You’ve heard all the old sayings: Great things come in small packages. Size doesn’t matter. There’s perhaps no greater evidence of this than the EP. Whether it was to tease an upcoming full-length or find a home for some odds and ends that didn’t quite make the cut during the last album cycle, the EP was alive and well in 2013. We polled our writers and editors, and these are the ones that drew the most votes—the 10 best EPs of 2013.
10. Andrew Bird, I Want to See Pulaski at Night
I Want to See Pulaski at Night, Andrew Bird’s most recent release since 2012’s Hands of Glory (which served as a companion piece to last year’s LP Break It Yourself), is structurally genius. Bird places the title track in the middle of the seven-song EP and frames it with an instrumental score. The layered violins of “Ethio Invention No. 1” and the staccato plucking in both “Lit From Underneath” and “Logan’s Loop” foreshadow the jauntiness and narrative tension of “I Want to See Pulaski at Night.” Later, however, the drawling bowings of “Hover I” and “Hover II” echo the title track’s minor key violin swoons. At last, the closing “Ethio Invention No. 2” combines all of these musical flourishes while introducing new progressive motifs, thereby contextualizing the underlying theme of hope and renewal.—Hilary Saunders
9. Wild Nothing, Empty Estate
When Empty Estate opens with crunchy guitars and oscillating synths, you can tell Jack Tatum no longer has any time for the quiet introspection of his first releases. On “The Body in Rainfall,” the percussion is more thwappy and snare-heavy, and so are the rest of the instruments. That’s not to say this is his “it might get loud” release, because it’s still punctuated by whispery tones. But these punctuation marks have gone from run-on commas to self-aware periods, and here he’s heading for exclamation points.—Mack Hayden
8. The Men, Campfire Songs
These five stripped-down tracks were recorded in upstate New York during the band’s sessions for this year’s full-length, New Moon. As you might have discerned from the title, Campfire Songs was in fact cut as the band was sitting around a campfire, and its songs—a few acoustic takes on album tracks like “I Saw Her Face” and “The Seeds” as well as new tunes like “Turn Your Color”—are perfect for jamming to as you gather your s’mores fixings and get toasty.
7. Parquet Courts, Tally All The Things That You Broke
Parquet Courts first caught our attention this year with their excellent full-length, Light Up Gold (which landed on our best albums of 2013 list), but the Brooklyn band (who cheekily dubbed themselves “Parkay Quarts” on the cover of this release) held it in October with Tally All The Things That You Broke. The EP’s five tracks are more of what you loved about Light Up Gold, all “maintaining a certain couch-sloucher physique,” as Mark Lore put it in his initial Light Up write-up, with lyrics that’ll make you smirk and a recorder part you can hop along to on “You’ve Got Me Wondering Now.”
6. Kurt Vile and the Violators, It’s A Big World Out There (And I Am Scared)
There are a lot of artists working the indie folk/rock beat—even some very good ones—who would kill to write as song as aching and beautiful as “Feel My Pain.” It’s the kind of muted, melancholy trip that could launch a career. For Kurt Vile, it’s basically a B-side, appearing on the collection of outtakes and cast-offs from his last recording session (which produced April’s Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze) on the new It’s a Big World Out There (and I am Scared) EP. The material, which didn’t make the cut on Wakin’, serves a dual function. First, it exists as a stand-alone entity, seven tracks long, offering a brief and illuminating tour of Vile’s various modes, all of which could be placed in different genres, but all of which derive unmistakably from the same well of inspiration. Second, the EP is a supplemental piece that reminds the listener just how transcendent Wakin’ really was. Vile’s laid-back tone totally precludes the idea that he’s boasting in any way, but you can’t help but stand back in awe and think, “Wow. These are the songs that didn’t make the cut??”—Shane Ryan
5. CHVRCHES, The Mother We Share
Sure, CHVRCHES initially wowed us with a different EP this year, the wonderful Recover, which Ryan Reed described by saying, “It’s so freakishly great, there’s no way CHVRCHES can follow it—at least not on this EP.” Fair enough. So the Scottish trio followed it on its next EP, the equally strong The Mother We Share. The title track is the obvious monster single here, and the EP is mostly various remixes of it, but it also contains a surprising gem: a great cover of Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay.”
4. PHOX, Confetti
Confetti is a fascinating project, a “video-EP” produced by the band and directed by Zach Johnston. The audio and video were recorded simultaneously, and the result is a gorgeous half-hour full of everything from stop-motion animation to footage from live shows. But even if you strip away all of that and focus only on the music, Confetti remains something to be heard.
Confetti by PHOX from Elder on Vimeo.
3. Destroyer, Five Spanish Songs
It’s ridiculous on the face of it: Destroyer recorded an EP of songs in Spanish because of leader Dan Bejar’s conviction that “the English language seemed spent.” That’s what he writes in the press notes, at least. Yet even if you’re holding fast to a tongue that Bejar insists is “good for business transactions, but that’s about it,” and even if you don’t speak Spanish (the only other language Bejar knows), there’s plenty to love about Five Spanish Songs
. All five are covers of tunes by Spanish indie-rockers Sr. Chinarro. Founded in the early ’90s by singer and songwriter Antonio Luque, Sr. Chinarro has released a dozen or so studio LPs since 1994, establishing a reputation for off-kilter lyrical themes of the kind that Bejar has embraced with Destroyer.The common thread, apart from Sr. Chinarro, is Bejar’s voice, a soft and sometimes slippery instrument that is well-suited to the material. No one is likely to mistake him for a native speaker, but Five Spanish Songs
is clearly more than a mere genre exercise—it’s a respectful, and very much tuneful, tip of the cap from one songwriter to another, which transcends language.
2. The Flaming Lips, Peace Sword
The Flaming Lips, in all their trippy, confetti-laden glory, are the perfect band to score a sci-fi film. It makes sense, then, that the band’s latest EP, Peace Sword, was inspired by the famed novel Ender’s Game and its recent film adaptation. Lead single “Peace Sword (Open Your Heart),” which features Thomas Fec of Black Moth Super Rainbow, was written exclusively for the movie, and the five complementary tracks highlight the band’s penchant for the supernatural and extraterrestrial. Yet, with all the Lips’ synthetic, droid-like engineering and out-of-body psychedelia, Peace Sword actually feels quite human. The range of emotions on the EP—from love and empowerment to fear and self-destruction—of course stem from the book, but also feel applicable out of context. “Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)” seems bravely optimistic and frontman Wayne Coyne muses about “the beauty that surrounds me” in the contradictorily titled “Think Like A Machine, Not A Boy.” Later, though, the mood darkens, as violent drumming and arduous, ominous synths strike forebodingly in “If They Move, Shoot ’Em.” It’s the closer “Assassin Beetle – The Dream Is Ending,” however, that is both the most accessible and most unfathomable track on the EP. Throughout the 10-minute noise journey, the Lips alternate between melodic swoons that swoop in and cradle listeners and abrasive Christmas on Mars-like echoing drones that scratch at their ear holes as Coyne prophesizes, “the dream is ending,” until everything suddenly ceases.—Hilary Saunders
1. Phantogram, Phantogram
Phantogram’s self-titled EP is concise—just four tracks—but it offers a taste of what’s to come on the band’s recently announced new full-length, which is due out Feb. 18. All four songs are expected to be on the forthcoming LP (titled Voices), and it’s a good thing, because they’re all great. Opener “Black Out Days” features Sarah Barthel wailing over an absolutely killer beat, and Josh Carter handles lead vocals on the dialed-back-but-equally-stunning “Never Going Home,” insisting that “if this is love, I’m never going home.” Here’s hoping he sticks to his word—we can’t wait to catch the band on tour once Voices drops.