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

The 40 Best EPs by Phoenix Bands in 2016, Part Two
Danny Hellman

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.

Here's part two of our Best EPs of 2016 list. Grab your headphones, and you can find part one here.

20. The Blank Waves - The Blank Waves
I can safely say that The Blank Waves' six-track self-titled release is a bizarre, supremely psychedelic affair that begins with a tribute to Syd Barrett and ends in the looney bin. It's a fascinating ride, and it's something to be enjoyed with headphones, a bit off your head, late at night. To be fair, some of the record seems to be off-the-rails silliness, others so drenched in madness that you feel like you're going down a rabbit hole. It is the last track, "Looney Bin," that I find the most compelling. It actually feels like more of a tribute to Syd Barrett's songwriting style than does the opener "Song For Syd," but it does bring the entire collection full circle, somehow, amidst the madness.

19. Complicate Simple - Blue
Complicate Simple's debut EP Blue featured some preview singles, including "Rewind" and the one I can't get out of my head, "Vignette." I have been spinning the record since its release, and while the singles are great, I encourage you to check out the entire thing, because the pre-release singles aren't even the best songs to be found on there. Michael Jon's fascinating vocals and lyrical imagery are the star attractions throughout. While his voice would have blended in well in the '90s, it stands out like the intricate instrument it is. That's not to discount the ample talents found in the guitar and rhythm section. Blue showcases the talents of the entire band and serves as a  fine introduction to this simple, but complicated rock outfit.

18. Hostile Work Environment - Suave Labor
Hostile Work Environment was one of my favorite new bands from 2015, and I was pleased as punch when they released their debut EP, Suave Labor at the start of the year. Hostile Work Environment finds Jake Paxton (Companeros), Spencer Ferrarin (The Redemptions), and Josh MacFarland rocking out to such fascinations as Bob Ross, aliens, drinking, women and drugs across four songs that capture the synthesis of their identity. Paxton is the visionary behind this outfit, and he comes across as a bit of a madman live, and nothing is lost in translation on the EP. I hope that Hostile Work Environment has the ambition to make a full-length record, because I know they have the songs, and this four track delight just leaves you wanting more.

17. CooBee Coo - Strikes Again
CooBee Coo released their new EP Strikes Again last summer, and it's their first release since last year's monumental album Liven Up. "In The Zone" opens up the EP perfectly with a groove that gets you right in the gut right from the start. CooBee Coo has been one of the more exciting bands to watch evolve over the years, and their new EP show exactly where they're at in their ever-expanding sound. If you get the chance to see CooBee Coo live, leap on it, but expect to dance.

16. The Darts - The Darts EP
The Darts are a brand new garage rock supergroup featuring Nicole Laurenne (The Love Me Nots, Zero Zero, Motobunny), Christina Nunez (The Love Me Nots, Casual Encounters), Rikki Styxx (The Two Tens), and Michelle Balderrama (Brainspoon). It's an exciting, dark record with catharsis written all over it. When I asked Laurenne about it she immediately said, “It’s my favorite record I’ve ever recorded.” It’s not difficult to see why on this heavy-as-hell six-track monster. It may actually take some getting used to, but soon the blistering fuzz bass, farfisa organ, chainsaw guitars, and frantic drums will consume you in their sweltering sound.

15. MRCH - I Love You, But You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About EP
Last year MRCH (pronounced March) first appeared as a side project of The Prowling Kind's Mickey and Jesse Pangburn and Erin Beal. They released single after single, and the last one "Spin" was featured as the soundtrack for Sleigh Bells' Alexis Krauss and Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino interviewing each other in an installment of a Pitchfork-produced sponsored content video. "Spin" is the only of those singles to appear on their debut EP I Love You, But You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, which left room for four brand new tracks. It's a damned dreamy record of synth-laden bedroom pop to be sure. MRCH's debut EP creates a textural tapestry of hypnotic dream pop that is all too easy to get lost in and stay away from your mind for a while.

14. Celebration Guns-The Me That Used To Be EP
I think this is the longest I've waited for a five-track EP to be released in my life. The recording for The Me That Used To Be was finished early on in 2015. While "The Volunteer" and the title track had been preview singles that certainly whetted the appetite, it all sounds so much better in the context of the record itself. This EP has been the crux of their live show for nearly two years, so if you've been a fan of that, this is essentially their greatest hits. Complex arrangements, math rock sensibilities, pop aesthetics and indie rock musings is what it's all about. I can't wait to see what Celebration Guns do next, and I hope it arrives a bit quicker.

13. Wolvves - Songs Before Paradox
In a slightly surprising move without little publicity or fanfare, Wolvves released their first record since they "broke up" after releasing their full-length debut Whatever in 2015. The five-track EP is called Songs Before Paradox, and when it was released it left a ton of unanswered questions. At the same time Wolvves did all this they dropped a new video for "Untitled," which is on the new record and it's amazing. This combined with the two singles they released before it that didn't appear on the EP veiled the band's entire plan in a shroud of mystery. This EP though solidified the new sound Wolvves is pursuing on record for the first time, and every minute of it is magical.

12. Redemptions - Broken Hearts & Shattered Glass EP
Once upon a time Anthony Fama was the frontman for one of my favorite local groups of all time, Doctor Bones. It's been nearly two years since Fama put together The Redemptions with "Danger" Paul Balazs (Psychedelephants) on bass and a large enough roster of drummers that would probably make Spinal Tap blush. At long last they have solidified a lineup featuring Konstantin Bosch (The Woodworks) on drums, as well as Spencer Ferrarin (Something Went Awry, Hostile Work Environment) and Solo Lounsbury (The Woodworks). It's something of a fantastic little supergroup these days. They have well over an album's worth of songs, but they clearly picked their five best as a calling card to the world on Broken Hearts & Shattered Glass. Every song here is single-worthy. You can't ask for much more than that.

11. i.am.hologram - Frequency 432
We may reflect back on 2016 as "Year of the Hologram" one day. Seriously, i.am.hologram has let the proverbial dam burst this year and has become one of the most prolific artists of the year. Frequency 432 is his second EP of 2016 and his fourth record overall ... and he may not be done yet before the end of the year. He's also one of the hardest working live musicians I've ever witnessed in town; that combined with the furious pace of his output in combination with a mystical voice from beyond this realm, Hologram is one of the more fascinating musical creatures in town. The intro of the title track with the sole lyric being "Take your own advice and run" merging into "Modern-Day Hymn" is stunning, and chilling when that lyric is repeated again.



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