Saturday, December 24, 2011

Four really awesome EPs from 2011

I've already listed my "favourite 15 Canadian records of 2011" and my "favorite 22 non-Canadian records of 2011". I may or may not get around to the list of what's not on the lists.
Yeah, I have those albums that other people are going nuts over. The ones by Bon Iver, Cults, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Girls, Real Estate, The Sea and Cake, Wilco. I like all of those. They just didn't make the cut. I even have the new Radiohead record, and it was a massive disappointment for me. There are others that almost made my lists, and I may get around to explaining all of that. But I probably won't.

In a sort of related theme, today's list is about knowing what to leave out. Somebody once said "the great artist knows what to leave out". Cameron Crowe borrowed that quote in his movie Almost Famous, when "Russell Hammond" says "It's not what you put in. It's what you leave out... Yeah. That's rock-n-roll. What you leave out"

Knowing what to leave out. A lot of full length albums contain four or five good songs and five or six mediocre songs. Filler. Sometimes a band will do this because they're contractually obligated to release a full-length album. Sometimes, they just don't know what to leave out. That's where the EP comes in. If you have four or five great songs, why not leave it at that? It may be harder for record companies to market the EP than the full album. Some music buyers are reluctant to spend their money on a record that only has four songs. Those though, aren't good enough reasons not to make an EP instead of a using filler to make a full-length album.

I think the EP is a beautiful thing. Helium's Pirate Prude is one of my favorite recordings of the last 20 years, but I would like it a lot less if there were four more songs just to fill it out as an LP.

In 2011, I bought a handful of EPs, and there are four that stand above the rest. I won't rank them. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Brave Irene -- Brave Irene
Jangly guitars, organ, and riot grrrls in their late 30s/early 40s.
This Vancouver-based band is fronted by Rose Melberg, who was the front of the brilliantly twee girl foursome Tiger Trap in the early 1990s. She went on to play in other cuddle-punk bands The Softies and Go Sailor. The sound of this band is pretty much the sound of those bands.
This EP was released by Slumberland Records in March of 2011. It's warm and gooey and fun. It's like a bag of swedish fish, bought from the store and smuggled into the movies.

Sample a couple of tracks here, then buy it from the Slumberland website
Brave Irene sampler by Slumberland Records



50 Foot Wave -- With Love From the Men's Room
Stacks of amps, plenty of aggression and some people in their mid-40s
Built around Kristin Hersh and her long-time Throwing Muses bassist Bernard Georges, this is nothing like the Muses or Kristin's folky, mostly acoustic solo stuff. 50 Foot Wave is much harder, faster, louder and angrier.
This is their fourth EP, and Kristin has made everything this band ever released available for free, with the suggestion that you donate to cashmusic.org or become one of her "Strange Angels", who finance her creative process via a quarterly "subscription" fee.

This is crunchy and sticky. Like a peanut butter and bacon sandwich.

Download the EP free and legally here, (you have to do it track-by-track) but seriously consider leaving something in the tip jar.
50 Foot Wave -- Grey by dlee71

SPC ECO -- Big Fat World


Father, daughter, and the holy effects pedals.
Pronounced "Space Echo", this shoegazy/dreampop band is built around Dean Garcia from Curve and his daughter. They released an album in 2009, an EP in 2010, then this in the first half of 2011. Later in the year, they released a full-length album with half of the songs from the ep, plus seven other songs. To be honest, I don't have that full-length, so I don't know whether those other songs are filler or legitimate. Still, I don't like the fact that there's previously released stuff on the "new album". It's a little disrespectful to the fans.
I'm reminded, naturally, of Curve. Also of the first Hooverphonic record.

Somehow, I didn't know about these cats until one of the Geeks suggested this EP to me. Viva la Geek!

This is smoky as all get-out, and warm-and-soothing as hell. Like a beef brisket sandwich.

Buy the ep from their bandcamp page, but don't file-share with your friends, as it "fucks (them) over".

If I was doing this kind of thing, I would list this song as one of my favorite songs of the year:


Weekend -- Red

Please don't get confused. I'm not talking about that "mix-tape" girl called The Weeknd. This is an indie rock band from San Francisco who spell their band name in the traditional way.
I missed the boat to their Sports album last year, so it didn't make my list, but if I wrote a "favorites of 2010" list today, it would be close to the top. This EP, released in September, is pretty much blowing me away. With their pedals and their hooks, I find myself putting the EP on infinite repeat and slipping into noise pop heaven.
It's clear that these guys listen to a lot of Joy Division. And a lot of mid-1990s British shoegaze bands. I was actually surprised to learn that they're not from the same town as The Catherine Wheel or Adorable or one of the other great bands of that ilk.

This is thunderous, exciting, familiar and new. Like opening night of hockey season.

Buy the album from Slumberland after sampling the song "Hazel". And then listen again. And again. It's that good.




There you have it. My favorite EPs of 2011. I might not be done with my list-making, so keep your eyes peeled.

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