I am of the opinion that EPs frequently contain an artist’s best work. The filler and fat of the usual full length is able to be trimmed off, and a lot of the time bands are able to try new things in small doses, which results in interesting songs.
AFI - All Hallows E.P. - Ok, so we all know what AFI has become, but All Hallows came out at the height of their awesomeness (immediately after their seminal album, Black Sails in the Sunset). For those not in the know, this EP contains 4 songs inspired by The Misfits’ favorite haunted holiday. This little collection is so awesome that AFI’s label owner, Dexter Holland, covered one of the songs in his band, The Offspring. Say what you want about The Offspring, but when was the last time you heard of a platinum selling artist cover a little hardcore band?
Defeater - Lost Ground - Lost Ground is 6 songs of awesome hardcore in the stylings of Modern Life is War and American Nightmare. The lyrical content is strong, as Defeater sings the sad story of an African-American who enlists during WWII and returns home a war hero, only to be rejected by the country he risked his life to protect. Defeater really has a way of pulling at your heart strings despite being a hardcore band and having only 6 tracks to work with.
Alkaline Trio/Hot Water Music - Split - Two of my favorite bands teaming up to release a split EP? Yes, please! Alkaline Trio offer up two originals: ‘Queen of Pain’ and ‘While You’re Waiting,’ as well as a cover of Hot Water Music’s ‘Rooftops.’ Hot Water Music supply two new originals: ‘God Deciding’ and ‘Russian Roulette,’ along with two A3 covers, ‘Radio’ and ‘Bleeder.’ A3′s ‘While You’re Waiting’ is really the only sub-par track on the album and even that song is still pretty good. HWM’s covers are arguably better than the originals and Chuck Ragan still plays ‘God Deciding’ at his solo shows 10 years later.
Boysetsfire/Snapcase - Snapcase vs Boysetsfire – This little 4 song split was my first introduction to Boysetsfire back in 1999. The version of ‘Unspoken Request’ that appears here is different, and better, than the one that appears on After the Eulogy. This version starts off with a sweet bass line that is absent from the other version and which makes for an awesome intro. The melodic ‘Unspoken Request’ juxtaposed by the heavy ‘Channel’ is a perfect example of what Boysetsfire do best. Both songs are great in their own rights, but they are totally different from each other. Snapcase gives us ‘Energy Dome,’ later re-recorded for Designs of Automotion, and a cover of The Police song ‘Truth Hits Everybody.’ ’Energy Dome’ is classic Snapcase, while the Police cover is surprisingly on point. I wouldn’t expect to hear an even listenable hardcore version of any Police song, but Snapcase pulls it off.
Ignite - Past Our Means – I am not sure if Ignite considers this an EP or a full length, but it is only 6 songs, so I say EP. I consider Ignite to be one of my favorite bands, and Past Our Means is their best release. Album opener ‘Holding On’ is the first Ignite song I ever heard, and I was instantly entranced by Zoli’s voice. ‘Embrace,’ which rallies for unification in the hardcore scene, is one of the best hardcore songs ever written. The other 4 songs are also highlights in the Ignite catalogue and make the entire release strong from front to back.
Jimmy Eat World/Jebediah – Split EP
This EP was released between Clarity and Bleed American. As a college student having just had his life revolutionized by Clarity, expectations ran high. Jimmy did not disappoint with what would become my favorite JEW track, ‘The Most Beautiful Things,’ as well as the amazing punky ditty and perpetual set favorite ‘No Sensitivity.’ Singing “I’m taking my kisses back from you, whooooaaaaaooohhh” is very cathartic when in the throes of heartache.
As Tall As Lions – Into The Flood
This was the first record to start my collection and obsession with vinyl, and for that and that alone it would deserve a spot on the list. Fortunately, it is also a fantastic record. The two opening tracks, ’505′ and ‘Into The Flood’ are amongst ATAL’s best and the rest of the pack are nearly as good. This was a digital only EP unless you bought the vinyl, which also came with a CD. In the long run, the ramifications of this EP were larger than I could have possibly known at the time: it would cost me literally thousands of dollars for the obsession it sparked, but hey, I got some sweet wax and I love my hobby.
Recover - Ceci N’est Pas Recover
This band was always a tale of ‘what could have been.’ They released a solid debut with Rodeo and Picasso and then released this EP on Fiddler records en route to a major label record deal. Their debut was just okay and the public quickly lost interest. Ceci N’est Pas Recover was the band at their absolute best. They rocked, they were interesting on the guitars, and they were catchy as hell. This EP is five very different songs representing everything the band could do, but unfortunately never did again.
Red Letter Day – The Get Up Kids
One of my favorite bands with 5 incredibly solid songs. Sure, ‘Mass Pike’ was a guaranteed way to get any girl into TGUK because it was so poppy, but whatever. It also has ‘Anne Arbor,’ which is my favorite song by them. When Pryor croons, “How do I, How do I find her,” I have to belt it out at the top of my lungs regardless of the company I’m with, or whether or not everyone in the car is sleeping. Headphones makes this phenomena a terribly awkward experience.
Hopesfall – No Wings To Speak Of
Listen to End of an Era. Epic melodic hardcore at it’s very best. Enough said.
Many times an EP represents a snap shot of a band – there are so many EPs (even beyond my own personal top 5) that can do what an album so often fails to do. Despite this, I sometimes feel like the concept of an EP is dated. Nowadays a band can release a 5 song EP and then an 8 track LP(not to mention MP3/digital media stuff). My own personal joke about this has always been “what’s the difference between an Owen EP and full length? – two to three songs.” Yeah I guess that isn’t so funny, but a few years ago I could probably make a few friends laugh with that one.
Make Believe – EP 12″
This is my favorite release by the band. I Consider it to be the closest incarnation of The Owls before Victor Villarreal came back to the music scene; Tim Kinsella and friends back from the Cap’n Jazz and Joan of Arc ashes. I don’t really want to sound as if I knew the intentions of the band, I clearly didn’t. But I will say that this EP gave me a lot of hope at the time, hope that Tim Kinsella had found a new vehicle for his yelling and screaming self, that the Joan of Arc psychedelic folk rock was at least on hiatus while Make Believe kicked ass. Sam Zurick’s angular guitar noodling is also not to be ignored. It’s solid stuff. Stand-out song of the album: Temping as a Shaman. Check it out.
Angel Olsen – Strange Cacti 12″
If Angel Olsen sounds familiar, you could already be a fan of Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Olsen has been supporting BPB for some tours over the last few years and her solo work has been trickling out fairly recently. My wife turned me onto Angel Olsen, and I can say it is like stepping back into the “olden days.” Her voice is haunting and tender. I imagine her voice coming out of an old beat up car stereo or playing on an AM station. It feels classic, it feels like something that she has been doing for decades. But Angel Olsen is a young lady, and though her years may not be many, she is clearly an old soul. Check out this live video. This 12″ sold out super fast – she seems to have quite the cult following. This was also released on tape as well, and both presses sold out of that. I might add that I mainly mentioned tapes because Scott is so excited that tapes are coming back.
Hayden – Moving Careful 10″
This EP is one of those rare few that you wish was longer because all the songs are beautiful. I have been a fan of Hayden, a singer-songwriter from Toronto, since the ’90s. His early releases were unpolished and his vocals were often guttural and intense, with the iconic 90s music motif of shifts between loud and soft music – isn’t that how Billy Corgan classified early Smashing Pumpkins? Ether way, this album finds Hayden on the cross roads between his youthful, unpolished self, and his more mature future. It makes sense if you can compare his first album to his most current release. Here is a track from the album.
Dinosaur Jr – Whatever’s Cool With Me (12″/7″/CD)
Three things about this album:
1) LOOK AT THE FRICKEN COVER!
2) Listen and watch the title track video HERE.
3) I may be continuing on with a rumor or legend of a story, but J Mascis supposedly had a crush on Uma Thurman (I think they went to high school together), and when he covered the David Bowie song “Quicksand” on the CD version of this EP, he adapted the lyrics to mention Uma’s name in the song. Again I don’t know how much is true, I just know the cover is amazing.
Damien Jurado – Gathered in Song EP CD
This is the only release that I am mentioning that has not been released on vinyl (actually, a few of the songs are on the Chevrolet 7″, but not all 5 tracks). This is a solid release from Jurado and it would be a great introduction to anyone that has never heard this artist. A brilliant singer-songwriter that got his start in a punk band with Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan. He more or less found his voice by focusing on the artists that have really laid the groundwork for good folk and americana music while creating his own imprint on the genre. I’d say he is a modern Bruce Springsteen, Dylan, Jandek and Nick Drake wrapped into one artist. For those that look up this album, make sure you look for the EP and not the full length Damien Jurado & Gathered in Song. Two great albums, but very different. Here is his Discogs page to take a gander at what he has been doing.
Saosin – Translating The Name
I’m not quite ready to wave the white flag on Saosin’s career just yet. But I’m close, and 2003′s eloquently composed Translating The Name has just about everything to do with every reason why. Truth of the matter is, Saosin hasn’t come even remotely close to achieving what they accomplished here in what I’d consider two very sub par releases since; and it has absolutely nothing to do with the rather exhaustive argument over Anthony Green vs. Cove Reber as singer. They both were fine in their own right. Simply stated, there is an intensity to be found within each and every one of the five songs contained on this release; an intensity that hasn’t been seen since. ’They Perched On Their Stilts, Pointing and Daring Me To Break Custom’ remains, to this day, one of my favorite songs of all time.
Gates - The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me Home
If this were a list of top 5 bands to watch in 2012, then Gates would undoubtedly end up there as well owing in large part to last year’s stunning debut, The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me Home. As previously mentioned in Casey’s interview with Kevin Dye of the band, there is an honesty buried somewhere deep within the ambient hollows of the six songs featured here, an honesty you’d be hard pressed to find scattered about the ashes of today’s post-TRL generation. Their follow-up EP, You Are All You Have Left To Fear, is set to drop May 29th and there is not a doubt in my mind that this fine group of fellows hailing out of New Brunswick, NJ, will continue their sonic excellence in fine form. Calendar marked.
Delta Spirit - The Waits Room EP
Let’s get really honest with ourselves for a minute here; has anyone ever accused a very stripped down, very acoustic Delta Spirit of ever sucking? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then please, by all means, head on over here. Enlighten yourself for a few delicate minutes, then get back to the rest of us after you’re done becoming just a little bit more awesome as a direct result of the viewing experience you have just embarked upon. The Waits Room EP sports three brand new tracks in ‘The Flood,’ ‘John Henry,’ and ‘My Dream,’ as well as unplugged versions of two of their very best off History From Below in ’Bushwick Blues’ and ‘Devil Knows Your Dead.’ It’s times like these that I’m sometimes forced to scratch my head and simply wonder why Delta Spirit doesn’t just go all acoustic, all the time. Needless to say, a Top 5 EP no doubt, and an essential grab for any fan, both casual and die-hards alike.
Ryan Adams - Love Is Hell, Pt. 2
Originally slated to be released as the proper follow up to 2001′s commercial breakthrough, Gold, Love Is Hell, would ultimately be scrapped by the record label, calling on Adams to release something a little less “depressing” in its place, or so the story goes. Enter 2003′s substantially underwhelming Rock N’ Roll, a rather loud collection of misfires and miscues, and a far cry from the somber jukebox heartbreak tunes fans had become so accustomed to hearing from their beloved singer-songwriter. Fortunately, at the hands of a deal garnered by Adams through Lost Highway, Love Is Hell would still see the light of day shortly thereafter. It would be released alternatively as “Parts 1 & 2,” the latter of which contains some of his finest work to date and is certainly worth a mention here.
Dashboard Confessional - So Impossible EP
It’s fairly safe to say my Dashboard Confessional ship set sail years ago, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t left with a few gems along the way. So Impossible represents one such instance – a concept album in which Chris Carrabba finds himself lamenting the beginnings of a relationship. ‘For You to Notice’ finds our protagonist first setting eyes on and eventually falling for a girl he’s yet to meet. ’So Impossible’ goes on to detail the near awkward phase of an introduction while ‘Remember To Breath’ chronicles the actual date itself. In the fourth and final track ‘Hands Down,’ we have the privilege of learning exactly how that date went with Carrabba confessing “…you stood at your door with your hands on my waist and you kissed me like you meant it.” Good or bad, young love or young lust, So Impossible reflects upon something everyone has faced at one point or another with a gentle honesty that’s sure to leave broken hearts everywhere feeling hopeful.
So I discovered that I own VERY few EPs…I don’t know why that it is. Luckily, I believe in the EPs I own, so let’s just roll with it.
Taking Back Sunday – Self-Titled
With all of the line-up changes that have peppered the course of Taking Back Sunday’s career, one thing has always remained clear: Adam Lazzara is the voice of the band. You could debate whether John was better than Fred (he was), or whether or not the original line-up would recapture the magic of Tell All Your Friends (they wouldn’t), but you could not deny Adam’s place at the centre of the group. Unless you were aware of this EP. The band on this EP sounds shockingly similar to the Taking Back Sunday that would make big waves in the scene with Adam at the helm, but this band is completely different in some truly awesome ways. With Antonio Longo providing the lead vocals, this band had a bit more edge than its future self would. Of course, John Nolan and Eddie Reyes provide the punk grit that drives this EP, but it is the combination of Longo’s lead vocals and the brilliant backups from Jesse Lacey that give this album its magic. Give ‘Go On’ and ‘Summer Stars’ a couple listens and tell me that Longo/Lacey wasn’t as awesome as Lazzara/Nolan.
Manchester Orchestra – Fourteen Years of Excellence
The bonus EP sold with select copies of the Means Everything to Nothing vinyl, is home to four acoustic tracks by Andy Hull. While the acoustic scene is nothing new for Andy, it is interesting to see what he comes up with when taken away from the folksy label of Right Away, Great Captain! ‘Anne Louise’ and ‘It’s Ok With Me’ are powerful in their hushed and worried vocals accompanied by quietly twinkling guitars. The stripped down version of ‘Shake it Out’ is interesting but probably the most lacklustre track on the album. The shining star of the album is the confessional ‘Do You Like Being Alone;’ a true masterpiece that shows off Andy’s knack for moving lyrics.
Radiohead – My Iron Lung
This EP is important for being the first peek at the shift in sound that Radiohead would undergo on The Bends, but far more importantly it is really fucking good. ‘My Iron Lung’ would go on to be a classic, and it is essentially the same song here as on the full length. The journey from ‘Permanent Daylight’ through to the end of ‘You Never Wash Up After Yourself’ is some of the best value you can get in 6:48. Each song has a different feel and each one challenges what you may have thought about Radiohead’s sound coming out of Pablo Honey. In fact, ‘Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong’ looks even further forward in time towards OK Computer‘s sound with its eerie arpeggios. Now I am going to say something that will probably cause riots in towns full of people with lots of pretension and far too much time: ‘The Trickster’ might very well be the best song that Radiohead has ever made. Go on fanboys, get your torches, get your bats, and meet in the dead of night to spill blood in the name of ‘Paranoid Android’ or ‘The National Anthem’ or ‘Karma Police’ or…well…you get the idea. They have lots of good songs. But ‘The Trickster’ is deserving of being mentioned alongside them. Also, the acoustic version of ‘Creep’ gave birth to entire careers.
Saosin – Translating the Name
I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to the new album from Circa Survive. I think that leaving Saosin behind was exactly the right move for Anthony Green and that Circa is making far better music than Saosin do – but none of that takes away from how incredible this EP is. Every track hits like a heavyweight and the tasteful use of double-bass is something to be revered. ‘Translating the Name’ and ‘Lost Symphonies’ are perfect mixtures of roaring metal riffs and beautiful melodies, while ’3rd Measurement in C’ is a head-bopping groove accented with brilliant harmonies. And then there’s ‘Seven Years.’ What can be said? It is damn near perfect. Anthony Green is a monster on that track, providing some of the most powerful clean and screamed vocals I have ever heard. This EP is a classic.
Dashboard Confessional – The Drowning
Yeah, yeah I know, you hate Dashboard. I don’t care how much this mars my reputation – The Swiss Army Romance is a beautifully written and honest depiction of heartbreak. Not all break ups sound like distortion-banshees fighting breakdown-werewolves; sometimes they sound like an acoustic guitar and a guy singing just so he doesn’t cry. Agreed, some of their recent work makes me want to vomit blood, but there is nothing they could do that would take away from how much I love the early stuff. The Drowning was the beginning of that era, a time when Chris Carrabba sounded like he meant what he was singing. It is only three songs and a mere 7:17 long, but it is heart-felt, and it is real.
Strung Out – The Element of Sonic Defiance
After the departure of bassist Jim Cherry, Strung Out had huge shoes to fill and had to make a statement after releasing the highly successful Twisted by Design. From the first song, ‘Mission to Mars,’ they showed that they not only had no intention of slowing down, but that they also had no intention of trying to recycle the same magic they captured on Twisted. This EP showcased a more metal-influence sound in their style, and it displayed a technicality that their prior albums had yet to touch upon. Strung Out seamlessly blended metal and punk with tracks like ‘Scarecrow’ and ‘Everyday,’ and they effortlessly paved the way for future bands to do the same. After listening to this album so many times that I’ve nearly burned the disc out, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished for it to be a full length. To this day, ‘Scarecrow’ is one of my favorite Strung Out songs to watch them perform live.
The Get Up Kids – Red Letter Day
Released before their breakthrough album, Something to Write Home About, the Red Letter Day EP was effectively my first true love in the world of “emo” music. In all honesty though, I view The Get Up Kids the same way today as I did then, and that was just as a band that wrote undeniably catchy songs that begged to be spun on repeat on your record player. Listening to this album at the time, I found myself clinging to every line about love, angst, and heartache. At 19 years old, Matt Pryor was my 1960′s Bob Dylan, and his lyrics seemed to always parallel my thoughts in the most perfect manner. Every song on this album is played with such urgency and sung with such emotion that the listener has no choice but to become invested in the song. Plus, ‘Anne Arbour’ contains one of my favorite lyrics of all time: “I still wear your heart around my throat, with barely the air not to choke.” Now if that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is. Go emo.
NOFX – The Decline
There isn’t really much to say about this one. It’s an 18 minute song and it’s NOFX. What more could you ask for? ‘The Decline’ is essentially NOFX’s 18 minute manifesto about everything they feel is wrong with the United States, from politics to religion to the indifference of humankind. Beyond the lyrics is a salad bowl of punk rock goodness blending every style NOFX has every played and loved from melody-laden guitar riffs to horn filled ska parts. This marathon of a track could quite possibly be one of the most fun things to listen to, and take it from me, count your blessings if you are lucky enough to ever see them play it live – it’s a rarity.
Minor Threat – Minor Threat EP
Quite possibly one of the most important releases in hardcore from Washington D.C.’s own seminal punk outfit Minor Threat. There aren’t enough words to describe the magnitude of the effect that Ian MacKaye has had on the music industry. From Minor Threat, to Fugazi, to starting Dischord Records, he has had a profound impact on the path that both punk and post-punk music has taken. From the bass intro on the first song, ‘Filler,’ the album takes off with an energy that is unmistakable. You can hear the sheer angst in Ian MacKaye’s guttural screams and it gives the songs a character that set them apart from their peers. This album not only helped define punk rock but it defined the straight edge movement as well. Through singing about his own lifestyle choices, he unintentionally coined the term “straight edge” for an entire generation of followers to come. That spurned numerous bands and sub-genres of music that can all be traced back to Ian and his infamous line, “I’ve got the straight edge.”
Jimmy Eat World – Jimmy Eat World EP
This EP is a companion to one of my favorite albums of all time, Clarity. Two choice selections from the album, ‘Lucky Denver Mint’ and ‘For Me This Is Heaven,’ are quite possibly two of Jimmy’s best songs. I remember watching them play on a tour for Clarity when it came out and being absolutely blown away. This was such a great time in the career of this band, that I can even forgive them for the terrible video they made for ‘Lucky Denver Mint,’ which showcases them playing basketball and ultimate frisbee amongst other things. Back to the album…the demo for ‘Your New Aesthetic’ on the EP on its own makes it worth the purchase, as it is quite different to the full-length version, and it may even be better. On top of that, ‘Softer’ is a great song and ‘Roller Queen’ is a classic rolling and moody track with instrumentals that build peaks and valleys for Jim Adkins’s unique vocals to traverse. These are the Jimmy Eat World days that I yearn for…the days before they started churning out pop tunes for Top 40 radio play.
The EP in the context of today’s music market is an interesting thing. As Ryan noted in his segment, an EP can give us a quick glance into what a band has looked like between full lengths. It has been used as a way to keep a fanbase connected during the between-album lull, to give us some material that didn’t make an album’s cut, to promote fellow artists, or to try out a transition in sound for a band without the full commitment of a career-critical full-length. Today, I see EPs occurring most often at the beginnings of new groups’ offerings – a band or artist has been releasing a few tracks here and there on the web to create a buzz, and then collects those tracks and a couple others on a debut EP to further test their commercial viability in a low-risk way.
What place the EP will take in the future is still up in the air, but without a doubt, many releases on this format have made their mark on music. Four of the five records I’m posting are seminal for me. They represent some strong moments in music and I come back to them all the time. They may not be the greatest of what’s been recorded, but I love them.
At the Drive-In – Vaya
Where else will you find lyrics like “Quick to the throat in this ink cartridge funeral, marble caps lock zip code affiliate”? From ‘Rascuache”s ground-shorting rhythm to the minimalist keys in ’198d,’ Vaya surprised me with its inventiveness and power. It sweeps in so many different directions while still remaining cohesive, and it is an excellent statement of what ATDI was about (and is again, I guess). When the theme of 5 EPs was floated, this is the one I immediately thought of.
Mono – The Phoenix Tree
My first listening of this EP happened on a quiet night with the lights turned off and my eyes closed. This scene may be completely melodramatic, but it is completely appropriate for feeling this record, especially the collection’s anchor track, ‘Black Rain.’ Goto Takaakira’s lead is sad, sweet, and beautiful; Takada Yasunori’s drums are powerful. On ‘Little Boy,’ the guitars breathe and sway with the string quartet under a xylophone melody until the song breaks into a very Mono grandeur, ending with guitar feedback that’s bound to interest any tonewhore.
AFI – A Fire Inside
This EP, along with the album Shut Your Mouth, represent my favorite era of AFI – before Jade replaced Mark, before Davey wore too much black. AFI were aggressive and raw. ’3 1/2′ jumps right on top of you, ‘Over Exposure’ is a great sing-along, ‘Hanging Garden’ is even more epic than The Cure’s recording, and ‘Demonomania’ is mayhem. A friend first put it in the CD player in my car, and in the middle of the first track, I made a detour to the record store and bought the other copy they had (Crandall Audio, for any Utah locals). Those 10 minutes of music didn’t leave my player for three days.
Spangle Call Lilli Line – For Installation
This was my introduction to SCLL, listening to headphones at a Tower Records in Tokyo. It’s come to be one of my favorite records, one that still feels fresh seven years and several plays later. The opener, ‘Limi Side Schedule’ hooked me with the first bars of Otsubo Kana’s breathy vocals – her cadence and subtle bends during the refrain catch me every time. Following the warmth of the first track, ‘sss* urp…?’ drops the energy of the rest of the record right on you. The drums move fast and sit squarely on the beat, the vocals are urgent, and the repeated measures of the verses create a tension that’s just infectious. Tacked on as part of the “digital content” of the disc is a video of SCLL’s pop song ‘U-Lite,’ a track that makes me happy.
Fugazi – Furniture
Is it possible to distill 25 years of music into three songs? If we tried that with Fugazi, we might end up with Furniture. The title track has some pretty significant similarities to ‘Waiting Room,’ which, if we follow chronodiscographological order (booya!) is the first Fugazi song ever. Instrumental ‘Number 5′ would fit well with the energy-laden tracks of In on the Kill Taker. ’Hello Morning’ feels informed by the heft of End Hits but moves like most of their catalogue. I considered placing the original Fugazi EP on this list instead of Furniture, but all of those songs were collected on 13 songs, and I’ve also never even seen an original copy. Of the five EPs I’m posting, this may stand the least on its own, but as part of the final offering from Fugazi before their interminable hiatus, I don’t think it should be ignored.