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

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

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.

dent
dent
Photo by Bill Goodman

10. dent-dent
After over a year since dent released their debut single, during which they were playing shows all over the valley, as well as touring the Southwest, dent finally released their debut self-titled EP. The group is Josh John, Jeff Taylor and Bryan Ohkura and together they are playing some of my favorite indie rock in town. Each time I've seen them since the release of this record, I've just wanted them to release more music because it seems to me that they've got an album's worth of material waiting in the wings. If you dig the sounds of indie rock pioneers like Sebadoh or Pavement, with a touch of Syd Barrett, dent is a good decision for your ears. This record is best served loud.

9. Jane N' The Jungle - Jane N' The Jungle
In a year's time JNTJ has gone from a fringe group on the sidelines of the music scene to one of the hottest tickets in town for a guaranteed good time. I could say that I'm not sure what accounts for it, but I know that it includes hard work, playing tons of shows, touring and recording, and playing more shows. The entire EP is bookended by their fiercest rockers, starting with "Shake Me Out" and ending with "Smoke & Dust." The songs that slay my soul by Jane N' The Jungle are Americana-tinged ballads like "Faded Stars" and my absolute favorite, "Walking Cleopatra." Rumor is that will be released as a single next year, so keep an ear out for that release.

8. WOLFZiE - The Memory Department, Pt. 1
Every time I enter this record with my mind I find the time to listen to the entire thing from end to end and lose myself in its chillwave daydream. I'm not sure if this is a record that I feel more when I listen to it or if I listen to it more when I feel it. It's a bit like you subconscious merges with the music itself and entwines itself around your DNA until the final notes fade, leaving you smiling, relaxed and forever altered. This is a work of singular vision and while I had been waiting for WOLFZiE's debut nearly all year, I never could have expected such bliss to be found here. It's like a different world in there.

7. Zodiac Bash - Pilot
Zodiac Bash released one of the best EPs of the year with Pilot. When I'm not listening to the whole thing through on repeat and I need a quick Zodiac Bash fix, my go-to track is "The Crane Zodiac." It seems to capture the dark weirdness that is the essence of the band, and at about a minute in there is this keyboard part that drives me completely out of my mind. The EP is fantastic overall with its pounding rhythm section and space age guitar work that sounds like it's out of a soundtrack to a classic sci-fi flick, flourishes of theremin and the concept that you are in a spacecraft the entire time that translates perfectly on the record.

6. Harper and The Moths - Rock.Pop.Soul.
Harper and The Moths' Rock.Pop.Soul. is a fantastic collection that gathers their four singles from last year, with two new songs and three remixes. The most exciting thing for me on the release was, of course, the two new songs "In The Shadows" and opener "Diamonds," which are now integral staples in their live set. These days Harper and the Moths pretty much explore two different kinds of songs: upbeat nouveau disco numbers and high energy indie rockers. Rarely do their two styles intertwine, though. "In The Shadows" is the only crossroads where those two distinct sounds intersect. The record has the indie flair of their early work, which evoked the sounds of The Killers, with an irresistible nightclub vibe that is beyond danceable.

5. Paper Foxes - Strawberry Lashes
Paper Foxes reinvented their lineup this year and on their sophomore release, frontman extraordinaire CJ Jacobson and keyboard/theremin wizard Patro Gaston (Zodiac Bash) are joined by Uche and Jahlani Ujania on bass and drums, respectively. This time around Paper Foxes are pursuing much more of a "dark wave" sound than their first EP, the compositions are more fascinating, the rhythm section is brilliant and the entire feel of the record has a consistent style throughout. If you are a fan of Joy Division, Interpol, Kitchens of Distinction or art rock-infused post-punk, you are going to love every minute of it. Both "Indica Feels" and the title track were released as singles this year, but every song here is absolutely essential.

4. Foresteater - Nightlife of the Exploding Heads
Foresteater is the new project from Mikey Pro of La La Lust. Last year's "High and Bright" was the first single Foresteater dropped as something of an addictive tease of what was to follow this year. It's psychedelic-tinged indie rock with a fantastic Beatlesque pop sheen. I'm not sure which is more captivating here, the intriguingly beautiful instrumentation filled with hooks for miles or the mesmerizing vocal talent of Mikey Pro. I literally get lost in the music and then he does something gymnastic with his voice that snaps me out of it and vice-versa. Nightlife of the Exploding Heads is a fantastic debut and it goes a long way to prove that Mikey Pro can pretty much do anything whether he has a band already or forming one around his songs. The joy is in the journey of the entire record if you let your mind wander throughout out the rich tapestry. Foresteater lays out on a powerful debut.

3. El West - El West
El West's new EP is so nice they've released it twice. I'm not sure what accounts for that, but it's not much concern so long as the music gets out. This EP hit me like a ton of bricks when it was released earlier this year, and since then it's become one of my favorite records of the year. The EP is essentially four back-to-back singles with the mostly unlikely single being featured in the video above. I have a feeling El West will be one of THE bands to watch next year. The EP will be re-released on December 15 at Rebel Lounge and presumably online, so you will be able to bask in its glory then.

2. The Sink or Swim - Fish Out Of Water
The Sink or Swim released two EPs this year. Their debut Fish Out Of Water came out early on to be quickly followed by the three-song High Tides. The latter EP felt more like a maxi-single since it was three singles back to back. Fish Out Of Water on the other hand feels like an actual EP and the case could be argued that each song on it could be a single as well. Still, this record is a stunner and the obvious singles "Revolving Doors" and "Wasted Time" do not sound like tunes that would ever appear on an indie rock debut—for the sheer quality alone. The Sink or Swim have taken the local scene by storm this year, and they worked hard for it, releasing two of the best records of the year and constantly playing live. Their ambition is remarkable, their drive is admirable, and their talent is unquestionable. I have four songs they released this year constantly swimming in my head. I'm not even mad about it.

1. decker. - Snake River Blues
If there was one EP I could write home about and only one, it would have to be Snake River Blues by decker. This has all the power of an album compressed into five songs and 23 minutes. The EP literally lived in the CD player of my downstairs stereo from the moments of its release until about a week or two ago. No one could stop playing the damn thing. On Snake River Blues, Brandon Decker discovered that sometimes less is more and sometimes the silences are as meaningful as the music. It is an absolutely flawless record from decker. The group has never rocked like this before, never produced such catchy hooks or searched the depth of the blues so well. This is an honest record made out of artistic desperation, and everyone that's ever heard it in the background always asks "What is this?" because they need to know. Patsy may be Brandon Decker's finest long player, but this is his finest record overall. Featuring no fewer than three singles (so far) with "The Holy Ghost," "The Phantom," and "Blackwash," it may be only a matter of time until "The Black Widow" and the title track get either a single release or the video treatment. There really should be a video for every song on this monumental record that captures the zeitgeist of 2016 decker.

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