Extended Play: Best EPs and Singles of 2015

extended play
Extended Play is a recurring feature covering a handful of short form releases at a time. This is a special, extra-long rundown of the best EPs and Singles of 2015. As always, this is just a sampling of great music. What makes your list?

I like short songs. I like short records. I have a hard time watching bands play live for longer than 30 minutes. I can’t watch even a half hour TV show without at least half my attention on my phone or ipad. My already lousy attention span was shorted out this year from having unlimited spotify streaming and 8 hours of robotic operations work a day. There is a lot still that missed my wide angle view of music. Truth be told, I spent most of that time listening to the same records I have for years while also digging into tons of older music that I never really gave much of a chance. Anyway, Justin will be coming through with the best full-length albums of the year, but in the mean time, check out a couple great short releases.

10. Hoax Hunters – Clickbait
Earlier this year I was thinking of writing an article covering some bands whose best records(if any) were missing from the annals of Spotify and other streaming services. I was pleased when one of those wrongs had been righted by now being able to stream those classic Wipers records. I spent a lot of time this year listening to those songs, as well as all time favorites like Minutemen and Husker Du. Hoax Hunters plays to that type wonderfully. This 7-track EP will scratch an itch that you might not have realized you had for sincere 80s Punk Rock.

9. Iron Chic – Ys
This band pretty much needs no introduction at this point. It’s members of Latterman, Crow Bait, Small Arms Dealer, etc. Not Like This will probably always be one of my favorite Pop Punk records and though The Constant One didn’t quite match that record blow for blow, the EPs and splits they have done between records have have been some of their best material. Ys proves this band does anthemic Punk Rock better than just about anyone yet again. It also proves that if you strip away Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedy’s really did write some incredible songs.

8. Everybody Row – Tiny Empires b/w No Direction Home
A few years back Comadre called it quits, which was a huge bummer because their last effort, 2013’s self-titled, was one of their best and showed the band moving into new territory, with steadier tempos and distorted keyboard parts. Some of that formula serves as the basis for this new outfit lead by guitarist Jack Shirley. Paired with Jack’s guitar and voice is Jasmine Watson who provides catchy as hell organ hooks a la Murder City Devils and shares a good bit of the vocal duties that along with the jangley guitar parts reminds me a lot of unfortunately now defunct Amateur Party. Everybody Row is a slow moving band, but the EP and 7″ singles they have released represent some of the best songwriting in Punk right now. There’s only one original on this release, but the b-side cover of “No Direction Home” by Oakland’s Bad Liar is stellar and helps to further their cooperative ethos.

7. Wildhoney – Your Face Sideways
Oh man. Wildhoney’s Sleep Through It was an immediate go-to album this year for me. It was the soundtrack to scanning car loans, mountain drives, summertime cruising and cradled me through melancholy and boredom and backed some joyful moments too. I couldn’t believe they would so quickly follow up such a phenomenal album with anything of this quality, but the Baltimore shoegaze/dream-pop outfit are clearly unstoppable. There’s post-punk beats that stomp through the haze and keep things indomitably energetic, vocalist Laura is sweetly soaked in reverb between classic shoegaze sonic blasts and dancing, crystal clear Brit-pop guitar lines and deft bass-work.

6. Beach Slang – Here, I Made This For You
I think Beach Slang is one of a very few bands that can pull off a covers mixtape like this so early in their career. Their earnest “goo-core” sound–a composite of The Replacements, Jawbreaker and myriad other rock and roll influences–is all at once comfortably familiar and electrifying-ly refreshing. Their rise has been meteoric, though I called it the first time I heard them, and there’s a pretty good chance you have encountered someone gushing over them. This Polyvinyl endorsed covers compilation came just before the release of their first full-length which would ultimately prove the hype that had built up over the course of two EPs and a fair bit of touring. It was a bold move, but it pays off so well, even for someone pretty unfamiliar with all the songs frontman James Alex felt best represents his musical DNA. I can say he nearly makes them his own.

5. Perennial – Early Sounds for Night Owls
Perennial is Punk Modernism from New England made up of Chelsey and Chad of the Indie Pop group Lion Cub along with drummer Wil and auxiliary guitars from Alex. Early Sounds is a power house composite of Post-everything influences. The general makeup of the band reminds me of Milemarker–especially with such an emphasis on keys & effects-but there are also End Hits era Fugazi nods and catchy John Reis-ish riffing. If you liked the big, gritty take on Post-Hardcore that Coliseum delivered this year with Anxiety’s Kiss but want to hear something a little more streamlined this is right up your alley. In general, if you dig Unwound or Refused or really anything in that vein then this is a must listen.

4. Self Defense Family – Talia b/w Taxying
You probably know a little about this band already. They’re weird. They’re sometimes(often?) controversial. I’ve kept an eye on them since they were known as End of a Year. Their live performance is one of the oddest but engaging(literally) I’ve seen from any band. They also put out a lot of music. A lot of it leaves me cold, but sometimes they absolutely nail it. Their newest LP Heaven is Earth didn’t really grab me–there was some material that I really dug on it–but this advance single hooked me hard. The a-side, a proper single from the record and the best cut from the album “Talia” sounds like a slightly sped up Earth with Lungfish vocals. This single has some of the most expansive and well mixed guitar work the band has done and the delayed harmonica part that swerves in and out of the darkness adds beautifully to the atmosphere. “Taxying” plugs along to a steadier march in a latter day Neurosis kind of way and though it’s not as strong as the lead single, this 7″ exclusive is well paired with “Talia” and I would have loved more material like it on the LP.

3. Zao – Xenophobe b/w Fear Itself
Holy shit. Zao is back like something else. In just the first 30 seconds of this single we are treated to jagged Fear is What Keeps Us Here riffs, Funeral of God style pull-offs and Liberate Te Ex Inferis atmosphere in what feels like a gallery of all their best tricks. This single does more than just demonstrate a return to form for the Metalcore originators, it hints at strange, new things that may unfold on their long promised return album. In the lead single we get an off-time, Carcass-y solo from prodigal Russ Cogdell before shifting into a spacey Cave In bridge. The b-side, the understated “Fear Itself” builds more on those Liberate vibes, but with small details that differ from anything we have heard from Zao previously.

2. Starflyer 59 – Like a Baby
It seems almost unfair to put one song so far up the list, but my love for Jason Martin knows no bounds. I’ll tell you a little more about it some other time. For now, enjoy this new track, which is hopefully a hint of a forthcoming new record. “Like a Baby” rides the line between older and newer SF59 and it seems apparent that the recent Ride reunion had an impact on Jason. Though this track nods to his hazier, shoegaze roots it’s actually one of the fastest songs he’s ever done and probably doesn’t satisfy those selective fans who hold Silver and Gold up as his greatest albums. The bones of the song are identical to the songwriting approach he mastered on Old and has been using to craft heaps of incredible music, so there is plenty for fans new and old to enjoy. The glockenspiel backed climax dabbles in a Springsteen-level of grandiosity that Starflyer has never fully embraced, despite the cinematic feel of most of his discography, and has me longing for a sprawling, triumphant rock record like Martin has never done, with plenty of his signature hushed crooning of course. I should also mention that this single comes packaged as part of a split 7″ from Flannel Graph Records with Mike Adams at His Honest Weight and his song “Tasteful Nudes.”

1. Year of Glad – Year of Glad
It didn’t take much thought to come to the conclusion that this would top my list for short releases. Hell, I want to say it’s in my top five releases of any format or length this year, but since I’m not a savage who includes EPs and LPs on the same lists for end of the year rundowns, here we go. Year of Glad is an unexpected dream collaboration between Mimi Gallagher from Nona and Chris Diehm of 1994!(also Good Crime, Quit the band). Mimi and Chris trade off doing lead vocals–and presumably songwriting duties–and they are joined by Mike Harping of Good Luck and Mike Bell from–you guessed it–Mike Bell & the Movies. I’ve been a fan of Chris as a vocalist, guitarist and lyricist since 1994!’s FCKYRHED, which, coincidentally was the first record I reviewed when I started this blog(though it’s long gone from the internet, lost). Here his words are as sharp and introspective as ever, take for instance the opening track Umbro Season when he sings about taking “a two wheeled ride toward the autumn sun / like there’s someone chasing us / never thought i’d scare so easy / just keep on laughing, laughing with me.” On “The Shawl” he strips the poetry down a little, but through abstract details creates a good picture of a breakup with appropriate self-deprecation, calling himself a “god damn lazy slacker creep” bringing a level of sincerity to the quickly getting over-played 90s throwback slacker punk. Nona were a band that I put off listening to for some dumb dumb reason, though I did catch them in a basement in Asheville before they called it quits. Mimi’s voice is unique and maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but her offerings here represent the band’s true potential for crafting truly catchy music. On “Flowers” we get a glimpse into the heart of someone struggling to make something grow–relationships or what have you–despite depression and ultimately admitting that despite “things that make me happy / sometimes I let my flowers die / I get sad and let my flowers die.” On the closing track “Turn” the lyrics turn away from introspection to accusation before lending a tattered olive branch telling the object of her frustration that “you should have have told me / you should have let me in….while I was on your side.” The music here isn’t showy, certainly compared to Chris’ previous work in the frantic 1994! but the songwriting here is stellar. The approach taken seems like a nod to The Lemonheads, Archers of Loaf and Superchunk, but it’s not dumb nostalgia driving these songs or even doing much to cultivate the mood but it is the pure power and dynamics of two amazing songwriters in their prime that kept me coming back to this short but deep well.

Dylan Hensley is a record collecting, punk nerd who edits and publishes this dumb blog. He works at an art house movie theater in Winston-Salem, NC and looks for freelance work the rest of the time. Follow on twitter for no reason other than you can.Follow on Instagram if you like pictures of cats, records and bands. Email him at businesscreep[at]gmail[dot]com if you like the way he puts words together and want to pay him to do that or just want him to hear your record.

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