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10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

The ones who deliver 10 times outta 10 -- or come close.

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Artwork by Cap Blackard (Buy prints + more!)

If you’re looking for a car that won’t break down, get a Lexus, a Toyota, or an Acura. Need a dishwasher that’ll leave your cereal bowls sparkling for the next decade? Try a Bosch or Whirlpool. That’s according to Consumer Reports, a highly useful website that’s among the Internet’s least sexy. It’s the digital equivalent of a cold shower or kick to the nards, and that’s because there’s nothing exotic or arousing about dependability. That’s especially true in rock ‘n’ roll, where artists are supposed to challenge listeners and forever push themselves to try new things.

But there’s something to be said for consistency, especially when it comes to true originals who arrive on the scene nearly or fully formed. The 10 artists on this list aren’t one-trick ponies—there’s variation from record to record, for better and for worse—but over long stretches of time, they have been (or were, in the case of those no longer with us) remarkably consistent. They settled early on signature sounds and have never really let us down. In 20 years, we’ll still be blasting ‘em in our Corollas.

Cocteau Twins

 10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

If you have a favorite Cocteau Twins album, you’re the type of person that can detect “intimations of unripe apricot” in your pinot noir. You’re a musical super taster, and you have an understanding of this Scottish group not really needed to appreciate their music. All of their albums envelop you like warm blankets, and even if their debut, Garlands, is a little scratchier and itchier than subsequent standouts like Blue Bell Knoll or Heaven and Las Vegas, you could tumble through the Twins’ full catalog without breaking the dream pop spell.

The Cramps

Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach landed in New York City with such a good idea—playing trashy ‘60s garage and howling ‘50s rockabilly with punk edge and the kitschy irreverence of late-night creepshow hosts—that they never bothered to come up with another one. The first couple of albums are the best, but even after they added bass, upped the tempos, and let campiness trump cleverness, they were lots of fun. If you didn’t follow ‘em to the end, be sure to make an appointment with “Dr. Fucker, M.D.

Stereolab

stereolab 10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

The one to start with, as per most aficionados, is 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup, but if you’re only going to own one Stereolab album, you’d do just as well to pick up 1993’s Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, 1999’s Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, or 2010’s swan song, Not Music. It’s all sensual, aloof blippery—Neu meets the Velvets meets Esquivel at a communist rally—and it’s all pretty excellent.

The Ramones

ramones 10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

Like the Cramps, these punk pioneers stumbled upon something too potent to mess with. It helped that they couldn’t really play, and even in the ‘80s, when the production got iffy and the songwriting got even iffier, they were never in danger of schlocking out and making a Poison record. While no one reaches for Animal Boy (1986) or Halfway to Sanity (1987), it’s only because the earlier stuff is leaner, catchier, and less cartoonish. If 1992’s Mondo Bizarro is really as bad as it gets—Johnny Ramone rated it a C in a New York Magazine interview—this is a pretty solid catalog.

Bad Religion

bad religion 10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

From 1988’s Suffer onward, Bad Religion have been punk’s patron saints of reliability. Their most recent album, True North, is all breakneck pop-thrash with big words and sweet harmonies, and the same goes for 2004’s The Empire Strikes First, a timely disc of antiwar tunes, and 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction, the semi-hit that proved a major label deal wouldn’t change them. Even the Christmas album is kind of badass.

Tom Waits

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With 1983’s Swordfishtrombones, Tom Waits crossed the Rubicon, went full-on crazy, jumped the shark on a flaming chopper with a one-eyed Filipino dwarf perched on the handlebars. Still, it was less a reinvention than it was a torching of restrictions, as Waits had always been into playing seedy characters at the fringes of American society. On those pre-’83 records, he was a world-weary lounge rat, and on his subsequent discs—barking-mad junkyard operas of uniformly high quality—he’s crept further into the margins.

Spoon

spoon 10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

Somewhere in the first sentence of just about every review of 2010’s Transference, Spoon’s most recent album, you’ll find the word “consistency,” followed by explanation of why, in the case of this Austin band, it’s both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, everything they’ve done since 2001’s Girls Can Tell has been terrific, but after five discs of witty and insightful indie-dude funkateering, fans have come to take them for granted. Which is too bad, because Britt Daniel’s one of the best lyricists out there, and drummer Jim Eno and bassist Rob Pope polish the smashed-glass rhythms of post-punk predecessors like Wire and Gang of Four, infusing a little bit of soul that goes a long way. It’s herky-jerky and loaded with heart, the “Spoon sound,” and if these guys manage it time and time again, they’re the only ones.

Depeche Mode

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Ever since the Mode hit their stride, and Martin Gore stepped into the void left by initial sonic architect Vince Clark and transformed the group from fey synth-popsters into darkly sexy electro-rock stadium shakers, the band has essentially been on autopilot. The transition occurred right around 1986’s Black Celebration, and while there have since been highs (1990’s masterful Violator) and lows (2001’s ironically titled Exciter), they’ve managed to hold it steady. Last year’s Delta Machine, their first album in four years, felt instantly comfy and familiar, like a well-worn leather bondage vest.

Belle and Sebastian

 10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

Should your Belle and Sebastian Write about Love CD accidentally find its way into the jewel case for 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister or 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress—the pinnacles of this Scottish troupe’s catalog—the mix-up won’t ruin your Sunday morning. Today’s B&S is louder and beefier than the ‘90s iteration many credit with inventing “twee,” but they still sit across from Motorhead on the metaphorical seesaw that maintains rock’s precious dude-wuss, leather-argyle equilibrium.

R.E.M.

 10 Artists With Remarkably Consistent Discographies

At their absolute worst—UpReveal, and Around the SunR.E.M. seemed anemic and bored, and all those sleepy nods to Brian Wilson led many longtime fans to jump ship. Then came Accelerate (2008) and Collapse into Now (2011), late-era spikes that salvaged the band’s good name and helped boost their overall average. Even if they hadn’t ended with those two, though, they’d have gone out with something like an A minus, as the things people love about R.E.M.—Michael Stipe’s mumbled profundity, Peter Buck’s charging jangle, and Mike Mills’ killer harmonies—are present throughout their canon.

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