Wednesday, July 07, 2010

All-Time Best EPs

The EP is somewhat of a lost art. There are several indie bands like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, No Age, and Fucked Up trying to keep it alive. Longer than a single, the name "Extended Play" makes it sound like it should be a really long album. But as albums were "Long Players", I guess the name is fitting. Anyhow, here is the list of my favorite all-time EPs:

Engineered by Dave Achelis
Plan 9 Records, 1978

The second Misfits release and first to establish the horror punk asthetic they are now known for. With the title track's brutal depiction of the aftermath of JFK's assassination and the chorus to "Attitude", it would be hard not to consider Glenn Danzig a male chauvinist. "We Are 138," is a violent call-to-arms and "Hollywood Babylon," is the first classic to delve into Danzig's fascination with the town. The four tracks were later released on the amazing Static Age comp.

Nine Inch Nails
Produced by Trent Reznor with Flood
Nothing/TVT Records, 1992

Broken is the most industrial Nine Inch Nails release. The guitars are front and center this time, as is the anger. Like other Reznor penned projects, this one is filled with dejected disenchantment. "Wish," and "Last," are the most aggressively excellent 1-2 punch in the NIN catalog, followed closely two tracks later by "Happiness In Slavery," and "Gave Up,". The two "hidden" covers are also gems. "Physical," can make you believe that Adam Ant was capable of great things and "Suck," would go on to be a live staple.

Mission Of Burma
Signals, Calls, And Marches
Produced by Richard W. Harte
Ace Of Hearts Records, 1981

No EP starts off with a better song than "That's When I Reach For My Revolver,". I have always been a greater fan of Clint Conley songs than Roger Miller songs and "Revolver," is the only Conley contribution on Signals and it outshines every other track. To be fair, Miller followed up that classic with four stellar tracks that are better than most subsequent Burma album tracks. The one Conley/Miller collaboration is the one just OK track on the album. They must have felt that way too as, almost 30 years later, there has not been another songwriting collaboration between the two.

Alice In Chains
Jar Of Flies
Produced by Alice In Chains
Columbia Records, 1994

I hope when historically, when we look back at the Seattle scene in the 1990's, Alice In Chains will get their just due. There are doomed to never be revered like Nirvana because Kurt Cobain died before he could make any mediocre music. Pearl Jam are the goodwill ambassadors of Seattle just because they tour endlessly and battle billion dollar ticket corporations. They haven't actually made any worthwhile music since 1995. AIC also flamed out too early due to the overdose of lead singer Layne Staley. But they did have one spectacular album, Dirt, and this beautiful left turn follow-up. Jar solidified Jerry Cantrell's place as one of rock's most gifted songwriters and Alice In Chains as versatile force to be reckoned with.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Slow Riot For New Zerø Kanada
Recorded and mixed by Dale Morningstar
Constellation Records, 1999

For only 2 songs, this EP runs over 27 minutes and has some strange backstory. The first song is named for guitarist Mike Moya, who left the group prior to the release. The second features the band putting their exquisite instrumental accompaniment to the raving poetry of a street performer going by the name Blaise Bailey Finnegan III, thus "BBF3,". What the band didn't realize at the time was that passages of Finnegan's poetry were taken directly from the Iron Maiden single, "Virus,", co-written by one Blaze Bayley, the ill-received, ill-voiced, and short-lived third singer for Maiden. That aside, Godspeed were never known for lyrics since they never wrote any, and the music was wonderful.

Black Flag
Nervous Breakdown
Produced by David Tarling & Black Flag
SST Records, 1978

The 4 best songs from Black Flag may have been their first 4. Now, I like Henry Rollins (see later in list) but even I can't deny that Keith Morris was the best frontman to carry the Flag. The title track was the blueprint for hardcore. Self-isolation? Check. Threat of violence? Check. Short, raw and concise. It may sound bad but Greg Ginn's guitar playing was much better when he wasn't so ambitious.

Minor Threat
In My Eyes
Engineered by Don Zientara
Dischord Records, 1981

The second hardcore entry on this list and it was a tough one. I was going to have the original Minor Threat EP because there were 7 great songs compared to In My Eyes' 4 songs. In the end, though, the title track was too much to ignore here. "In My Eyes," was the longest MT song to date and it had an MC5 feel to it complete with *gasp* tempo changes. "Guilty Of Being White," is a classic anthem of reverse racism. Both songs were eventually covered by much more financially successful bands. Rage Against The Machine's "In My Eyes," is perhaps even more emotionally charged than the original but Slayer's "Guilty Of Being Right," was a miscalculation. EP ends with a raucous version of "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone,".

Lacuna Coil
Lacuna Coil
Produced by Waldemar Sorychta
Century Media Records, 1998

This EP is basically the cause for all the horrendous "metal" bands that are fronted by women like Evanescence and Flyleaf. Where those bands failed is that Cristina Scabbia has a mystique to her voice and there is something that European and unable to be quantified about the band. "Falling," is an amazing song. Sorychta's production was key to the band's development as well. As the band moved onto American producers and were influenced more by American bands, the more they started to sound like the terrible bands they spawned. But the sparseness of the arrangements here works well for these songs.

Henrietta Collins and The Wifebeating Childhaters
Drive By Shooting
Produced by Norm Clout
Texas Hotel Records, 1987

This is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek release from Henry Rollins with future Rollins Band guitarist Chris Haskett. It starts with the surf rock title track about exactly what you would think. Following that is a positively stellar cover of Wire's "Ex-Lion Tamer," that actually improves on the original (even if the lyrics are wrong, what are they anyway?). What follows are the hard rock version of a knock knock joke, a strange tale of a widow and tools, a mutilation of "We Will Rock You", the mock recording of a sex act, and a nice uptempo instrumental number. I wish Rollins' music could reclaim some of this humor.

Bad Brains
Omega Sessions
Recorded and mixed by Billy Brady
Victory Records, 1997

Recorded in 1980, Omega Sessions are little more than demos but are somehow the definitive versions of the classics "I Against I", "At The Movies", and "Attitude,". These songs had all been recorded several times with different tempos and pitches. It is a shame that the band didn't make more formal recordings of these versions.

Your turn. Any suggestions?

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