I've always loved EPs. More than a single, less than an album, the format is designed as the ideal showcase for a band. Or at least a nice stopgap between albums. It was the format of choice for the '90s shoegaze scene which is probably why I have such affection. In my mind the ideal EP should be four songs and no longer than 20 minutes, but I don't follow any hard rules for this. In an age of 28 minute albums it's hard to gauge. Anyway, I've never done a Best EPs list before, but the format has definitely made a big comeback this year, in my opinion, at least in that so many ended up staying in constant rotation. Here are my 15 favorites.
1. The Fresh & Onlys – August on My Mind [Captured Tracks] | BUY
Year two of The Fresh & Onlys was stronger than the first, with the band honing their already sharp songwriting skills and becoming more adept at recording, whether it be in a real studio or on four-track. August in My Mind was probably their best release of a second prolific year.
2. Spectrals - A Spectrals Extended Play [Moshi Moshi/Underwater Peoples] | BUY
Kind of a cheat, Extended Play collects the best songs from Spectrals' myriad 7" singles on one platter, which brings Louis Jones' talent into sharp focus. Reverb-drenched, but in a Phil Spector kind of way, Spectrals' sound like old favorites you've never heard before. Bewitching stuff.
3. Generationals - Trust [Park the Van] | BUY
Imagine a less cloying Boy Least Likely To or Architecture in Helsinki if they didn't try so hard, and you've got New Orleans Generationals who are young masters of clever, tuneful pop. I think you call it effortless? Like on last year's underrated Con Law, this EP brings four more great songs to the table.
4. Eternal Summers - Eternal Summers EP [Chimney Sweep] | BUY
Not that there's anything wrong with using those words, mind you, er, ha ha? Eternal Summers are more slashy, in line with Veronica Falls and Brilliant Colors. Their debut LP on Kanine is great too, but this 10" is a concentrated dose of what they do best. Also, nice to finally see some quality bands coming from Southwest Virginia, near where I grew up.
5. The Hundred in the Hands - This Desert [WARP] |BUY
As Charlie the Tuna once taught us, having good taste doesn't necessarily mean you're going to taste good. But this electronic duo manage to do both, easily my favorite electronic pop act to come along in some time. Catchy, sexy, imminently danceable. Check out their album, too, also from this year.
6. (The) Tony Castles – No Service [Famous Class] | BUY
Dreamy keyboard-heavy pop with a dose of funk lite brings to mind Prefab Sprout. Too much music this year banked on warm vibes, but Tony Castles understand That Summer Feeling without having to mention the beach, sun or surfing.
7. Dominant Legs – Young at Love and Life [Lefse] | BUY
Unfairly lumped in with the chillwavers, San Francisco’s Dominant Legs (Ryan Lynch who also plays in Girls) sound like a real band as opposed to something someone dreamed up in Garage Band. And you can actually imagine it being played live. (And they do, I’ve seen them.) And while there's definitely an '80s thing going on, it's not Other People's Nostalgia. Songs are as good as the vibe.
8. Girls Names – You Should Know By Now [Tough Love] | BUY
Belfast's Girls Names filled the void left by Crystal Stilts relative inactivity this year with their slightly spooky Cherry Red/Creation influenced sound. Good in its own right, mind you as it is on this list, but the resemblance is a bit uncanny. And they've got a single on Slumberland too! This was the better of the two EPs the band released this year, this one is sold out in physical form but can still be got digitally. The Captured Tracks EP is swell too.
9. Twin Sister – Color Your Life [Infinite Best] | BUY
A gorgeous, groovy mix of the Cocteau Twins and Sade, Brooklyn band Twin Sister were one of the breakout stars of 2010. And rightly so. You can still download the entirety of this wonderful EP for free from the band's website, but the vinyl is truly lovely.
10. Girls – Broken Dreams Club [True Panther] | BUY
While I wouldn't call Girls' 2009 debut low fi by any means, there is a clarity of sound on Broken Dreams Club that they haven't tried before, and it suits not only Christopher Owens' fragile voice but the ace performers they've become over the last two years. The songs were always there. As a "LETTER OF INTENT," we can only relisten to this till the next record.
MP3: Girls – Heartbreaker
11. James Blake – CMYK [R&S] | BUY
I don't listen to a ton of dubstep/grime or anything else like this but there is something to James Blake's music that sets it immediately apart and commands your attention. It's like listening to someone tune between radio stations and making it work as music on its own. Of the many records Blake released this year, CMYK was the most mesmerizing.
MP3: James Blake – CMYK
12. Alex Kemp – Rat D'Hotel – Pt. 1 – Rat Walks Into a Bar [Alex Kemp/TuneCore]
Former Small Factory/Godrays singer appears after a decade or so with two EPs of bright, shiny, danceable pop more akin to his old pals Papas Fritas. New direction, but same solid songwriting that made Small Factory's early singles so winning. So good to hear Kemp's charmingly craggy voice again. You can download this EP for free from Kemp's website (click on the brown paper bag).
13. Suuns – Zeroes [Secretly Canadian] | BUY
Formerly known as Zeroes, Suuns (pronounced "Sooons") are one of Montreal's most interesting new bands, as can be heard on this EP. I have a feeling they know exactly what Mark E. Smith means by "repetition repetition repetition" given the solid Krautrock-y grooves. This EP has since been expanded to a full album, but I'm not sure it needed the extra tracks. A perfect blast.
MP3: Suuns – Arena
14. Cloud Nothings – Leave You Forever [True Panther] | BUY
Cleveland's Cloud Nothings are first and foremost hookmasters in the long powerpop tradition. Live they are crunchier, louder (a skinny beast of a drummer adds massive whallop) but on record they can come off more like that time where American "college rock" morphed into indie rock. The band put out a handful of records this year, this four-song 7" is maybe the best. Certainly the best cover art.
15. A Classic Education – Hey There Stranger [Lefse] | BUY
Can you embrace baroque, anthemic and reverby garage all at the same time? Yes, says A Classic Education who are from Bologna, Italy (via Canada). More reverb than garage, mind you, with a'60s cosmopolitan sweep as well. In a word, lovely.