There’s perhaps no more counter intuitive result of the movement of music online than the re-emergence of the EP. Rewind to the pre-internet days and you’d have been hard pushed to find many people releasing anything as oddly lengthed as an EP. In many ways the humble format was a relic of the early days of the LP, the EP came about due to a desire to keep turntables at 45rpm. Often pressed onto 10″ vinyl, the EP ultimately faded from view due to the emergence of its bulkier, flashier cousin, the LP.
With the rise of the internet, the reduced requirements for up and coming bands to produce physical releases meant that there was no longer the need for them to worry about the finances of producing CD copies, and as such there was a move away from producing long-players, and towards more rapidly produced EPs. As such from nowhere the EP was given a new lease of life, and became relevant again.
While they may still not hold the gravitas of a full album, 2016 has quietly been a superb year for the EP, so we thought we’d run down some of our favourite extended players from this year. For the sake of this list we’ve defined an EP as being somewhere between three and seven songs, and somewhere between eight and twenty-five minutes (although if anyone’s got a better definition do let us know!)
19. Featherfin – Helen Richey EP (Self Released)
17. Kamikaze Girls – SAD (Bearded Punk Records (EU) / Wiretap Records (US))
11. Merival – Lovers (Self Released)
It came late in the year, but Come Over, the debut release from Rochester trio Slumbers, was a collection of perfectly formed sub-three minute pop gems. At seven tracks it might have been pushing our definition of EP to its extremity, but Come Over was more than worth 21 minutes of your time.
Suitably sleepy, Slumbers’ sound is a gentle musical drift; drums tick almost absent-mindedly, fingers pick out prominent but gentle bass lines and electric guitars are strummed so gently as to barely be there. Atop the sweet wash of sound are the most dreamy of vocal harmonies, like The Rosettes if they’d just woke up from a particularly well earned afternoon nap. Lyrically these are wistful compositions, they ponder self-doubt, the problems of expecting too much from life, and whether spending your day watching Adventure Time is a good use of your time. The star of the show is Battle, which features the most relaxed sounding saxophone breakdown we’ve ever heard, lyrics that question whether it’s selfish to dream big and never feel entirely satisfied and a hypnotic guitar line we just can’t seem to shake. It might not have been the year’s most energetic release, but Come Over was surely one of its most alluring.
9. Fightmilk – The Curse Of Fightmilk (Self Released)
Making a rapid name from themselves on the London scene are Uxbridge/Not Uxbridge quartet Fightmilk. Their enigmatically titled, The Curse Of Fightmilk, was a collection of catchy power-pop tracks, fused with noisy garage-punk.
Led by the powerful vocal stylings of Lily Rae, the heir apparent to Kate Jackson’s knowingly smutty crown, this four track offering tackled subjects from the mundanity of office jobs, through to pretending to like your ex’s new girlfriend and not wanting to spend all of the winter indoors. Musically, they are a winning blend of ragged guitars and pop sheen, of pounding punky drums and sweet vocal melodies, these were songs made for sweaty dancefloors and not entirely at odds with the potential for day time radio play. We’re not sure how exactly the curse of Fightmilk will hit us, but so far we’ve just got a lot of very good pop songs stuck in our head: could be a lot worse.
After spending a number of years performing in other people’s bands, 2016 was the year that Emma Winston stepped into the foreground with her project Deerful, that fuses electronic experimentation with folk-tinged vocals.
Staying Still was a focused collection of four intriguingly complex electronic compositions. Some Nights was the sort of 1980’s influenced electro-pop that saw the world fall for Patience’s charms, Better sounded like a computer dreaming of a sunrise, while stand-out moment, The Waves, sounded like Princess Peach from Mario re-imagined as a kick-arse, feminist superhero, or a pixelated Joanna Newsom. This is electronic music yes, but at its core is humanity, with all its fragility, emotion, and yes beauty – like a god of miniature synthesisers, or a particularly clever mechanical marionette master, Deerful gave these tiny circuits life, and unlocked the potential they perhaps always possessed.
7. Karen Meat – She’s Drunk Like The Rest Of Us (Self Released)
It wasn’t the most high-profile release of the year, arguably it wasn’t even Karen Meat’s most high-profile release, but She’s Drunk Like The Rest Of Us was fascinating. Ditching her regular backing band, The Computer, She’s Drunk Like The Rest Of Us was the sound of Karen Meat main woman Arin Eaton going it alone.
She’s Drunk Like The Rest Of Us, was a record that seemed constantly on the verge of collapse, it was part Avalanches, part Frankie Cosmos. A deeply ambitious record, taking influences from bar-room jazz, early 1990’s hip-hop, glistening electro-pop and even some wistful acoustic-folk. The binding factor that stopped it running off the rails entirely was Arin’s easy-going vocal, and downbeat lyrical message, that saw her lurch from chaotic boozing, to pained introspection, and concluded, heart breakingly, on the closing line, “I’ll admit I’m sad”. In a year when the world seemed to lurch from one crisis to another, Karen Meat was right there with us, and provided one of our most vital soundtracks.
Technically it’s not even out yet, but that doesn’t prevent us being blown away by the new EP from Bearcats; even more impressively it’s the second time they’ve done that this year. Following on from the Candy EP, Break Up Stories perhaps minutely upped the sound quality, but took the hooks, and undeniable good times to new levels.
With the spirit of Riot Grrrl and the sound of very early, very scrappy punk records, Bearcats produced three short, sharp slices of fuzzy, garage noise. The subject matter was, perhaps unsurprisingly given the title, break-ups and more than that getting the hell on with your life. Bearcats produced a soundtracks for people everywhere to forget about their break ups and get on with making a lot of very bassy noise, and sometimes that’s all a broken heart needs.
5. Oh Peas! – How To Come Back From The Total Annihilation Of Yourself (Self Released)
It arrived to little fanfare, but How To Come Back From The Total Annihilation Of Yourself was quietly one of the most intriguing releases of the year. Rosie Smith, the woman behind the Oh Peas! moniker, described this record as, “the result of a concerted effort to plunge a not insignificant blockage in the creative u-bend of my brain.” This was clearly a difficult record to make,whether it provided the catharthis Rosie required only she would know, but the results were both emotional and beautiful.
On How To Come Back From The Total Annihilation Of Yourself, the quintessentially Welsh, oddball, bedroom-pop of Oh Peas’ earlier material remained, but this record was an all together darker affair. Furrow was pure anger, a relentless assault of over-driven guitars, as Rosie unfurls barbed and bruised lines, “I read an article called, ‘how to survive the worst weeks of the year’, but what if all your weeks are the worst weeks of the year getting progressively less manageable”. At times this record was unquestionably heavy going, but the touches of humour and intrigue remained; musically, Oh Peas remained fascinatingly unique, there are touchstones to the likes of Eels, Cate Le Bon or Gruff Rhys, but ultimately this record sounds like it couldn’t be anyone other than Oh Peas. The EP concludes with Lucy’s Hamper, and a resolution of sorts – not all the answers to your problems lie at a well-chosen picnic hamper, but there’s worse places to start.
4. Charmpit – Snorkel (Self Released)
Charmpit weren’t even a band at the start of 2016, having formed to play at DIY Space For London’s First Timers Fest, but listening to their debut release, Snorkel, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Southern Californian ex-pats had been doing this their whole life.
Combining the sun-drenched sound of their homeland with the DIY ethos of their adopted city, Snorkel dives deep into the heart of lo-fi pop songs. Whilst they certainly nod to the likes of Bratmobile or The Donnas, they also infused that punk spirit with the anti-folk humour of Moldy Peaches, and the sassy-pop of Shampoo or The Raincoats. In stand out track, Droolin’ 4 You, they also invented probably our favourite phrase of the year, “hash brown these feels away” in a song that seemed to be about the healing power of fry ups – what’s not to love about that?
They may be barely out of school, but on their debut EP, Slop, New Jersey’s Forth Wanderers sound like they’ve been making music for years. Formed as the result of guitarist Ben’s ill-fated attempt to chat up singer Ava, thankfully what they lacked in romance they made up for in musical chemistry.
Slop wasn’t just a fabulous title for a record, it was also a fabulous record. Musically, it seemed to sway always just slightly off the beat, giving it a lackadaisical, and slightly uneasy feel, as if a swarm of emotions were floating around your brain, battling for any kind of resolution. Ava’s vocals are a revelation, powerful, yet somehow effortless, she seems to almost slur her vocals as if the lyrics, ruminations on ageing, romance, and finding your place in the world, were still forming in her head as she stepped to microphone. Beloved by the blogosphere and Tom Ravenscroft, Forth Wanderers left a big impression on 2016, and in Slop left us with just four tracks, but one of the most fascinating records of the year.
One of the year’s most hyped new artists, Oakland’s Hazel English seemed to arrive into the world as a perfectly formed star in the making, and the slow drip feed of singles that led up to the release of her debut EP, Never Going Home, just seemed to take her songwriting and the hype around her from strength to strength.
Never Going Home was more than worthy of its build up. Whilst many of the records here tended towards lo-fi and self-produced, Hazel’s record was delivered in glistening technicolor; shimmering guitars and insistent drums formed a backdrop to Hazel’s laid-back, reverb drenched vocals. Lyrically, these were wistful musings on wanderlust, romance and finding your place in the world. These dreamy-pop gems marked Hazel out as a contemporary of Alvvays or Amber Arcades, and if it all sounds this good, we wouldn’t be surprised if she matched their success as well as their sound.
Finding her way to Brooklyn, via Massachusetts and California, Jeni Magana (or just Magana to use her stage name) has the sort of voice that seems to bristle with poignancy: capable of imparting great emotion without ever sounding fragile or broken. All of which would count for little if she didn’t have the songs to go with it, thankfully listening to her stunning debut, Golden Tongue, it was instantly apparent she does.
From the brooding swoon of Get It Right, to the fluttering minimalism of The World Doesn’t Know, Golden Tongue was a record that seems to engulf the listener, you found yourself drawn into Magana’s world; rich layered sonic tapestries, resplendent with dramatic musical flourishes and perfectly judged bursts of percussion. Best of all was the achingly beautiful Inches Apart, stripped back to little more than Jeni and her guitar, the sheer emotion of her tale of loss and discovering your self-worth becomes almost overwhelming, “I have built myself by hand, I was dreaming of the southern sand, and while every night you visit me, darling you are friends with misery.” What’s arguably most exciting of all is that this is just the beginning, a beautiful taster of where this spectacular artist could take us – and isn’t that exactly what a perfect EP should do?