It’s hard to imagine that just a few short months ago we were enjoying sunny summer days. 2011 was my best year yet, having achieved a few milestones: four and a half years running FensePost, riding my bike from Seattle to Portland and logging over 1,000 total on those two wheels between January and December, enjoying life with the love of my life (Andi), and a few defining mindset changes that put the two of us on a path to minimalism and frugality.
All of this has led to happiness. That the year saw the release of hundreds of great songs, singles, EPs and LPs was just an added bonus.
Over the holiday, I sat down and compiled a list of my top EPs of the year. It was in advance of my Friday radio show, for that show, so the list is a bit longer than would be otherwise. I present my top 24 EPs of the 2011, two dozen extended plays of pure bliss… with a few added 7″ singles to flesh out the list.
24. Goethe Head Soup by Crystal Swells
Crystal Swells is a raucous post rock meets slightly sloppy garage-y punk band out of BC. Loud and fun, this band has plenty of hooks to maintain high interest. Get ready to have your face melted off; these guys are intense.
23. Spirit Home by Ryan Trott
Ryan Trott creates some very interesting lo-fi beach pop. As one third of the band Family Trees (and the vocal counterpart at that), it should not be surprising that his solo stuff lines up pretty well with that band. Here he produces yet another solid release.
22. New Brighton by Said The Whale
The first time I heard “Sandy Bay Fishing Song”, I had to do a quick search on this band to see if the head vocalist was also a member of They Might Be Giants. This band has that vocal sound without being weird, childish, and bat-shit crazy. In fact, take TMBG vocals and put behind them clever lyrics, excellent pop-rock hooks, and you’ll have Said The Whale.
21. Paint The Town by David Newton & Thee Mighty Angels
With a modern twist to an 80s synth pop vibe, David Newton & Thee Mighty Angels was a bit of a surprise. Yet the songs this band creates stick with you and are thoroughly enjoyable.
20. Parlours EP by Parlours
Parlours is a lovely little band from Des Moines and their self-titled EP blends an earnest style of indie pop with the intimate nature of indie folk. “I Dream of Chicago” is an easy favorite, with harmony male/female vocals and a backing chorus of strings.
19. Among Friends by Suturee
Honestly, it took me quite a while to get into this five-song EP by Suturee. I really enjoyed the first album the band sent me, and Among Friends should have been an instant favorite, but it wasn’t. After several listens, it finally clicked and the powerful tracks like closer “Name Remains” became eventual favorites.
18. Summer Demos by The Novel Ideas
For some reason, The Novel Ideas remind me of bands like The Lucksmiths and Math & Physics Club. I think it’s because they sound like they could be a US-based or southern-hemisphere based band on Matinee Records. I really enjoyed this all-too brief four-song demo EP, enough for it to come in at number 18.
17. Take My Hand by Orca Team
From Seattle comes Orca Team, a band that creates super infectious lo-fi dance-worthy beach pop. This band has the sound of 1960s pop written all over it, and this single is a perfect example of how that sound continues to thrive. Take My Hand is the second single I’ve grabbed by these guys and gals and it’s my favorite one yet.
16. From Silence by Exitmusic
Dreamy and mystical, Exitmusic creates songs perfect for those moments in the early morning when the light is dim and the fog is heavy. Blast any of these songs at that time of day, when the coffee is just hitting your veins, and I’d bet money that you’ll shiver in delight.
15. Pink Information by The Mantles
I struggled at first with Pink Information. The Mantles‘ self-titled LP was among my favorites the year it was released, and remains a mainstay in my playlist to this day; the EP just doesn’t have that same sound I fell in love with on that album. It has grown on me, though, and comes in at #16. Many will dub “Lily Never Married” as the highlight, but closing track “Waiting Out The Storm” is what does it for me.
14. Whatever I Want by Jeff The Brotherhood
Granted, Whatever I Want is not an EP, but I decided to slip in a few singles. Employing some of the techniques from the days of 90s grunge, and taking it to a new level of epic-ness, Jeff The Brotherhood has dominated in creating excellent rock anthems over the past few years. The A-Side on this 7-inch was not on the band’s 2011 LP, which makes its appearance on this list notable.
13. An Argument With Myself by Jens Lekman
Oh, the always quirky Jens Lekman. Always a favorite, and his 2011 EP, An Argument With Myself is no exception. Not quite as poppy as the last LP, this is still more than worthy of your time and money.
12. (I’ll Beat My Chest Like) King Kong by BOAT
It’s hard not to like BOAT. The band is so fun, off-the-wall interesting and unique. Even though I’m now in my thirties and weird songs rarely find their way into my playlist, BOAT has never had a problem getting on there. I guess we all need to feel like a kid sometime, and they make it so easy and fun.
11. Earth Division by Mogwai
Earth Division is one of two releases Mogwai gave us in 2011. I love its simplicity, it’s classical leanings, and, of course, post rock sensibilities. It begins soft with “Get To France” and continues that trend in “Hound Of Winter”, where the band adds vocals. Then “Drunk And Crazy” explodes with loud guitars. And it concludes with a song just as soft and melodic as the opening track. This is one cohesive piece of music with four movements. Brilliant!
10. Alabama Shakes by Alabama Shakes
Alabama Shakes have and old soul sound, one that hints of Daptone and the 60s. Of late we’re getting a lot of reissues of these records, which is great, but Alabama Shakes show that this style lives strong today.
09. Via Flamina by Futurebirds
I’m new to Futurebirds. This is their most recent release, and one of two EPs they put out in 2011. In 2010, they gave us an LP, of which I too have not heard. But boy do I love Via Flamina! Futurebirds have easily cracked the top 10 with this one!
08. The Years by Memoryhouse
I love the mystical dreamy nature of Memoryhouse. And that they sampled a main theme from one of my favorite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for “Lately”. The Years is the band’s solid debut on Sub Pop, and I cannot wait to hear what this band has in store for us in 2012!
07. What A Pleasure by Beach Fossils
Beach Fossils stunned with their 2010 self-titled release. What A Pleasure is their stellar follow-up and has been a mainstay in my playlist all year. The beachy, lo-fi pop music trend may have slowed this year, but I still dig it!
06. Begin Again by Charles Leo Gebhardt IV
Some music just makes you happy. To me, that’s Charles Leo Gebhardt IV. Everything about this artist makes me smile. The curled orange mustache he sported during this last EP, saying his name out loud (especially that one), but most importantly the music he creates. Begin Again is the perfect follow up to Unfaithful.
05. Warma by Darlings
Darlings have the 90s written all over them. Those heavy rock guitar riffs, hints of garage, plentiful vocal hooks, and hefty drums. I loved their debut LP, but I think Warma is even better.
04. Tall Cedars of Lebanon by The Lovely Sparrows
There will always be a special place in my heart for The Lovely Sparrows. Not only are they among the most friendly, humble musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, Shawn Jones and company are immensely skilled musicians and songwriters. This was proven on their earliest of EPs, followed through on their LP from a few years back, and continued in full force here.
03. Paper Crush by Letting Up Despite Great Faults
The debut LP from Letting Up Despite Great Faults should really have been much higher on my end of year list from a few years back, but it wasn’t. So I made sure to give their new EP a good listen well in advance of this year’s list. From “Sophia In Gold” to “Teenage Tide”, this EP easily deserves a top 3 spot.
02. A Good Woman Is Hard To Find by PAPA
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the year, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find by PAPA is a collection of 5 powerfully strong tracks by a band that consists of Darren Weiss and Daniel Presant, two supporting members of the hyped up band Girls. It should be no surprise, then that the two front a project just as hype-worthy as the band they support.
01. A New Kind Of House by Typhoon
Opening track “The Honest Truth” by Typhoon comes in as #1 in my most-listened-to songs of 2011, logging nearly 200 digital plays in iTunes, at least a dozen on vinyl, and I’m sure plenty more on my iPods that were never recorded. As a whole, A New Kind Of House is a powerful folk-pop EP packed with great songwriting, supported by expert orchestration, and filled with full vocal harmony. This EP easily deserves its pedestal position.