Back when your parents and grandparents were buying music, it only came on two regimented formats. The 7" 45rpm vinyl single contained 2 tracks, the A side & the B side, while the 12" vinyl album was the full length long-player. Then some bright spark (at RCA Victor records) decided that sometimes a bit more than just a single was required, and the Extended Play record (EP for short) was born. This had four tracks (2 on each side), and still normally played at 45rpm. EPs were a regular feature throughout the heyday of vinyl but, since that medium's decline, they had disappeared a bit off the radar.
Fast forward to 2011 and the format seems to be making something of a comeback. Lots of smaller independent labels are using it as a way of getting their artists' music out quickly, with acts releasing 2 or 3 EPs a year instead of the traditional album. It seems particularly common with new acts, and to me it works really well as a way of introducing someone new and letting them release music while they continue to develop. Maybe it's just a feature of the type of music I like to listen to (the stuff below is mainly electronic) but anyway, enough talking. Here are some of my favourite EPs from this year so far.
Balam Acab - See Birds EP
5 tracks full of hypnotic beats and dark bass lines from 19 year old Pennsylvanian Alec Koone. With ethereal vocals and organic samples, this genre of music has been (ridiculously) labelled as 'witch house' for its spooky sounds, but all you need to know is that it's melodic, haunting, and brilliant. His first full-length album is out later this year, and if it's as good as this then we're in for a treat.
John Hughes - The Black Monk EP
Recorded in Chicago, where Hughes lives and has his own studio, this 5 track EP mixes gentle sounds and effects with darker electronica. It's quite cinematic, and combines real instruments like vibraphone and glockenspiel with electronic bass and rhythms really effectively.
Peter and Kerry - Clothes, Friends, Photos EP
The first non-electronic EP on the list, this aptly named release from Peter Lyons and Kerry Leatham is 6 tracks long and was recorded in Kerry's bedroom. It covers the themes of broken hearts and broken lives, with the songs' fragile and understated beauty a perfect match for the subject matter. Stand-out track for me is 'Knees', a piano-led track with lyrics about being so in love with someone that you feel weak and physically sick when you think of them.
Chad Valley - Equatorial Ultravox EP
At 7 tracks long this is an almost-album from the boy from Oxford. An almost perfect slice of summery 80s tinged electro-pop. It's uptempo in both sound and mood (opener 'Now That I'm Real (How Does It Feel)' has Balearic beats and pop hooks a-plenty) and although occasionally it borders on bland, overall Hugo's heart is in the right place. The best EP on this list to listen to with a cocktail in your hand.
UNKLE - Only The Lonely EP
A companion piece to last year's 'Where Did The Night Fall' album, this 5 track EP is worth the money for the lead track alone. 'Money And Run' featuring Nick Cave, is a glam-rock-electro-stomp of a song, matching the best of Cave's vocal talents with the rockier side of UNKLE's output. Other tracks on the EP feature vocal contributions from regular UNKLE collaborators Leila Moss (The Duke Spirit), Gavin Clark, and Rachel Fannan.
Photek - Aviator EP
A 5 track EP from one of the original drum'n'bass pioneers, this release successfully update Photek's sound for 2011, and includes a remix from one of the hotly-tipped new breed, Falty DL. It's the second EP he's put out this year, and, with another one already in the bag and ready to come out, it looks like he's on a real return to form.
Tokimonsta - Creature Dreams EP
Released on Brainfeeder, the label set up by Flying Lotus, this is a more laid back record than the ones the boss himself puts out. Recorded almost entirely between 2am and 7am it's a woozy, trip-hop-like release, with 5 instrumentals and a couple more tracks featuring the vocals of Gavin Turek. The sort of record that would've made perfect sense released on Mo Wax back in the 1990s.
Mondkopf - Day of Anger EP
I've played the title track of this EP more than any other track this year because, frankly, it's awesome. A gentle piano is soon overtaken by a pounding, crunchy bassline, arpeggio'd synths, and a feeling that a riot has just kicked off inside your mp3 player. The rest of the 4 tracks are almost as good, as is the packaging - the cd comes with 16 page handmade and numbered fanzine called Rising Doom: The Excuse, and is limited to 1,000 copies worldwide.