Well, the year is over, but I’ve still got a bit of reflection left. Whether they were leftover collections from established favorites or stunning debuts, lush baroque-pop or lo-fi trip-hop, noisy drone or melody-driven math rock, 2008 was littered with a range of excellent EPs. I managed to compile a short list of favorites (and some honorable mentions). Enjoy and feel free to leave your own lists, or perhaps some EPs you think I may have missed or should have been included, in the comments section. Next up… my favorite albums from 2008.
5. Final Fantasy – Spectrum, 14th Century
The stronger of the pair of EPs released by Final Fantasy (solo project of Canada’s resident orchestral-pop genius Owen Pallett) last year, Spectrum, 14th Century is a logical extension of 2006’s He Poos Clouds. Like that record, Spectrum blends reality and fantasy, tackling present-day concerns while detailing an imaginary kingdom with ornate, antiquated language, modern slang, and references relevant only to the video game generation. Simultaneously indebted to chamber music, musical theater, contemporary avant-garde movements, and indie pop, Pallett’s compositions themselves are equally collisional — a kind of post-modern approach to the sounds of the 18th century.
Conceived as collection of so-called “fake field recordings”, Spectrum, 14th Century was recorded outdoors in Quebec with Zach Condon and the other members of Beirut (Pallett was a studio musician for 2007’s The Flying Club Cup), which is fitting since Final Fantasy’s music seems to conjure images of dramatic landscapes and wide open spaces in my mind. And the backing from these fellow Europhiles really fills out the sound of an EP that strongly delivers on its intended goal: whetting one’s appetite for Pallet’s upcoming Heartlands LP.
4. Air France – No Way Down
Air is from Paris, France, but Air France is from Gothenburg, Sweden. Alright, but if the latter were actually from France, they’d certainly fit comfortably in the celebrated tradition of French electronica. Though, come to think of it, with their nostalgic feel, bright melodies, and rich, layered approach, they also recall Australian forerunners Cut Copy and The Avalanches. Fortunately, one really doesn’t need to look beyond Sweden’s borders for the appropriate context in which to place Air France; with the release of No Way Down, they’ve established themselves as an integral part of their home country’s own burgeoning electronic scene.
Their second EP, released on the record label started by acclaimed Gothenburg peers The Tough Alliance, is an unabashedly triumphant dreamscape of soaring strings, rippling piano, walls of synth, vocal samples, handclaps, and stone-cold groove. Standout “Collapsing at Your Doorstep” begins with two statements on loop: “Sorta like a dream? No… better.” Bold, but accurate. This blissful song builds, soars, and (of course) collapses repeatedly, yielding a piece of head-spinning electro-pop that seems to lodge itself inside your mind and demand additional listens.
3. Rafter – Sweaty Magic
Leave it to Rafter to create an EP that’s a crude construction of noisy, seemingly-disposable dance music and still have it end up in my top three. Touching on a myriad of dance genre cornerstones, Rafter Roberts filters the likes of Prince, Tom Zé, Zapp & Roger, and The Neptunes through his own prism of sugary avant-pop. The results are unsurprisingly hodgepodge. “Juicy” and “Salt” are most reminiscent of the fractured bedroom-pop of his previous album (Sex Death Cassette), albeit with added tinges of vocoder, synth, and the occasional driving beat or funked-out guitar riff. “Magic”, a kind of bizarro, lo-fi club jam, skews trashier, while closer “Heat” is a smooth, loungey track propelled almost entirely by upright bass and ramshackle percussion. And, as he always does, Rafter somehow makes it all work. [Original Post]
Download: Rafter – Magic
2. Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant
Sun Giant was Fleet Foxes‘ first official, harmony-drenched offering, quickly followed by their eponymous LP, and helped spark that serious initial buzz across forums, blogs, and zines alike. As it turns out that buzz carried and grew well into the year’s end, as their releases have topped a number of last year’s album lists, easy making them the most critically-acclaimed new artist in 2008. At once an exaltation and extension of the folk tradition, Fleet Foxes recall My Morning Jacket, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Simon & Garfunkel, bluegrass close-harmony groups, as well medieval minstrel and hymn music. Sun Giant covers both the sparse and the baroque in its compositions, but remains clearly centered on the rich vocal performances by Robin Pecknold and the rest of the band. Outside of Brian Wilson’s finally-realized SMiLE, you’ll have a hard time finding sweeter harmonies anywhere this decade.
Download: Fleet Foxes – Mykonos
Buy: You can get Sun Giant from Sub Pop Records as a digital download or CD for $5, or you can order the Fleet Foxes self-titled debut as an LP for $14 and get Sun Giant on vinyl along with it (only way to get the EP on vinyl).
1. Animal Collective – Water Curses
Perhaps one of the most obvious signs of a truly great band is when a collection of studio cuts that didn’t make it onto their last record can go critically toe to toe with other artists’ normal releases. Well, Animal Collective‘s Water Curses not only matches up with the other EPs released last year, but sits at the top spot on my list of favorite EPs from 2008. With three recordings from the Strawberry Jam sessions and one other song, A.C. begin with the excellent title-track and gradually, beautifully devolve into the relative formlessness of “Seal Eyeing”, giving us another offering of unparalleled, ostensibly effortless pop-explorations. And even though I know these guys spend time on their music, flushing out most compositions with live experimentation before committing them to record, somehow their songs feel very cerebral and emotional at once… as though these otherworldly melodies and rhythms have simply come flooding out of the very cores of their being in one dramatic rush. [Original Post]
Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale
This much-hyped duo out of Chicago makes their contribution to the minimalist hip-hop movement with their satisfying debut EP. At least half of these tracks were all over the blogosphere months before this release, but surprisingly that fact doesn’t really detract from The Cool Kids‘ first concerted blend of contemporary thinking and retro-sensibility.
Crystal Stilts – Crystal Stilts
A collection of previous vinyl releases, the Crystal Stilts‘ self-titled EP pulls its bittersweet guitar-jangle from Buddy Holly, The Clean, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and nearly everywhere in between. If you’re into fuzzed-out guitars, haunting pop vocals, 60s/garage-style hooks, standing drummers, and gratuitous amounts of tambourine, then don’t miss out on this.
Flying Lotus – L.A. EP 1×3
With his sophomore album Los Angeles released to widespread acclaim, 2008 was certainly a breakout year for Flying Lotus. The first in a three-part series of EPs, L.A. EP 1×3 is a great companion piece to that album, taking the listener further down the rabbit hole of FlyLo’s grimy glitch-hop.
Maps & Atlases – You and Me and the Mountain
Combining varied drum work that embraces woodblock and cowbell, intricate guitar play, and distinct, poppy vocal stylings, Maps & Atlases craft another awesome EP that would probably fit nicely somewhere in the Kinsella–affiliated band canon. Here’s hoping that 2009 sees them finally release a full-length.
MRR-ADM – Untitled
I got turned on to this San Diego duo on a recommendation from Jeannette Deron, a friend who actually appears as a guest on this untitled 10-inch EP to shred some serious wah-wah riffage. With some additional help from Malcom Catto of The Heliocentrics, MRR-ADM (formerly known as MHE) take a Portishead-inspired journey into the realm of spacey, drum-centric funk-hop.
Download: MRR-ADM – 012 (Feat. Malcom Catto & Jeannette Deron)
Buy: MRR-ADM’s Untitled EP is out of print, so it may be difficult to find… but, hopefully we’ll get some new material this year.
Salem – Yes I Smoke Crack
I think Salem was probably best described (over at Turntable Lab) as “Cocteau Twins on a dirty south kick”. Drenched in dark feedback and murky distortion, Yes I Smoke Crack is grounded by relentless beats. Definitely looking forward to more from them in 2009.