As February draws to a close, we can’t say we’ll miss the cold weather, snowstorms, and other dead-of-winter surprises it has thrown our way. But we would like to get something positive out of it. That’s why we’re taking the opportunity of this abbreviated month to draw your attention to something else that’s short and, unlike February, has always been pretty underrated: The EP. While these minimalist, economical mini-albums have introduced us to countless new acts that couldn’t muster the cash or didn’t have the material to record a full-length, LPs still get all the love. To remedy that, we’re counting down our 10 favorite EPs of all time — and, as a bonus, introducing you to three new ones you’d do well to check out.
Mission of Burma — Signals, Calls and Marches (1981)
In only six short songs, Mission of Burma changed the post-punk landscape. Hailing from Boston, which has produced surprisingly few great bands for a city its size, the band pioneered a rugged, adventurous persona on their debut EP, in heroic shout-alongs such as “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” and noisier tracks including “Outlaw.” But all that macho bravery didn’t preclude the injection of some Surrealism, on more conceptual cuts like “This Is Not a Photograph.”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2001)
It’s easy to forget that before Karen O was soundtracking Spike Jonze movies, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were just a regular, old indie band, opening shows for acts they’ve now far surpassed in fame. And while some prefer Fever to Tell or It’s Blitz!, we’ll always be partial to the band’s first, self-titled EP. In just over 15 minutes, O positions herself as the ultimate tough lady (“Mystery Girl”), sends up the art establishment (“Art Star”) and sings an anthem to a generation (“Our Time”). Listening to Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ earliest document, it’s no wonder they rose so quickly to renown.
Hole — Ask for It (1995)
Let’s get one thing out of the way: We are firmly in the pro-Courtney Love camp. This collection of rarities is a perfect example of Hole’s raw, emotional power. Recorded in 1991 and 1992, these Peel sessions, home tapes and live cuts range from the band’s most popular material (early versions of Live Through This’ “Violet” and “Doll Parts”) to its most obscure (the chaotic rant that is “Drown Soda”). In between, covers of everything from Beat Happening to the Germs to Lou Reed confirm Love’s music-geek cred. Even though it was recorded years before Kurt Cobain’s suicide, her version of “Pale Blue Eyes” still sends a shiver up our spine.
Bright Eyes — There Is No Beginning to the Story (2002)
Preceding Bright Eyes’ landmark album Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground by a mere few months, the four-song There Is No Beginning to the Story was the first indication of the shift that was in store. Child prodigy Conor Oberst had matured out of all-out emo-kind gloom to produce songs that, if still dark, allowed at least a bit of light in. On the practically bouncy “Loose Leaves,” Oberst’s prep-school memories serve as a way of thinking about mortality and numbness, while “We Are Free Men” is a dreamy meditation on the futility of trying to escape who we are.
Animal Collective & Vashti Bunyan — Prospect Hummer (2005)
Remember when we were still calling Animal Collective a “freak-folk” band? Shockingly, that was less than a decade ago. The four-song EP collaboration with freak-folk godmother Vashti Bunyan remains among the best records of this era in the band’s career. Comparing its relatively lo-fi calm with the psych-dance AnCo of Merriweather Post Pavilion and Fall Be Kind, we have to wonder: Is there anything these guys can’t do?
Apples in Stereo — Her Wallpaper Reverie (1999)
Don’t let the 15 songs on Her Wallpaper Reverie‘s track list fool you: Only 7 of these are full-length tunes. The other cuts are brief, instrumental, atmospheric pieces meant to tie the record’s psych-pop singles together. This concept EP — our favorite selection from the Apples’ lengthy discography — draws heavily from late Beatles to impart a loose narrative about a girl in her room, losing her troubles in the songs on the radio and tuning out of her real-life relationships. Almost every track is hit, from clap-along “Ruby” to “Strawberry Fields Forever” update “Strawberryfire.”
Bis — This Is Teen-C Power! (1996)
A compilation of earlier U.K. releases, This Is Teen-C Power! was America’s introduction to Glasgow indie sensation Bis. With one foot in twee-pop and the other in riot grrrl, the band attacked with shrill but also playful catchy tracks whose titles said it all: “Kill Yr Boyfriend”; “School Disco”; “This Is Fake D.I.Y.” Even a decade and a half later, nothing reminds us of the post-grunge ’90s more than the bratty, teasing, sweet and sour candy that is this EP.
Pixies — Come on Pilgrim (1987)
People must have known, listening to this first Pixies release, that the band was destined for greatness. Just listen to Black Francis maniacally croon his way through “Caribou,” David Lovering beat the shit out of his drums on “Vamos,” Joey Santiago rip “The Holiday Song” to shreds and the one and only Kim Deal defy gravity on “Levitate Me.” On Come on Pilgrim, the Pixies pretty much invented the indie rock of the ’90s.
Belle and Sebastian — Lazy Line Painter Jane (1997)
Belle and Sebastian have put out more notable EPs than almost anyone else in the game. Our favorite is Lazy Line Painter Jane, released between the band’s two classic full-lengths, If You’re Feeling Sinister and The Boy with the Arab Strap. While all the tracks are great — when have we ever known B&S to release filler? — it’s the sprawling, six-minute title track about a wild girl nomad that puts it over the top. Is there anything more mesmerizing than listening as the keyboard kicks in and Stuart Murdoch and Isobell Campbell trade the alternately breathy and urgent refrain, “You will have a boy tonight/On the last bus out of town”?
Pavement — Watery, Domestic (1992)
For a while in the early ’90s, Pavement just couldn’t miss. And Watery, Domestic, sandwiched between Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in the band’s discography, is as essential an element of that era as any other releases. Listen to the slippery guitar riffage of “Texas Never Whispers” and the slacker poetry of “Lions” and party like a college stoner on spring break.
Annuals — Sweet Sister (Banter)
It’s only been a few years since we’ve heard from Annuals, but somehow it seems like it’s been longer. On March 30, they’ll dip their toes back into the album-release pool with this sweet, left-of-center pop EP.
Double Dagger — Masks (Thrill Jockey)
Baltimore’s beloved 21st century punks dissect personal politics, Gang of Four-style, on a new EP (out March 23) that picks up where their last full-length, 2009’s More left off. Early nominee for song title of the year: “Imitation Is the Most Boring Form of Flattery.”