Monday, December 27, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Turn Me On, Dead Man

Please forgive the lateness of this post, but "Yesterday", as we all know, was the 44th anniversary of the death of Paul McCartney. Often referred to as "one of the four Beatles" in recognition of his contribution to the band's great success, McCartney died of auto-erotic asphyxiation at the age of 24.

Ten Great EPs

To say that the EP is becoming a lost art is stating the obvious. More to the point is the fact that I was born in the wrong time to appreciate them. There are probably many classic EPs from the 60s, 70s and 80s that have been lost to the ravages of time. I've probably absorbed some of them through reissues and compilations, and if that's the case, you probably won't see it in this list. This list is for EPs I enjoy in their own right, on their own terms. There are some obvious ones I've left out, and in most cases I've done so to allow space for some less appreciated EPs.

Alice in Chains - Sap (1992)

For most of its existence, Sap has been most readily available with its successor Jar of Flies as a 2CD set. Both are mostly acoustic and make great companions. Jar of Flies is an excellent EP and well deserving of being included in this list, but I chose Sap because it is the more concise of the two. Ignoring the goofy secret track, Sap is four tracks long, each of them excellent. It's hard to pick out a single highlight when presented with the anesthetising dirge "Am I Inside", the melancholy "Brother", the almost bluesy "Got Me Wrong" and the supergroup singalong "Right Turn".

Augie March - Waltz (1999)

Waltz obeys the two rules of releasing a second EP before your debut full length: it has to be better than the first EP, but also has to leave room for the LP that follows to refine your sound even further. Having said that, "Rich Girl" and "The Mothball" have seldom been surpassed. By anyone, I mean.

Boards of Canada - In a Beautiful Place in the Country (2000)

After the classic, more than hour long Music Has the Right to Children, Boards of Canada proved they could work in a more limited space. In contrast to the serene nature of the music, the EP and track titles and the artwork were inspired by David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.

The Breeders - Safari (1992)

EPs typically don't sell well, and this 12 minute one, released a year before The Breeders' breakthrough Last Splash LP, didn't fly off the shelves. However, it become a cult favourite and matters greatly to me because within it is my favourite Breeders song "Don't Call Home", an initially mostly acoustic number that climaxes in a squall of noise.

Deerhunter - Flourescent Grey (2007)

Deerhunter is one of the few bands around these days that really understands the EP format and how to best utilise it. The sound is appropriately somewhere between the second half of Cryptograms and Microcastle, and the title track is arguably the best song the band had written up to that point.

Gomez - Machismo (2000)

Gomez followed the overlong Liquid Skin with a concise EP whose character was unlike its predecessor or any other Gomez release. The title track uncovers new ground with its use of samples and effects, but it's the 13 minute Meddle-esque closer "The Dajon Song" that elevates this EP to exceptional status.

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls & Marches (1981)

Arranging for the six songs that comprised the original tracklist of this EP to all appear on a single release brings to mind the setup of The Usual Suspects. It was a very strong lineup to begin with, but then Rykodisc reissued it two extra tracks, including the band's debut single "Academy Fight Song". An EP just isn't supposed to have two songs of the caliber of "Academy Fight Song" and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", but then Matador reissued the EP again in 2008, adding another two tracks, this time putting all four bonus tracks at the front. It's more of an album than an EP that way, and it's almost as good as their debut LP Vs, and despite its relative obscurity and lack of easy availability, of theoretically wider appeal, leaning as it does closer to the punk side of post-punk.

Radiohead - My Iron Lung (1994)

Every Radiohead EP after their debut LP is a roundup of b-sides and/or other unreleased tracks, but that's usually not a problem when you're talking about a band whose castoffs are better than most band's album tracks. The songs span a few years; the very Sonic Youthy "Permanent Daylight" had plenty of time to have been included on Pablo Honey (and would have been one of the best songs on it if it had), while "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong" looks ahead to the atmosphere of OK Computer.

REM - Chronic Town (1982)

This is probably the most obvious selection here, but justifiably so. Chronic Town is such a clear portent of what was to come that you'd swear REM recorded it after their third album, put "1982" on it and surreptitiously slipped it into record store shelves. If there's one criticism I have of Chronic Town, it's that the mix is a bit timid and reluctant to put the band's obvious talent on full display. Peter Buck's serpentine arpeggios, Mike Mills and Bill Berry's secretly hard working rhythm section and the enigmatic mumble of the young Michael Stipe are all here; Chronic Town isn't a record of a band searching for its sound, it's a record of a band that has found it and is ready to improve on it.

Spoon - Soft Effects (1997)

As great as A Series of Sneaks is, it just doesn't have the energy of Telephono. Soft Effects, released in between those two albums, definitely does. It traverses the entire sphere of the Spoon sound of the time, from the terse pop song "I Could See the Dude" to the fuzz-heavy "Get Out of the State".

Friday, December 3, 2010

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
This is the first Swans album in over a decade. I don't know what their earlier stuff sounds like, but this album sounds like what might have resulted if Iggy Pop had a twin brother, a crazy, reclusive preacher who came out of hiding to record a hardcore album.

Sex, War & Robots