FEATURE: The Best EPs of 2016, Part 1
by Chad Jewett
Dérive – Full Body Awareness
The latest in a brilliant two-year run of EPs, Full Body Awareness found Amherst quartet Dérive further perfecting their abstract contemporary post-hardcore into dense, confident darts. The band has never sounded better, and their nervy imagination has never struck with such clarity. Ranging from the oddball Brechtian stomp of “Under The Sea” to the Milemarker-esque synth-punk of “First Friday”, Full Body Awareness felt like something of an arrival for Dérive – a mini-album in which the band fully compressed their wildly adventurous ideas into arresting three-minute bursts.
Waxahatchee – Early Recordings
Though technically a compilation of lo-fi recordings released as part of a cassette-only split in 2011 (the first record that Katie Crutchfield had produced under the “Waxahatchee” moniker), Early Recordings coheres beautifully as a stand-alone release, one that features all the poignant melody and painterly detail that makes Waxahatchee so special. The collection’s bedroom-demo haze actually suits the material perfectly, lending songs like “Black Candy” (the EP’s opening track and its best) an aura of pastoral nostalgia that has always been at the core of Crutchfield’s work in Waxahatchee, right up to last year’s excellent Ivy Tripp.
METZ & Swami John Reis – METZ & Swami John Reis
There’s something comforting in the fact that a release billed under “METZ & Swami John Reis” sound exactly like what you’d expect from a collaboration between METZ and Swami John Reis. Such is the case with the Record Store Day-exclusive 7” produced by the two parties, a two-song blast that combines the barbed-wire riffs of Hot Snakes with the echoing, industrial snarl of the Canadian noise-punk trio. The two songs – “Let It Rust” and “Caught Up” – are wholly addictive, adding up to a six minute throwback to an era of post-hardcore where oddball 60s garage rock and late 80s Dischord added up to something at once brainy and ferocious; a mini-wave shaped by Reis and absorbed by METZ.
Thee Oh Sees – Fortress 7”
As of mid-December, Thee Oh Sees have released four records for the calendar year 2016, including two full-lengths, a live LP, and Fortress, the excellent 7” that kicked off what would end up being an especially prolific 12 months for a band that already averages about 1.7 album releases a year. The single’s A-Side, a largely-instrumental five-minute psych-rock slow-burner, ended up being indicative of where the venerable San Francisco garage band would go throughout the year, layering John Dwyer’s singular, serrated guitar atop more lush, tempered grooves. The same goes for B-Side “Man In A Suitcase”, which rumbles along atop its humming, billowy rhythm section for its full four minutes, never bursting the way you’d expect, but offering a certain ghostly beauty instead.
Lions / Perspective, A Lovely Hand To Hold / Sports. – 3-way Split
Convening three of contemporary emo’s most interesting and promising bands, the three-way split between Lions, Perspective, A Lovely Hand To Hold, and Sports. (co-released by Broken World Media and Broken Rim Records), is a collection of especially lush, warm post-hardcore from three bands who collectively seem to prize atmosphere and tunefulness in equal measure. An example can be found in Lions’ “Frankie ‘the Enforcer’ Stecchino” (their other contribution – as any Boy Meet World fan would rush to note — is naturally titled “Joseph ‘The Rat’ Epstein”), which boasts all the algebraic twists and turns that define emo circa-2016, but which doesn’t let all of those leapfrogging guitars blot out the song’s gorgeous melody. Perspective, A Lovely Hand To Hold offer quicker paces and the year’s best pre-chorus with the falsetto-lined early break of “Bad Larry” (right around the :30 mark). Sports., for their part, recall the unassuming pop instincts of Vagrant Records’ 1998-2002 golden age, especially on the shimmering, autumnal “Ranch”.