I've mentioned this before I'm sure, but I'm really digging what feels like a return to the EP and to something just beyond that in some cases. A mini-album if you like. Often EPs are 4-5 songs so the mini-album is one that is 6-8 songs; one that clocks in at around the half-hour mark. Now, it gets tricky defining this. There are great albums - actual albums, classic albums - that are 28 minutes long. There are EPs that are more than 40 minutes long, so the mini-album is hard to pin down simply by its duration - but still I've noticed a few more of them this year. And good ones too. Really good.
Actually in recent weeks I've reviewed a few of them - some of them fantastic.
Also within this there's a trend now - which I like - where the bonus disc that was always the annoying add-on for a deluxe edition, a strange punishment for those on board early, the fans. Because it meant, in most cases, you had to buy the whole album again when you were one of the early adopters, one of the people that parted with the cash straight away. Your prize is to pay for all those songs again just to get to three or four (or six or seven) more.
Some of the best EPs I've heard this year have been bonus discs for a planned deluxe edition of a very strong album released earlier in the year - or they've been leftover songs and ideas from the same sessions as the album from earlier in the year. Or both.
So here are a few of the good new bonus disc/EPs/mini-albums I've heard lately.
Matthew E. White's Outer Face which follows on from last year's really great album, Big Inner. It feels like even more of a treat given Big Inner was only given the official release in New Zealand this year - it's a bonus-disc being packaged up as a deluxe edition but is also available separately.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Blue Record EP might seem like a cheap/lazy folly; acoustic versions of songs from the band's II album (a great record, that). And a couple of covers for good measure. But I really like the Blue Record versions - both the UMO songs and the covers.
The Flaming Lips' new EP, Peace Sword carries on the good work the band offered with The Terror. A return to form, both releases have me newly enthused about a band I, frankly, stopped caring about.
Dean Wareham's Emancipated Hearts is his first solo release - and it's more the mini-album than EP. It's lovely. It's pretty much exactly what you would expect if you know his work from Galaxie 500 through Luna and Dean & Britta. And of course that's good news.
Kurt Vile's new EP is also one of those deals where it's the bonus disc for the deluxe edition of a cracking good album, one of the best of the year I reckon but it's also available separately - so no stress if you forked out for the album already.
There are more too - there are a couple I've yet to review but have already been enjoying and there were a couple of great EPs earlier in the year. But these ones I mention here have all arrived in the last month or two. I could even include the new Huntsville album in that mix - three tracks (albeit rather long ones and a trim running time all up). Fantastic album/EP.
I like this blurring, the idea that it really doesn't matter. Is it an album? Is it an EP? We keep hearing about the death of the album - and those reading headlines off Twitter, and calling it news, are unlikely to go back to long-form - perhaps this is the best new approach. More than just a single, but less than the whole album - in a way it's all of the good bits on the album with none of the filler. A tricky thing to pull off of course. But the ones I've mentioned above really nail it for me - all good stuff, no real boring filler moments. But there's enough to grab on to, to pull you in. It's not just a teaser. You feel satiated, satisfied.
Are you a fan of that in-between album/EP format? Or of EPs in general? And what good ones have you heard this year? Also do you like this new concept that the cash-in bonus disc gets a standalone release? It keeps it all honest right? It means the artist has to want to release the material, it's not just offcuts a label has swept up and flung at the public.
So are you happy with album quality at EP length or do you still want the full long-player experience every time?
You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts.