EPs can serve several functions. They can be a cost-effective means for new artists to market themselves, a way to keep impatient fans happy between full-length albums, a chance for established artists to get weird and experimental without much risk, or incentive to clear old tunes out of the vaults and make a few extra bucks.
But such career-minded recording can yield mixed results. Here are some 2004 EPs worth checking out -- and others best avoided.
My Morning Jacket
These five stripped-down live tracks culled from the fine, kudzu-covered MMJ catalog conjure up what Galaxie 500 might have sounded like if Dean Wareham were a good ol' southern boy instead of a Harvard-educated aristo-rocker. But the hypnotic mood the band tries to establish with quiet, reverbed guitar-picking and singer Jim James's ghostly mumble is too often obliterated by stoner whooooooooos and yeeeaaaarrghhhhhhs. Which is tolerable at the show, but irksome as shit at home or in the car.
Ba Ba/Ti Ki/Di Do
When our favorite Reykjavik space-rockers were commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to score a 20-minute performance, they went for minimalist ambiance on the first two tracks, with music-box melodies and pitter-patter laptronica. That all changes in a hurry, though, with the creepy closer "Di Do," replete with demonic chants and freaky, flanged electro-feedback. Remember that Got Milk? commercial where the guy thinks he's in heaven because there are cookies everywhere, but then discovers that all the milk cartons are empty and realizes that he's actually in hell? It's kinda like that.
"Pure, unadulterated pop that would have ruled 120 Minutes fifteen years ago!" gushes the sticker on the cover. That's because Le Concorde wholly and shamelessly karaokes the bands that did rule 120 Minutes 15 years ago -- the Lightning Seeds, Prefab Sprout, and the Psychedelic Furs among them. This stuff is more sugary than a giant blob of cotton candy washed down with two liters of Mountain Dew -- and potentially as vomit-inducing.
Minus the Bear
They Make Beer Commercials Like This
We'd sure like to know what these guys are smokin' during their song-titling sessions: This six-songer features "Hey! Is That a Ninja Up There?" and "I'm Totally Not Down With Rob's Alien." With a singer who sounds a lot like Jawbox's J. Robbins, Minus the Bear wanders through dancy post-punk (like that of every other rock band these days, but better) and noodling emo guitar passages that explode in big, catchy choruses. Slow-burner "Rob's Alien" even sounds like a lost Swervedriver track. (Bonus: Ethereal vocalist Heather Duby sings backup on it!)
The Casket Lottery
Smoke and Mirrors
Emo used to be cool as hell when it wasn't called "emo," when Sunny Day Real Estate, Quicksand, and about 100 bands on Dischord were blasting out angular-yet-melodic post-hardcore introspection without sniveling pretense. But the Casket Lottery reminds us of the good old days. Too bad these guys just broke up.
Different Cars and Trains
Wow, a handful of mostly subpar remixes of songs from a terrific album released two years ago (Neon Golden) -- who says Germans don't have a sense of humor? We don't see why they thought it necessary to ruin the warm folktronica vibe of the originals with cheesy, clichéd house beats and textures. The dubby title track is also a throwaway; in fact, the only reason to even consider buying this is for the invigorating eight-minute deconstruction of "This Room" by the tag team of Four Tet and Manitoba.
Life of the Party
As dorky as these FOTS (Friends of the Strokes) might be, Longwave may actually outlast most fellow New York bands. 'Cause when people finally get sick of Joy Division clones and admit that no-wave is just as irritating now as it was in 1978, they'll crave soaring, melodic guitar-pop anthems like these. Not that Longwave is U2 or anything, but it's on the right track.
The Good Life
Lovers Need Lawyers
We came late to the Saddle Creek indie-rock party, mostly because honcho (and Bright Eyes leader) Conor Oberst kinda bugged us -- you know, the name, the Robert Smith hair, the Winona Ryder shagging, that whole thing. But we were being stubbornly closed-minded, and now we really dig his labelmate Tim Kasher's two bands, Cursive and the Good Life. Kasher's got the bitter-divorce blues, but he confronts it with acerbic, freewheeling, semi-rootsy theatrics instead of whiny post-punk melodrama. Also, the self-deprecating "Entertainer" contains our favorite line of the year: "I'm not an artist/ I'm an asshole without a job/ Making money off alcohol."
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