TOP 15 EPS/7″ OF 2011

While there were an insane number of great albums released this year, much of the excitement and buzz of new music and artists came instead from EPs. Often released as a precursor to an LP, the extended play (or EP) prepares fans for what they may find on a full length. For many of the releases in 2011, though, the EP was able to stand alone as a full musical composition. With the rise of Foster The People, Gary Clark Jr., Alabama ShakesReptar, and followup releases from Surfer Blood, Dom, and Phantogram 2011 has truly been an incredible year for the EP.

15. StepdadOrdinaire EP: More of a full-length than an EP, Ordinaire is a wildly exciting collection of eight electro-infused indie pop tunes.  Taking a page from the Passion Pit book, this Chicago-based band, led by friends “ultramark” and Ryan McCarthy, delivers mostly-falsetto vocals paired with upbeat, synth-heavy instrumentation. Though the entire release is packed with speedy melodies and catchy “bleeps and bloops”, the lead single “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails” shows off Stepdad’s talent the most. Stream the entire record below. — Eric Weiner [feature // buy]

14. We Barbarians – Headspace EP: Ripe with intuitive, clever guitar work, absolutely massive percussion and lyricism beyond the standard, We Barbarians’ Headspace EP leaves almost nothing to be desired. A follow-up to their 2009 debut There’s This and There’s That, the EP presents a more mature band with a tighter sound and a clearer direction. Displaying hookier riffs, heavier production, and intricate drum patterns, We Barbarians are moving towards massive appeal in the best way possible and leaving anthemic rock in their wake. With all their polish, though, the rich, hollow guitar tones and pleading vocals create an undeniable level of authenticity. — Lauren McKinney [buy]

13. Canon LogicRapid EmpireRapid Empire is one of those rare releases where the quality of each track leaves no need to skip from song to song. The energetic indie-pop sounds are all upbeat and danceable, but the real success here is in how damn catchy the whole thing is – it’s virtually impossible to not get these songs instantaneously stuck in your head. The vocal harmonies are thick as brick walls and the power with which they are delivered makes each song sound anthemic. It’s really hard to sit still while listening. — Caitlin Devlin [buy]

12. Ski LodgeSki Lodge EP: It would be quite easy to lump Ski Lodge in with the rest of today’s bands that are remaking 1960s surf pop, but Andrew Marr stands out from the crowd. This debut EP is a beachy collection of songs that borrow from other areas of influence in order to keep things sounding fresh. There are echoes of doo-wop, Latin, and old-school rhythm-and-blues. All these additional sounds combine to create an EP that is loaded with catchy, easy to dance to tunes. It blew all other surf music EPs out of the water this year. — Caitlin Devlin [buy]

11. ReptarOblangle Fizz Y’all EPReptar’s “electronic with world music tendencies” aesthetic has caused critics to draw countless comparisons to Animal Collective, The Talking Heads, and Vampire Weekend. While the influence of these bands is certainly audible on their debut EP, Oblangle Fizz Y’all has its own unique sound that is worthy of individual excitement. Songs like “Rainbounce” and “Context Clues” may initially sound like a jumbled collection of noises, but the rhythmic pop melodies Reptar floats above the racket prove that the band is no novelty act. — Caitlin Devlin [buy]

10. Phantogram – Nightlife: With Nightlife, the follow-up EP to 2010’s Eyelid Movies, Phantogram pulls themselves out of the sophomore slump danger zone and into the ranks of a bonafide rock band. The delicate nature of a follow-up to a very successful debut can be tenuous, particularly for band like Phantogram who could have easily erred on the side of flimsy dream pop. Luckily, the group has put forth some of their best songs yet, painting a rich portrait of late nights and long cab rides home. Nightlife captures both the highs and lows of nocturnal existence, the hard-edged dance beats provide a stark contrast to the intimate and at times romantic lyrics. Nightlife acts as an ode to a life on the road and is a perfectly crafted tribute to its namesake. — Madi Daigle [buy]

9. Surfer Blood – Tarot Classics: With their latest EP, Surfer Blood has once again proven that few bands have better natural melodic sense and hook writing abilities. JP Pitts’ voice is still as winsome as ever, lending the same earnest intimacy to the tracks on Tarot Classics that made their debut Astro Coast one of the most buzzed about releases of 2010. While their first release had a giddy first-day-of-school vibe, this EP shows a band in transition — a more refined and polished sound that seems to have come from a group twice their age. As a last hurrah on Kanine Records before they make the switch to Warner Bros., this EP acts as a marker showing exactly where Surfer Blood should be: on the brink of something colorful and new without forgetting what got them to this point in the first place. This is quite a promising outlook for their major label debut. — Madi Daigle [buy]

8. TV Girl – Benny And The JettsTV Girl’s Benny And The Jetts displays a wide exploration of sounds, ranging from 1960s lo-fi vibes to Asian-style influences. The San Diego boys are experts at using samples with a nostalgic sentiment to create modern, catchy songs. As a whole, the 4-track EP is sunny and relaxed — a feel-good record that was perfect on repeat over the summer. — Caitlin Devlin [album review // listen]

7. Young BuffaloYoung Von PrettylipsYoung Buffalo understand the art of synthesis —  take various elements from differing musical genres, play them incredibly well and add great songwriting ability and passion. This method created one of the best EPs to come out this year and one of the best debuts by a new band as well. They combine the nervy energy of punk, the rousing emotionalism of good indie rock, the clean guitar and rhythms of African music, the beautiful vocals of a charismatic and exuberant frontman and very impressive harmonies into a stew that impressed all of us here. — Brian Marino [album review // buy]

6. J. Irvin DallySun Room 7″: Northern California’s J. Irvin Dally is an astounding mix of lo-fi retro rock ‘n roll and psych folk packaged into one clean-cut singer songwriter.  This 7″ release is merely two stunning tracks, “Sun Room” and “Teething”, that alone, stand up to the best, longer EPs released this year.  — Eric Weiner [buy // buzzsession]

5. Dom – Family Of LoveDom’s Family Of Love revealed an unexpected level of sophistication from boys known for their unabashed love of partying hard. Sure, the EP is equal parts bratty, nasaly vocals, cheesy 80s synth pop, and bubblegum melodies, but it’s all put together so well that I couldn’t help but wonder if Dom is simply using these techniques as a clever ruse. The telephone keypad solo on the appropriately titled “Telephone” alone is enough to make the brain rapidly vacillate between “this is a joke” and “this is genius.” Either way, it’s just plain good. — Caitlin Devlin [buy]

4. Gary Clark Jr. – The Bright Lights EP: While Gary Clark Jr.’s recorded work doesn’t compare to the overpowering and spontaneous experience of seeing him perform, The Bright Lights EP definitely puts forth an incredible effort to achieve the same intensity. From the passionate swagger of the title track to the gentle guitar picking and sweet vocals of “Things are Changin’”, the EP is a masterful representation of what gives Clark a larger than life presence. Considering his combination of expertly crafted guitar work and beautiful vocals, few artists today could claim to have the level of talent and musicianship that he brings. — Lauren McKinney [buy]

3. Foster The People – Foster The People EPFoster The People’s self-titled EP gave listeners a more than adequate representation of their abilities and an incredible reason to be excited for future releases. Full of high-energy, electronic beats and ridiculously catchy choruses, the three tracks featured on this EP are the epitome of why the world fell in love with FTP in 2011. — Kim Dupuis [buy]

2. Alabama Shakes – Alabama Shakes EP: Alabama Shakes front woman Brittany Howard describes experiencing the band’s music as attending “rock and roll church” — an appropriate depiction given the amount of soul on their debut EP. Howard’s voice is reminiscent of Sharon Jones, but the emotion she eschews and the raw quality of the band’s instrumentals puts Alabama Shakes on a level that is very different and more striking. While their sound is definitely an authentic homage to classic southern guitar rock and soul, the band maintains a level of integrity to their own interpretation that will prove to be a very original, creative force  for years to come. — Caitlin Devlin [buy]

1. Alex WinstonSister Wife: While this may seem like a shocker to some, those who have heard and loved Alex Winston’s debut EP, Sister Wife, can attest to its infectious charm.  Sister Wife is emotionally-driven indie pop at it’s finest and a gorgeously blended, cohesive record from a budding star. This 5-song release is a vibrant, theatrical experience. From the booming “Sister Wife” to the bouncy “Choice Notes”, this EP excited me more than any other this year.  Alex Winston is releasing King Con, her debut LP, on February 28, 2012. — Eric Weiner [album review // buy]


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