it would be kind of a shame to take that very pure thing and subject it to booking agents, cuts at the door for merchandise and all that bullshit that goes along with being in a bigger band.” [CW]

THE PLOT TO BLOW UP THE EIFFEL TOWER

The Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower started out in 2001 as a band seemingly obsessed with political tracts and free jazz as much as the velocity of hardcore. After a series of 7-inch singles and a debut album (2003’s Dissertation, Honey) that mined their jazzcore-meets-Last Poets vibe, a massive rethink was in order. What came out was the 2005 LP, Life In The Fascist Brothel, an album just as corrosive, overmodulated, thorny and (depending who the plot were opening for on tour) annoying as any of the bands with which they were being grouped. Their last recordings—a selection of demos titled Saviors And Suckers—found the band on a next-level, post-punk trajectory approximating the late Germs singer Darby Crash fronting the Birthday Party. Frontman Brandon Welchez took sneering arrogance to a whole new level while riding on top of guitarist Charles Rowell’s six-stringed fuckery and the propulsion generated by bassist Willy Graves and drummer Brian Hill. The band referenced everything from classic post-punk, ’70s glam and flanged-out goth, peppering it all with Welchez’ full-on attitude. But instead of recording the tracks, the band decided in the middle of a 2006 tour they were breaking up. Two years later, bassist Graves died, Welchez and Rowell started psych-punk outfit Crocodiles, and Hill was a co-founder of the Soft Pack (formerly playing under the handle the Muslims). A band on the pinnacle of making their best album—one poised to be a highly influential one at that—instead choose to kick the whole thing over a psychic cliff and walk away. This writer bets your hard drive is filled with bands who should’ve done that years ago… [JP]