Bill’s Indie Basement: Favorite EPs of 2018
Back in the days when I bought CDs, we're talking early-to-mid-'90s (peak shoegaze and college rock days), the EP was my favorite format. The great ones were generally less than 20 minutes, had two killer cuts, one interesting b-side and sometimes something cool, experimental, or maybe an unexpected remix. Ideally, it was like a calling card for the band, showing all their sides in a compact package that left you wanting more.
I think the 11 EPs on this list all fit that definition, though a couple of them stretch the limits of what I consider to the length of the format. They're all great, though. Shout out to Montreal that is kinda dominating this list with four of spots. Also shout out to Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus's EP as boygenius which didn't make my list but was most certainly EP of the Year for the rest of the BV staff.
As much as I loved Protomartyr's 2017 album Relatives in Descent (and I do love it) the drums sound a little flat. (Live, Alex Leonard's drums are anything but flat.) Not so with this EP, recorded by R. Ring's Mike Montgomery, which has them sounding properly ripping. And heavy -- this is easily the hardest hitting Protomartyr record to date, especially with a burner like "Wheel of Fortune," where Joe Casey barks "I decide who lives and who dies!" That's one of two tracks featuring R. Ring (and Breeder) singer Kelley Deal, who encouraged them to branch out here -- there's strings and clarinet -- and it all works. ("You Always Win" is almost a later period Sinatra song, in a very Protomartyr way.) Let's hope Protomartyr and R. Ring work together again soon.
After two albums of dark, krautrock-influenced psych, UK group Ulrika Spacek burned off some of their haze on this five-song 12" that presents a cleaner, effects-free, and prettier version of the group. Better version, too. You can still compare them to Deerhunter, Television, and Pavement, but the melodies really pop on “No. 1 Hum” and the loping “Black Mould,” and the interplay between the three guitarists really shines. This was, weirdly, released as a Record Store Day exclusive, but it's so not a throwaway collector's item. You can still buy vinyl copies through their bandcamp.
Scratchy, funky post-punk fueled the Brooklyn scene of the early '00s and burnt itself out by the end of the decade. Brooklyn's quartet Public Practice, which includes Samantha York and Vince McClelland of Wall and also Beverly members Drew Citron and Scott Rosenthal, have found new life in those seeds. It helps that all four members are hooky songwriters and excellent musicians -- all four tracks on Distance is a Mirror are terrific, from the swampy, badass "Fate/Glory" and "Bad Girls," to the synthy "Foundations" (which borrows from "Once in a Lifetime") and the cool/slinky "Into the Ring." It's a slightly different set of influences than !!!, Liars and Radio 4, too. Brooklyn may not spawn, or need, another dancepunk resurgence, but Public Practice can stay as long as they want.
Montreal duo Lesser Evil made their self-titled debut in an RV in the middle of the woods. By the sound of it, the woods were haunted, as this EP has an unsettling beauty -- dark, mysterious, and smoky, pulling from surf, psych, ’60s orchestral pop (Lee Hazlewood, Scott Walker), jazz, and other sounds you could imagine David Lynch smoking to. Singer Ariane M has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff that sounds vintage and modern simultaneously. Lesser Evil are reminiscent of a lot of artists -- Broadcast, Portishead, Roisin Murphy to name three -- without ever actually sounding like them. No small feat.
Before breaking the door down with their bonkers, brilliant debut album, audiobooks offered this taste of things to come, including one track, "Pebbles," that would feature on the LP, too. The other three tracks are essential additions, especially "Beefy Danny," the best of Evangeline Ling's perfectly detailed short story pieces that references both the Pixies and ABBA over a manic beat created by co-conspirator David Wrench. There's also a duet synthpop number ("Kars") and the ethereal title track. It's audiobooks in a four-song nutshell.
Kero Kero Bonito transitioned this year from laptop ironists to an actual band, lowered the snark quotient but kept the inventive, melodic smarts. Turns out they're really good at indie rock. Their album from this fall, Time N' Place, is terrific but I really like the preceding EP, TOTEP, for the surprise factor on the sonic left turn, as well two of my favorite KKB songs to date, "Only Acting" and "You Know How it Is." Where will they go next?
Wand are criminally underappreciated, possibly because many wrote them off as just another garage band a couple years ago, due to the circles they run in. (Ty Segall, White Fence, etc.) One listen to this EP instantly shows Wand have left the garage far behind and continue to evolve at an exponential rate. There's no better example than “The Gift,” a widescreen rock number that makes at least a couple left turns, including a great piano breakdown that leads to a towering guitar solo from main man Cory Hanson. It's proggy, maybe even a little Radiohead-ish at times, and definitely great, but “retro” it is not.
Dungen’s Gustav Ejstes & Reine Fiske, and Woods’ Jeremy Earl & Jarvis Taveniere teamed up at the 2017 Marfa Myths festival where they were the official Recording Artists in Residence. It's pretty clear that a) this was an inspired pairing and b) they didn't spend their time goofing off. There are songs that are more Dungen-y, ones that are Woods-y, but the best are the two closing instrumentals that really sound like joined forces. At seven tracks and 30 minutes, this is longer than some entries on my Albums of the Year list, but they call it an EP so who am I to say.
Chloé Soldevila named her musical project Anemone after a Brian Jonestown Massacre song (one of their best), but don’t expect drugged-out, Stonesy psych. Her description of Anemone — “A way to capture the feeling of driving endlessly on a sunny day with a lover, the feeling of dancing and forgetting about everything while feeling high on life” — is much more accurate. Anemone’s very charming Baby Only You & I, draws from '60s pop, '80s hip hop and new wave, and even a little '90s bachelor pad music and has me very excited for her debut album, due early 2019.
A meeting of the minds, even if it wasn't in person. After becoming friends over email, No Joy's Jasamine White-Gluz and Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) began collaborating on music as well. She sent him some song sketches to which he sprinkled his drony Sonic Boom pixie dust. The resulting four tracks have echoes of both artists but it really does sound like its own magical thing -- something like the wonderfully druggy "Slorb" would've never come from either on their own.
Named after fancy cocktail bar in Williamsburg Brooklyn, Montreal artist Munya's second EP of 2018 is a real treat, with her frosty and ethereal take on Franco synthpop. The title track is especially lovely, and her sense of humor comes through on "If I'm Gone Tomorrow (It's Because of Aliens)." Coming in under 10 minutes, if you need more, there's the North Hatley EP from earlier in the year that's almost as bewitching.