Best EPs of the Decade

Ok, the other thing that I take issue with in decade long recaps of anything is that there's little chance that any reviewer has heard absolutely everything. I work at a record store and before working there was one of its more frequent patrons, so I've heard a lot, but not everything.I couldn't if I wanted to. Anyway, when I say best, you gotta know I mean favorite. What the hell's the difference? No one's going to present you objectively with the best anything. That said, these EPs are better than most albums so...yeah. Go out (or online, as the case may be) and buy these because I want my bands to keep making records and these are proof that great music is made outside of the album format and the music industry's grubby claws.

Best EPs of the Decade

Com Lag [2+2=5]
by Radiohead 
After Radiohead released Hail To The Thief they were all I wanted to listen to, so imagined how bummed I was when I heard that Japan would be getting a tiding over in the form of an EP but the rest of us could kiss Radiohead's ass. Luckily the EP, the excellent Com Lag was only in international limbo for about a month before I found it at Siren Records in Doylestown and it quickly became one of my favorite releases of the year. The songs all seem to match the macabre blue-and-white cover art, ranging from the laid back "I Will (LA Version)," "I Am Citizen Insane," and "I Am A Wicked Child" to the paranoid "Paperbag Writer" and "Where Bluebirds Fly," which could be soundtrack pieces for a Quay Brothers short. It showed every aspect of Radiohead's not inconsiderable talent, the electronic music, the blistering live show (a live version of "2+2=5") and Thom Yorke's devastating voice. "Gagging Order" and the acoustic version of "Fog" are killer live tracks and two of Yorke's most beautiful compositions. I used to take Com Lag on car trips near wooded areas because it was the perfect companion for dark, spooky, unexplored areas.

EP To Be You And Me
by Broken Social Scene
Those of us quick enough to buy Broken Social Scene, the Canadian collective's self-titled second record with lyrics, fourth release overall, were treated to the cleverly titled EP To Be You And Me, a collection of cool noise and sensitive rock in equal measure. Starting with the ethereal "Her Dissappearing Theme" and getting more mileage out of electronic instruments and cool percussion than either Broken Social Scene and You Forgot It In People with "Baroque Social" and "No Smiling Darkness / Snake Charmer's Association." The rockers are top notch, too; "Major Label Debut (Fast)" provides a charging alternative to the slow-moving original on BSS and somehow feels like the more relaxed song. "Canada Vs. America" is one of the band's biggest and best songs period. With Justin Peroff's frenetic drumming, who solos as much as any guitarist while still providing rhythm, and that tremendous horn part, the song is, like Radiohead's "Cuttooth," the perfect B-Side and on an EP that feels like a great forgotten album. When I stayed with Jo-Ann Goldsmith in Toronto while filming I spotted among her many books and things Free To Be You And Me and for a minute felt like I had uncovered a pretty important part of my and their history. Maybe I didn't find anything hugely significant to the rest of the world, but to me it was huge. The record that EP To Be is attached to changed my life, and taken together, they're gospel.

by Grizzly Bear
Everyone got really surprised when Grizzly Bear released Friend and discovered it was as long as a regular album. There are differences, of course: Friend doesn't feel nearly as well concieved but there are some truly brilliant moments to be found within the album's 11 songs. Many are just re-imaginations but they feel like totally new songs; "Alligator" is still just as weird as before but "Little Brother" and "Shift" come away with a new, eerie lifeblood. The best tracks run the gamut from scary to sublime, from the creepy Crystals cover "He Hit Me," to the musical quaalude that is "Deep Blue Sea." The covers and remixes are...well, I'm not the best person to talk to about remixes and though I like the Band of Horses take on "Plans," I feel like there was more ground to be covered. Anyway, stick around until after "Deep Blue Sea" closes because the best track on the record is hidden; it's also the best thing Zach Condon has ever done.

From The Cliffs
by Guillemots
In 2006, I started rediscovering the best of the 1980s British bands. My jumping off point for that endeavor was discovering Guillemots because friends of mine who were around for the bands they sounded like (Blowmonkeys, The Jam, etc.) told me how much they appreciated their sound. The thing about Guillemots is that yes, you can take a trip back to the best of British Pop/New Romantic music, but also, these guys write bitchin' songs. The hooks are nonstop, the instrumentation just eclectic enough (Aristazabal Hawkes' upright bass cuts the band apart from most of their peers and Fyfe Dangerfield's keyboard swells do the rest of the work). Dangerfield's voice happens to be one of the best of any modern band and it shows through beautifully on songs like "Cats Eyes" and "My Chosen One" and especially "Trains To Brazil." "Trains" is one of the best songs of this or any decade and though I listen to it every other day I still haven't gotten tired of it. From The Cliffs has six excellent pop songs and one sprawling watery love song, "Over The Stairs" which forecast the kind of songs Guillemots would write on their debut record Through The Windowpane. Though "Love Song #43" and "Trains" wound up on Windowpane, fans of Dangerfield's songs ought to buy the EP because otherwise they'd miss "Cats Eyes" and "Who Left the Lights Off, Baby?" two of the most inspiring and wonderful songs on the record that both rival anything on Through The Windowpane and most other songs of the last ten years. From The Cliffs is an unprecedented beam of light.

Heads Up 
by Death From Above 1979
I bought this EP not expecting much, then ten minutes later I was permanently deaf. Heads Upis ferocity incarnate. In an age of two man bands, DFA1979 had the most assault-like aesthetic. One guy on distorted bass and a singing drummer. Sebastian Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler understood rock music and delivered it like a shot through a syringe, if only for one album and this truly great EP (they have 19 original songs in all. That they made as big an impact as they did is pretty impressive when you consider that figure). In between sampled clips of what sound like old Japanese toys, Keeler and Grainger beat the shit out of their instruments with rock songs both catchy and awesomely intense. When you tread the ground between metal and indie and manage to make a credible stab at both, you've got my undivided attention, especially if you're too loud to ignore.

Heavy Head
by Gentleman Reg
Gentleman Reg is one of the decade's most under-appreciated songwriters (and dressers, but that's a different post) and it took about ten years for him to break through to where people could find him. His first few albums are great and when he signed to Arts & Crafts he finally had access to a crisp, Canadian alt. sound and a bunch of people to help him get there. After he released Jet Black with the help of members of Broken Social Scene he put out an online only EP called Heavy Head with two covers, two remixes and two new songs with help from Owen Pallett and Joel Gibb from Hidden Cameras. The remixes don't do much for me (though they're pretty good). No, the meat of the record is on those four normal songs. The covers are great, Chris Isaacs' "Wicked Game" sounding painfully human and Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart" a wispy and effortless rocker. And anyone who can get me to like Stevie Nicks, has got my respect and admiration. The two original songs are great, too. "Justified" is gorgeous and Pallett's violin together with Reg's voice and slick songwriting make for excellent companions. I felt weird spending five bucks on a slip of laminated paper, but when it turned into Heavy Head my woes were quelled.

by Sigur Rós
The one thing I regret about seeing Sigur Rós was that I wasn't closer to the stage because I would have killed to see Georg Holm playing the bass during "Hafsol." Long unreleased, it found a home on Hvarf/Heim the EP companion to the Heima documentary DVD, released around the time that the In A Frozen Sea vinyl box set came out. As I didn't have 200 dollars to blow, I was happy with Hvarf/Heim which combined B-sides with a strikingly crisp live set comprised of acoustic renditions of some of their prettiest songs from previous records. Sigur Rós could really do anything and fans would buy immediately but Hvarf/Heim was a carefully considered release and didn't feel the least bit perfunctory. The band were simply bringing us some of their best songs in their current evolutionary state. It made perfect sense and is one of the most gorgeous releases of the decade.

Is Is
by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I though the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were lost for a minute there. They had those solid first records then...Show Your Bones, which was a downer in the utmost. They came back, though, and hard with Is Is, a five song EP that, to borrow a phrase, "flat out fucking rocks." Rediscovering dirty no-wave like they used on their first album, they crank up the reverb and the volume and Nick Zinner, Brian Chase and Karen O roar in equal measure with equal volume. Nick Launay, famed producer of Public Image Limited and Gang Of Four, brought out that switch-blade sharp edge they had dulled down for the sake of the highly commercial and thus unappealing (to me)Bones. "10 x 10" and "Rockers To Swallow" show them mining new depths and "Down Boyhas one of the raunchiest guitar riffs Nick Zinner's ever come up with. Is Is has the feeling of a sonic ambush and since then Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been back on the right track, producing It's Blitz,their best album yet.

A Lesson In Crime
by Tokyo Police Club
Great rock records are difficult to find, Tokyo Police Club proved this when they released their super disappointing Elephant Shell. Elephant Shell wouldn't have seemed like such a bummer if their previous release, A Lesson In Crime, wasn't such a kickass debut. Combining ultra-tight drum intros, grungy bass riffs and screaming post-punk echoey guitars and Dave Monks bedroom drawl, the band pioneered a rock sound equivalent to the strain of movies known as "We Have Seen The Future And It Sucks." Monks' lyrics incorporate images of sci-fi weirdness and dystopian landscapes and the band rocks the shit out of the seven songs on A Lesson In Crime. Barely more than 15 minutes long, Tokyo Police Club made themselves out to be the best club band on the continent with their first EP.

The Moan
by The Black Keys
Sometimes EPs can be like gifts; The Moan just showed up one day in the Black Keys' section and much air drumming ensued. What I love about the Black Keys is that though they have a very specific sound, they manage to present it slightly differently on every release, but it's up to die-hards to figure it out. The Moan is the dustiest of their releases, sounding like an unearthed LP from the late 60s (a cover of The Stooges' "No Fun" and The Sonics' "Have Love Will Travel" help the feel of a time capsule). The guitar notes fight to get out of the speaker and the drums sound a touch muted; Dan Auerbach's shout is husky as ever. The bluesified covers of the two late 60s gems help define the kind of attitude and fun that Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney bring to their music.

Sun Giant
by Fleet Foxes 
Everyone loves Fleet Foxes. I mean...right? I don't mean to presume but I haven't met anyone with a vehement or casual dislike of Fleet Foxes. Anyway, purists are all "The EP is better than the album" and I'm all "no!" I like Sun Giant a good deal, but it's got nothing on the album, though it has some of the same inch-thick atmosphere and of course killer harmonies. "Mykonos" is the standout; the rest of it could have sucked and Sun Giant still would have been great, but the other songs are pretty excellent too. "Sun Giant" is a bit too deliberate a throwback for me but "English House" is pretty awesome. The whole record carries the blueprint of their cabin-in-the-woods, country vibe and is really pretty from end to end.

The Tain
by The Decemberists
My friend Blair loves telling people his favorite Decemberists song is "The Tain", but only because he loves the Andy Smetanka animation that accompanies it on the DVD they put out a few years ago. The animation is pretty sweet and so is the song that underscores it, a 5-part 18 minute epic about battle and birth and hounds that is an obvious precursor to The Hazards Of Love with its repeating themes and dire subject matter. It's a big, early-70s blast of proto-metal and nerdy guitar theatrics and it's pure, unadultered Colin Meloy at his best.

The Wings & The Waters
by Laura Jorgensen 
Going to school in Boston means occasionally brushing up against the endless well of creativity that is Berklee College. More recently that meant learning about Laura Jorgensen. Laura happened to sit next to me in Intro to Film Scoring and she's also made one of the best EPs I've heard in years. Combining bare-bones accordion compositions with her otherworldly and limitless voice, she sails through four sombre yet hopeful songs. Like a siren luring ships aground, her voice wraps itself around the fog-like accordion and she uses every syllable like a signal of something new and exciting she can't simply say. This is a sort of cheat as you will have no way of knowing about Laura or her excellent EP, but she's someone to look out for (she records a full-length sometime in the next two months if I'm not mistaken) and she's just as capable an artist of most everyone on this list. Incidentally I asked her to come up with an image for the EP but I've got nothing from her yet so we'll have to settle for an old-fashioned photograph.

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