I don’t tend to listen to new EPs as often as I do new albums. I’m not entirely sure why – 15- to 20-minute EPs are certainly more digestible in a single sitting than a 45-minute to hour-long record. I think it comes down to the fact that EPs can tend to feel like a less substantial final product than a full-length LP due to their inherently short runtimes.
However, in a lot of ways, EPs can be excellent displays of what the bands releasing them are all about, which is why I’m here today to share with you my list of the ten best EPs from Pacific Northwest bands that I happened to hear this year. As with my Top 10 Albums of the Year list, a release makes the list solely based on whether or not I liked it, and its ranking is based on the level of listening pleasure I got out of its material. Let’s get started.
Well fuck, talk about surprise of the year. When this band sent us a press release talking about how they’re “head-banging and ass-shaking,” I expected a collection of generic dude-bro hard rock anthems that could sit comfortably between millionth repeats of Theory of a Deadman and Godsmack on your local rock station. But no, as it turns out, Mind Vice’s Consumer Nation is actually a pretty awesome EP of alternative rock and metal.
Sitting at a concise two tracks that span just 8 minutes, Consumer Nation is an EP that covers everything from funk rock to alternative rock to nu metal to poppy sludge metal (think Torche circa Meanderthal), with a bit of a math rock flair in its ever-changing tempo, and the result is a pretty engaging sub-10 minutes. With an eclectic and talented four-piece band behind the wheel, Consumer Nation is an album for fans of rock music that likes to sit comfortably outside conventions of its adopted style.
After Sonic Highways came out last year and was the musical equivalent of eating Top Ramen without the seasoning packet, I was pretty quick to declare the Foo Fighters past their prime – a band that used to make great albums that now struggled to do what used to come naturally. And then the Saint Cecilia EP came out and bitch-slapped me across the face for having ever doubted Grohl and company.
Saint Cecilia is a free EP, released shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris to benefit the victims. Saint Cecilia is essentially Foo Fighters’ answer to Wire’s Change Becomes Us, taking old written material from their heyday and recording them in the modern era. While the majority of the songs on this album do sound like they could’ve made it onto The Colour and the Shape or There Is Nothing Left to Lose, the performances are just as visceral and passionate as ever. The EP is packed full of arena-sized songs that stick in your head on first listen. Definitely worth the free download if you haven’t heard it yet.
“Oh boy, another ironic underground Tumblr-bred cloud rap project,” I thought to myself as I scoped out this EP’s title, album cover, and CRIMEWAVE’s presence as a Tumblr figure. Then I hit the play button on the EP’s Bandcamp page, and within a matter of minutes, my speaker system caught fire as my TV exploded and began emanating fire emoji and my room began smelling of blueberry kush.
I’ll be the first to admit, 66.6% is about as lyrically empty as you can get. Aside from an interesting reference to Viper on this EP, there aren’t many lyrics to read into. However, CRIMEWAVE can certainly flow better than most post-Yung Lean cloud rappers, and he has a good amount of swagger and charisma in his delivery.
Where this EP really shines, though, is in its ambitious and progressive production. It isn’t just the typical watery synthesizers, rapid-fire hi-hats and monstrous bass. This EP is pretty unpredictable in its structure. A song could go from being a dingy trap banger to a strange fusion of cloud rap and nu metal at the drop of a hat. The closing track in particular is a 5-minute sonic odyssey that feels almost digital hardcore-esque in the vocal filter that persists through the whole song.
While this is an EP you’re sure to either love or hate, it is at least worth checking out for its uniqueness. (I also recommend checking out my photos of CRIMEWAVE that I took at this year’s VanFest; there were some real highlights.)
…Okay, yes, from a musical standpoint, The Fame Riot and their EP Dust Funk aren’t any deeper or more ambitious than, like, a Katy Perry record, but what they lack in adventure, they make up in a big way in their songwriting ability and personality. Dust Funk is a collection of seven very well-groomed, sharply-written dance-rock jams, all of which are incredibly fun and catchy, without feeling cheap or by-committee.
“Heart Stray,” this EP’s big lead single, is one of the best indie pop singles of 2015 across all regions, with its great drum beat, sweet synth melodies, and million dollar hook. If you aren’t allergic to pop rock music heavy on drum machines and glossy Nord Electro synthesizers, The Fame Riot are worth checking out, and most definitely worth seeing live.
Surprise, surprise, another STYLSS release makes one of these lists. Defining Moments, the latest EP from Portland producer Gangsigns, is a release that sits in an interesting place among the growing STYLSS catalog. The expect dark, moody atmosphere of a STYLSS release is swapped out for a bright feel-good musical vibe that doesn’t reflect a good mood so much as it expertly creates one. Defining Moments is four tracks of vibrant, elaborate trap and instrumental hip-hop music that’s sure to put a smile on your face.
People on the outside looking in might see Defining Moments as a bit tacky, with song titles like “Netflix & Chill” and “Heart Emoji,” but it’s pretty easy to see past the titles of these songs and recognize them for the great arrangements that they are. Sure, there may be a texting ringtone in the mix here and there, but it further enhances the good, playful nature of these tracks. There are a couple dud tracks, like the closing track, which sounds like if DJ Mustard was forced to rush through a collaboration with Giraffage at gunpoint, but on the whole, Defining Moments is good, I recommend it.