We all know about “difficult” second albums and the notorious sophomore jinx, but what’s the cliche for a band that achieves modest success on their debut, but breaks big on LP2? What’s the common career arc for that band? What’s a reasonable expectation? It’s actually a pretty unusual phenomenon, one without enough relevant recent examples (those having occurred within, say, the last 25 years) to support a narrative. You’ve got, like, Nirvana, of course, who followed their second album, 1991’s Nevermind, with the comparatively ugly and challenging In Utero in 1993 before Kurt Cobain killed himself in ’94. You’ve also got Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011, five years after the release of her second album, Back To Black, having never released a follow-up. You’ve got My Bloody Valentine, who went 22 years between their second and third albums (1991’s Loveless and 2013’s m b v, respectively). You’ve got Neutral Milk Hotel, who released their second album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, in 1998, and as of today, 16 years later, have yet to even begin work on LP3. And then you’ve got the Fugees, who broke big with their sophomore LP, The Score, in 1996, but had more or less imploded by 1997, and have yet to stage even a successful reunion tour. Those are just some names that jump to my mind — I’m surely leaving out lots of relevant counterexamples — but lumped together like that, they portend an ominous future for other sophomore successes.
Did Deafheaven break big last year with their second album, Sunbather? It depends how you define “big,” I guess: Album-cover placement in an Apple ad aside, Deafheaven are still probably not quite a household name. But in the metal world? Yeah, Sunbather was a big deal. Even in the non-metal indie sphere, people heard about/heard/loved/hated/had some opinion of Sunbather. That album made a legitimate, unexpected impact. So the next stage of Deafheaven’s career will be worth watching, if for no other reason than its sheer unpredictability — the band really have no clearly blazed path to follow. They could make another album that sounds exactly like Sunbather; they could make an album that veers as far from Sunbather as that album did from the band’s 2011 debut, Roads To Judah. Or they could veer further still.
The Adult Swim single “From The Kettle Onto The Coil” is the first new song released by Deafheaven since Sunbather, and while it’s superficially similar to that album’s biggest and best songs — namely “Dream House” and “The Pecan Tree” — it employs all the band’s defining elements with greater clarity, almost compartmentalizing them: The black metal side is sharper, the shoegaze side is prettier, the post-rock side is more scenic, the pop side is catchier. The song would have sequenced into Sunbather pretty seamlessly, but as a standalone object, it’s a promising sign of things to come, whether it ultimately represents a detour, a stop along the way, or a destination. Listen.