A massive amount of music came out on EPs this year, so we're going to honor them, too.
A massive amount of music came out on EPs this year, so we're going to honor them, too.
Danny Hellman

The 40 Best EPs by Phoenix Bands in 2016, Part One

We're introducing something new this year to our local year-end roundup.

In addition to our Best Songs and Best Albums list (the latter of which will publish next week), this year we're presenting the Best EPs. Why EPs? As streaming becomes the dominant way people consume music, bands upping the frequency they release music and lowering  the number of songs released at once. Last year, we didn't include EPs in our list, and a lot of great music went unaccounted for when all was said and done. In the digital age, the EP is a new standard, ranging from three song maxi-singles or seven track mini-albums. I went through more EPs than I ever imagined were released this year, and are the 40 best of that enormous stack.

40. Sun Hex - Downer
The debut record from Sun Hex has to be one of the finest odes to an era where Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine, and Loop championed a new sound and a movement without really intending to. The monstrous roar of the guitars. The melody hidden in walls of distortion and feedback. The drum holding the entire maelstrom together with the bass clutching on for dear life. The distant vocals with gauzy lyrics that act like instruments, with an unclear meaning. Sun Hex is definitely a band to add to the burgeoning shoegaze scene, which isn't really one, much like the original era, but there are a lot of bands in Phoenix heading excitedly in this direction.

39. Pleasure Victims - "7"
The Pleasure Victims are Ginger Fields (lead vocals, synthesizers, and acoustic guitar), Outlaw Cody James (guitars and vocals), Nigel L'Amour (bass guitar, synthesizers, and vocals), and Randalite (drums, percussion, and vocals), and after recent years of being local live staples, they put out a mini-album that combines prog, alternative, and indie rock with the hair rock of the '80s. It's an interesting mix of influences that just end up being a hell of a lot of fun. From the rocking opener of "Broken" to the synthpop dream of "Fantasy" the album is a fun ride. It won't be difficult to find pleasure in spinning "7".

38. Weslynn - Black + Champagne
Black + Champagne feels like it's ready to launch into alternative radio. Weslynn has a pretty slick, catchy pop sound that upon first listen I was reminded of how recent "alternative" hits are really looking toward synth-loaded '80s hits. Weslynn's sound is right in line with that. I could totally see this becoming a monster hit on stations with the same format as ALT AZ. They're only one connection away from breaking out in a big way into the realm of mainstream pop.

37. roethke - Toxoplasma Gandhi
The idea that roethke would ever release a record seemed out of the question, since when Shannon Harden actual assembles a band the performances are usually in Bisbee in November and rarely elsewhere. That said, roethke has had a set here and there, mostly at The Rogue Bar when here. So the idea of roethke making a record was ridiculous. The idea that it would be synth-heavy electro-pop wasn't even considered. It's a fascinating little record that gets into some dark wave territory while it muses about astrology and the cosmos. This record never should have happened, but it did and I'm thankful for it.

36. Couples Fight - Breaking Up
It's never been so enjoyable to watch a relationship self-destruct. Couples Fight's Breaking Up EP is one of the most interesting concept bands to come along in a while, but it's unclear if they can or if they will ever follow it up. Couples Fight is the dance-punk duo of Travis James (Travis James & The Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists) and Alaynha Gabrielle, and they've got the apocalypse of a relationship in the bag. This is practically a self-contained mini-musical, with an intro and outro as well. While the music is damned catchy, the lyrics as James and Gabrielle fight back and forth using call and response are pure gold.

35. VNITI - Kala
This is some truly unusual and stunning music. It's a nine-track EP that clocks in at just over 20 minutes. There are lots of experimental link tracks like "Papago," "Drought," and "Cielo" that provide beginning, ends and interludes to the songs, but it was the first actual song on the record, "Fall," that caught my attention and kept it. The arrangements by VNITI (pronounced "Unity") are stark and fascinating. The first track in the embed is the entire EP as one track, followed by the individual tracks that make up the record. Check out "Fall" and "Entropy" for a quick introduction.

34. Sunshower - Dazed + Refused
Grunge revivalists Sunshower sounds like they got their musical education straight out of the early Sub Pop catalog. "GMLK" would not seem out of place on the Blew EP or Screaming Life or Superfuzz Bigmuff, yet it is far from simple homage. The EP begins with a sample featuring Chazz' rant in Airheads from 1994. Clearly, this crew is thoroughly educated in the 1990s on all fronts. It's also apparent that playing a hell of a lot of shows over the last year has made their songwriting better, and if this song is any example, made them focus more on a tight sound that really captures the ear instantly. The first half is the loud side, the second half is the quieter side. Both sides are pretty great.

33. Jared & The Mill - Orme Dugas
Jared & The Mill have been riding the indie folk revival wave since their inception and honestly, they do it the best. Orme Dugas is their latest EP and it shows a band that has a lot less open-eyed innocence as found in their earlier records, but it has a lot more road worn, wisdom filled experience. The band has been on a non-stop tour since I became aware of them and that much time on the road has solidified their sound for the better. The sheer growth in songwriting since 2013s Western Expansion is remarkable and the depth of Jared's vocals is maturing beautifully. I would expect no less from these consummate professionals.

32. Andy Warpigs - GEEK ROCK! To The Nations!

If you were expecting folk-punk on Andy Warpigs newest record, you'll want to put that expectation aside. The four-track EP GEEK ROCK! To The Nations! seems to be more akin to indie pop than anything else, maybe with a little punk edge. On this record Andy Warpigs, the band, is Andy Warpigs (vocals, guitar, angst), Andrew Attilio (drums), Lucas Skywalker (lead guitar), Jackson Bollox (bass), and Scott Mitting (production, synth), and it's a fantastic side of their sound. This is loosely a collection of songs that you might have caught Warpigs doing on his uke at Long Wong's Firehouse years ago. He's taken those songs and made them into full-band arrangements, and the results are pretty impressive, considering they were recorded next to a golf course at Warpigs' place.

31. Headstrum - Without Love
I get the impression after seeing Headstrum live that this crew is super young, but damn do they know how make impressive, original blues-drenched rock. Their debut EP didn't take until I caught them live, and after that their sound made sense. While it takes a lot for me to get interested in a blues rock band, these talented kids have exactly what it takes. Queen Creek's Headstrum is Alex Hedstrom (guitar/lead vocals), Tyler Hedstrom (drums), and Sam Lehtinen (bass/vocals) and they are definitely a band to watch.

30. Troubled Minds - Something Worth Saving
Troubled Minds is delivering some of the more alluring punk around town these days. Combining hints of math rock with flourishes of grunge and early indie rock, they are definitely on the neo-emo/pop punk side of the fence, which is to say that their songs totally rock out and their lyrics are thoughtfully insightful. That said, it's impressive how much musical territory they can cover in any single song selection, and nearly none of them go in the direction you think they will from the start.

29. sunlaand - sunlaand
I didn't catch wind of this gem until a couple weeks ago and I can't get enough of it. A lot of this honestly has to do with Sara Windom's voice. Here vocal delivery on "Bad Mood" and "On Edge" are some of the finest moments on any record of this year. There's some lilt in her voice, a phrasing that's absolutely unique. It makes her sound like someone you should be uncertain of, like might be crazy, might be distracted, might be doped up, might be just really cool and artsy. It's difficult to say. Meanwhile Michael Chmura provides a perfect nasal tone on his skate punk songs"Trip Sit" and "Skate or Die." Every time I listen to the thing I notice something new.

28. Future Soul - Elastic Love
Future Soul is the moniker that Nick Tillery is using to deliver his music to the world. This is clearly Tillery's own vision that he's following, because nothing else in this town sounds like this. From the record, I found "Faith" is my favorite, though "Process" is growing on me. Still, "Faith" has this amazing, jazzy,  piano-driven spirit about it that recalls the musical arrangements of Ben Folds. Tillery's vocals, on the other hand, are breathy and sexy, nothing like Folds in that regard. This is his vision of "future soul," and it feels pretty damn fine colored throughout by a soulful warmth.

27. Painted Bones - Dragon Ride
Painted Bones describe themselves as alternative fuzz rock, and that's pretty apt. What that doesn't say is that this is catchy as hell rock 'n' roll. There are hooks and guitar lines that will remain with you long after the song has finished. It does have a hint of what made alternative music great in the '90s, but it's not lost in that sound and comes across as completely contemporary. Every time I've seen them they've closed their set with "Straight Into The Sun," and it has blown me away every single time. It's a rollicking ride, and I'm looking forward to what they have planned next.

26. MC/DC and Andy Warpigs - Onions Make Me Cry, But Mondays Make Me Really Sad
This is one of the most unusual mash up EPs of the year, combining the hip-hop groove of MC/DC and the folk punk of Andy Warpigs, all produced by none other than Dadadoh. The results are unexpected to say the very least. This is so fucking indie and DIY it's beyond the realm of reason, but in that there is this beautiful charm about the entire affair. Best lyric that has me smile every time: " If you’ve got the gumption to function and fight for your cause, in spite of your flaws, the you deserve the right to applause… Unless you’re a Nazi… that probably goes without saying, but the line left room for interpretation." That is so fucking clever that I can't stand it, it's also as post-modern as the lyrics could possibly get. The entire project is a breath of fresh air.

25. Ben Anderson - Where The Lights Go?
Ben Anderson is a new young talent, and his debut EP produced by Olivier Zahm is a nice four-track premier. While it's clearly Anderson and his guitar on showcase here, the amazing production cannot be ignored. These songs become fully alive and exciting throughout every track. There's not a lot of effects or unnecessary flourishes; there's just a fantastic sound that augments Anderson's talent as a singer and songwriter. These songs are perfect to chill out to with headphones on late at night. The entire release is a calling card to the world from an amazing new talent in this city. He's already released a follow-up single, and it will be interesting to see what he does next year.

24. Sonoran Chorus - Laird
It's a swift three-song swing of a stopgap EP for Sonoran Chorus this year, and it sums up every reason why they are one of my consistently favorite acts to follow. The manic pace of the opener "Cartons of Bottles" is the synthesis of their quirky neurotic rock. It's one of my favorite tracks live as is the closer "Shitkicker." Between the two is "Terracotta Forest" which is a showcase for them to show off their songwriting chops and expand their horizons. It's got a total post-punk, art rock vibe. If we only get one record from Sonoran Chorus next year, I hope it has more than three songs on it.

23. Cheap Hotels - Long Summer EP
I feel like Cheap Hotels' first official EP Long Summer was the most consistently played record during the second half of my summer. It's three-song zippy trip to some serious sunshine-soaked indie pop that follows up on the promises made on their demo collection from last year. This crew should think about going on tour with Diners and ROAR, like, forever. The only flaw with the damn thing is that it's too short. Every time I listen to these songs it takes me to a simpler, gentler time — like July.

22. Snailmate - Dine + Dash EP
Of all three EPs in the "Escargot Trilogy", Dine + Dash stands out as my favorite. The first night I listened to this EP a few times I had dreams with Ariel Monet screaming "Jump" at odd intervals, so there's something subliminally arresting to be found here as well. There is no genre for Snailmate to fit into; Monet and Kalen Lander are as much metal as they are punk, as much hip-hop as they are electronica. Still, it's their musical fits of rage and love that keep them going, and their fans too. I hear a full-length is in the works, but they might have to stop touring some time for that to happen.

21. The Hourglass Cats - Portraits of Cats EP
The Hourglass Cats made us wait three years after their debut EP 432, and just when you would assume there wouldn't, they dropped Portrait of Cats out of the blue. A lot has changed for THC in those three years, and their sound has matured. They've moved slightly away from the roots of their ska-based reggae groove with six songs that prove they've gotten interested in some good, old fashioned rock 'n' roll. The Hourglass Cats have matured since their debut, and if this is the shape of things to come, I hope they intend to bring us more.

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