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The Brilliance and Popularity of the E.P.
WE can see definite splits and differences between…
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the mainstream and underground music. What I have noticed is the nature of releases and how few popular artists, years ago, released E.P.s. When I was growing up; it was all about the single or album: there was no in-between stage or compromise the curious consumer could get their teeth into. Everyone from Sigrid and Wild Beasts have released E.P.s – in fact, most big artists, at some time, will release one or be involved with someone else’s. This year; Panda Bear (A Day with the Homies) and Belle and Sebastian have released E.P.s – How to Solve Our Human Problems was their series of concept E.P.s. Sigrid’s 2017 E.P., Don’t Kill My Vibe, helped launch her onto the world stage and under the gaze of the BBC (who named her one of their ones to watch for this year). It is a much more common thing in new/underground music. Artists, here, release singles and then, before they put together an album, they release an E.P. and have something to put out to the world. Often, this consists their singles and maybe, one or two other tracks they have written to accompany them. The reason behind this is the cost of the album. Many do not have the funds to compile an L.P. and it is a great way of keeping the music alive and out there.
Most of the artists I deal with are either releasing E.P.s or singles. Many do record albums but I am finding very few release one that early in their career. A lot of the time, it is about getting hype and ensuring there is enough demand for an album. Mainstream artists do not really have the same issues. If you are good enough to rub shoulders with the best of modern music; chances are you will have a label behind you or enough of a public ear to put an album out. I am seeing a few popular artists put out E.P.s as a between-albums device. Often, there is the pressure to do things like everyone else. Artists have to fulfil contracts and release a certain number of albums. When an album is announced; they drip-feed singles and slowly bring music into the world. By the time the record is out; most people have heard four or five songs. It creates a rather disjointed experience and means you are over-familiar with half the album. What appeals to me if the fact you get a perfect balance between the immediacy and singularity of a lone track; enough depth and interest as not to bore the senses. If you release a four or five-track E.P.; that means you can satisfy the fans and not have to commit to a complete album. A lot of new albums suffer from bloating and a little too ambition. Some might run out of steam by the half-way mark or be disjointed in terms of pace and quality.
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I am always excited when a big artist like Jack White or Courtney Barnett releases a single. I am invested in the follow-up and then wait with baited breath for the album. The past year or so, I have noticed one thing: many of the albums I have predicted for greatness have been a bit of a let-down. There are great records out there but, in a lot of cases; one could have forgiven the artist for releasing a concise and quality-rich E.P. Consider hot new acts like Goat Girl and Cabbage and the attention coming their way. They have both released albums in the past few weeks – Goat Girl and Nihilistic Glamour Shots – and have received terrific reviews. I know they will be touring those albums and keeping busy throughout this year. There is going to be the inevitable pressure: labels and fans baying for new material. Rather than wait for a year or two for a new album; a remedy might be to fill the gap with an E.P. I am seeing more artists do this and it is a great way of keeping the ball rolling without committing to something full – you might risk rushing a release and taking away that acclaim. New artists release E.P.s for different reasons.
IN THIS PHOTO: Arctic Monkeys
The cost of producing an album can be steep and rather daunting. Even if it a D.I.Y., simple thing; you need to write the songs and be confident with the material. From there, you have to gig the songs and make sure people hear/buy it. I feel the market is not as obsessed with the album as it was back when I was younger. I am seeing double A-sides come back; artists are releasing B-sides and giving themselves more flexibility. Even if an unsigned artist doesn’t have critical pressure and a strict time scheduled; they need to get music released so people know who they are and keep fans happy. The days of doing standalone singles seem to be long gone. Maybe a double A-side is a solution if you do not have an E.P. quite worked out – we need to get away from the assumption music is all about the album. The progress and structure of a new artist is anatomically different to a mainstream artist. There is too much focus on an album and getting artists to release records quickly. Some are leaving huge gaps between albums; others are hurrying material and it leads to sloppy results. An E.P. seems like an elegant and logical solution to the problem at hand. I wonder whether the five-year gap between Arctic Monkeys could have been filled by an E.P.
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Fans and the media would have something to hear; the band would stay in the public eyes and it would let us know they are still active. I know their upcoming album, Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, will be an epic thing – it NEEDS to be after that long wait – but I wonder whether an E.P., back in 2016, would have been a good idea. New artists bring out E.P.s because it is a natural stage between singles and their first album. Even when they have brought out that debut album; they release E.P.s and do not feel the need to bring out a new album every year. The E.P. is a perfect balance that allows artists to keep making music and not having that stress of putting together ten or eleven songs. I feel more popular artists need to take this approach to music-making. They may fear there would be commercial risks – music shops don’t really stock E.P.s anymore – and fans would feel short-changed. To me; the E.P. is a nice collection of songs that have concision and depth – without being too brief or risk suffering from a dip in quality. I understand there is always pressure from various angles to keep putting material out. Releasing an E.P. can be a pressure, too, and risk being rubbish if you do not let an artist create.
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The fact big bands and acts are releasing them means the industry is starting to loosen and give artists a bit of freedom. I guess E.P.s have always been around but it is nice to see they are popular in an age of streaming. People hanker after music in all its forms so one feels, the next time a big name has some great material but not enough for an album; do not wait years for inspiration – get an E.P. out and, if you have a sudden rush of inspiration; you can release another E.P. and not have to put so much stress on your shoulders. I am a big fan of the album but there is something about an E.P. both special and intimate. New musicians rely on the E.P. and able to work this way; bigger artists are starting to turn to them, too. Newcomers like Sigrid have used the E.P. to put their singles into the market and open eyes – before they have enough material to put out an album. I hope the dexterity and accessibility of the E.P. leads to other changes and developments in music. Maybe artists will go to another extreme and release a double-album; some might release to cassette and float that out – there are possibilities out there. Those musicians with a four-track mind interest me greatly. There is something incredible about an E.P. I cannot put into words. I hope this year sees new musicians keep them in the fore and compel mainstream musicians to…
IN THIS IMAGE: The cover of The Comet Is Coming's E.P., Death to the Planet
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