The only 2010 EPs I recall with any real clarity are Robyn’s Body Talk trilogy. But 2011 will almost certainly go down as the year EPs really took off.
Beginning to compile my list of the year’s very best EPs, I initially assumed this would be a ranking of five, with a shorter list very apropos, considering the abbreviated format. But reviewing my virtual stack of EPs, I counted over 20 worthy candidates. Of those, these 10 are my top picks of 2011.
1. Beth Ditto – EP
Beth Ditto‘s debut EP found The Gossip frontwoman detouring from fierce indie-rock shouter to even fiercer club queen, assisted by Simian Mobile Disco.
Substituting one sweaty venue for another, possibly even sweatier one, Ditto expertly revives mid-’80s house and freestyle sounds in the span of four track, never missing a beat.
2. Theophilus London – Lovers Holiday
Theophilus London‘s first non-mixtape release is a fresh, fun genre-blending bag packed with Purple Rain beats, Rick James funk, C+C Music Factory rhythms, and a little Blur, Moby, and Dave Matthews mixed in for good measure.
Recalling PM Dawn’s masterful cross-pollination of hip-hop and pop, the dapper rapper’s Lovers Holiday was similarly set adrift on memory bliss, with nary a single weak track among the EP’s five. (London’s LP, Timez Are Weird These Days, released in July, repeated three and was also a delight.)
3. Sky Ferreira – As If!
Sky Ferreira‘s debut album has become pop music’s Chinese Democracy, endlessly promised but arriving who knows when (though Axl kept a lid on leaked tracks better than the 19-year-old CK One model). Even Ferreira admits she must have recorded about five debut albums at this point.
Should Ferreira’s full-length album finally surface in 2012 (or 2013, or 2014), the five tracks on As If! will still be hard to top.
4. Erik Hassle – Mariefred Sessions
Erik Hassle was something of a musical hero of mine this year, taking matters into his own hands and releasing his new Mariefred Sessions EP simultaneously all over the world. But if the Swedish pop singer hadn’t thought to do away with outdated restrictions of “area codes and nationality,” the set would have been totally worth the wait.
A collaboration with Jocke Berg and Martin Sköld of Swedish rock band Kent, Hassle’s Mariefred Sessions EP delivered some pulsating synthpop, while also delving into melodic territory more typically traveled by the likes of Kings Of Leon and The Killers.
Top tracks: “Are You Leaving,” “I Am Not An Island,” “Stay Away” [Purchase via erikhassle.com]
5. Van Go Lion – We Don’t Miss A Beat
With just a trio of tracks, Van Go Lion‘s We Don’t Miss A Beat EP is one song greater than being classified as a single. But the simple fact is that any one of these three songs would make a great single, making the EP a fantastic calling card for the talented synthpop duo from Portland, Oregon.
Nearly joining the shimmering title track in my Top 100 Tracks of 2011 was “The Ache,” a song that’s Roxette-level good, with a freestyle-inspired chorus that totally rockets me back to high school.
6. Florrie – Experiments
Florrie‘s Experiments EP marked the first time the English drummer/singer/songwriter charged for her own tunes, and boy, did she give us reason to pony up. Her second EP offered six such reasons, actually, including the absolutely sublime “I Took A Little Something” (whose looping rhythm references Tina Turner’s “Typical Male” to these ears), the bouncy “Begging You,” and the New Order-meets-Michael Sembello “Experimenting With Rugs.”
With genius production team Xenomania as collaborators — you may recall that Florrie has been their in-house drummer — Experiments is nothing short of a total success.
7. Purple Crush – Welcome 2 The Underground
Purple Crush has been in the game long enough that the sounds the married duo were making back in New York City’s underground club scene in the early aughts have now become mainstream.
Over the course of Welcome 2 The Underground‘s seven tracks, Purple Crush confidently blend electro synths, dubstep wobble, and straight-up dance-pop — plus some blistering electric guitar — with Isla Cheadle’s strong, versatile vocal talents leading the way. Rarely have DIY efforts been as polished and flawless as this.
8. Pandr Eyez – Eyes On You
Like Theophilus London, Pandr Eyez grabbed my attention for some genius genre-blending. Marrying R&B with electro, the duo’s debut EP, Eyes On You offers a fantastic introduction to the cross-pond pairing of Ferren Gipson (vocals, female, American) and Tom Lloyd (synths, male, British), who met as university students in London.
On the five songs that appear on Eyes On You, Pandr Eyez dabble in romantic-synth balladry, flirt with freestyle, get down to slow-grinding beats, and romp with a rough-and-tumble rap sample as rapid-fire machine gun strikes provide release. Gipson brings the sexual confidence like Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland do (especially in their Destiny’s Child days), as Lloyd fiddles with the thermostat. From one track to the next, Pandr Eyez provide a perfect boudoir soundtrack, though if you’re not about getting the deed done in under 20 minutes, you’ll want to hit repeat.
9. Wynter Gordon – With The Music I Die
While Australia somehow secured a full-length from Wynter Gordon, the native New Yorker’s debut was served up stateside as an EP. No matter, as the four tracks on With The Music I Die (plus two remixes), offer plenty of dance-pop to love.
This quartet of tunes, all of which Gordon co-wrote, far surpasses much of what’s gone off like gangbusters for the likes of Britney Spears, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha, making Gordon’s failure to crack the Top 40 one of 2011′s greatest shames. But the breezy-yet-bold (and next single) “Still Getting Younger,” provided one of the year’s best musical moments via this swoonworthy bit toward the end: “I love to hear you say my name / Calling out to me like a record / Promise me you’ll always be the same.”
10. Steed Lord – The Eddie House EP
Somehow Steed Lord made their way from Reykjavík, Iceland to Los Angeles, and somehow the self-described “musical performance art project” has the knack for re-creating vintage disco and house music from scratch. And somehow the trio does it without incorporating a single sample of others’ work, all of which makes Steed Lord’s spot-on retro dance grooves more revelatory with every spin.
The Eddie House EP, released in July as Steed Lord were working on a new album, features disco horns, string swells, funky bass, and uplifting vocals. Cue up any of these six tracks on the stereo and just try to resist shaking your groove thing. Impossible.
Top tracks: “You,” “I’m Coming Over,” “All The Time” [Bandcamp]
Honorable Mention: Frankmusik – Long Live Frankmusik (Pt. 1)
In the run-up to the release of his much anticipated sophomore album, Frankmusik posted several free MP3s, including two EPs.
But what we didn’t know then was that the four tracks on Long Live Frankmusik (Pt. 1) — a pair of aching ballads and two barnstormers (including an amazing Daft Punk homage) — would turn out to be better than almost anything on Do It In The AM, one of 2011′s great disappointments.
Top tracks: “Warrior,” “Our Discovery [Tribute To Daft Punk]”
Agree? Disagree? What were your favorite EPs of the year that was?