EPs can serve several functions: as a way to keep impatient fans happy while they wait for another full-length album; as a cost-effective means for new artists to get material into the hands of the public; as a chance for established artists to get weird and experimental without much risk; or as an opportunity for established bands to clear old tunes out of the vaults and make a few extra bucks, kind of like a garage sale. And since most EPs usually have, like, four or five tracks and will only set you back six or seven bucks, if they suck, well, you didn't waste too much time or money. Here are a bunch that've hit the racks during the first half of 2004:
My Morning Jacket
Acoustic Citsuoga (RCA)
Galaxie 500 might have sounded something like this if Dean Wareham were a good ol' Southern boy instead of a Harvard-educated aristo-rocker. These are five stripped-down live tracks culled from the fine, kudzu-covered MMJ catalogue; the hypnotic mood the band tries to establish with quiet, reverbed guitar-picking and singer Jim James' ghostly mumble is all too often obliterated by stoner whooooooooos and yeeeaaaarrghhhhhhs. Which is tolerable when you're actually at the show, but irksome as shit at home or in the car.
Le Concorde (Spade Kitty/Parasol) "Pure, unadulterated pop that would have ruled 120 Minutes 15 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. Put together, this stuff is more sugary than a giant blob of cotton candy washed down with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew -- and potentially as vomit-inducing.
William of Orange (Hometapes)
A cold chill runs down my spine whenever I open the William of Orange trifold sleeve, but that's only because the inner artwork is designed to resemble a tax form and thus reminds me that I'm probably gonna get audited for failing to report that two grand in lawn-mowing income back in 1995. Fortunately, the music -- which flits between Ocean Blue/Smiths adoration (particularly on "Actresses") and electronic-speckled acoustic-pop gems à la the Postal Service -- soothes and uplifts my IRS-troubled soul.
Ba Ba/Ti Ki/Di Do (Geffen)
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 initially thinks he's in heaven because there are cookies everywhere and a giant fridge full of milk, but then discovers all the cartons are empty and realizes he's actually in hell? It's kinda like that.
Through the Sun Door (Drag City)
You don't have to play Dungeons & Dragons, attend Renaissance Faires, hang purple unicorn tapestries over your bed, dress like a hobbit on Saturday nights, fantasize about getting married in a druid ceremony at Stonehenge, or keep a jar of powdered bats' wings in your closet in order to appreciate the female-fronted, piano-heavy, gothic-tinged indie-psych-folk of White Magic. But it'd probably help.
Minus the Bear
They Make Beer Commercials Like This (Arena Rock)
I'd sure like to know what these guys are smokin' during their song-titling sessions -- past albums have included such ridiculously named ditties as "Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo" and "Just Kickin' It Like a Wild Donkey," and 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 dancey post-punk (like every other rock band these days, but better) and noodley emo guitar passages that explode in big, catchy choruses. Slow-burner "Rob's Alien" even sounds like a lost Swervedriver track (added bonus: Ethereal vocalist Heather Duby sings back-up on it!).
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Life of the Party (RCA)
As dorky as these FOTS (Friends of the Strokes) might be, I wouldn't be surprised if Longwave actually outlasts most of its 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 these sorts of soaring, melodic guitar-pop anthems. Not that Longwave is U2 or anything like that, but it's on the right track.
Different Cars and Trains (Domino)
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? Personally, I don't see why they thought it necessary to ruin the warm folktronica vibe of the originals with cheesy, clichd 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.
The Casket Lottery
Smoke and Mirrors (Second Nature)
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. Things have certainly turned to shit since then. But the Casket Lottery reminds me of the good old days. Too bad these guys just broke up.
The Good Life
Lovers Need Lawyers (Saddle Creek)
I came late to the Saddle Creek indie rock party, mostly because honcho (and Bright Eyes leader) Conor Oberst kinda bugged me -- you know, the name, the Robert Smith hair, the Winona Ryder fucking, that whole thing. But I was being stubbornly closed-minded, and now I really dig his labelmate Tim Kasher's two bands, Cursive and, especially, 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. Plus, the self-deprecating "Entertainer" contains my favorite line of the year so far: "I'm not an artist/I'm an asshole without a job/Making money off alcohol."