FEATURE: The Best EPs of 2016, Part 2
by Chad Jewett
[Read Part 1 here]
Lifted Bells – Overreactor
The combination of Bob Nanna’s oaken low-tenor and the still-barbed but increasingly lush sound of Braid is a big part of what made that band’s 2014 return on No Coast so striking. And the same goes for Nanna’s work with Lifted Bells (which also includes members of Their/They’re/There and Stay Ahead Of The Weather), whose newest Run For Cover-released EP Overreactor boasts an especially nifty idea in pairing the singer at his most airy with an especially dense, thorny post-hardcore attack that lands a good deal closer to the genre’s mid-90s mid-Atlantic/Chicago heyday than it has been in a while. That general sharpness makes the band’s occasional, gentle interludes (see the acoustic-dotted bridges of “Kingston Vale”) all the more affecting, and lends the whole EP a quiet/LOUD joie de vivre that stays compelling even after you begin to figure out the sudden jolts and turns.
G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day Of Revenge
“When peace is just another word for death / It’s our turn to give violence a chance!”. So begins the whirlwind hardcore of Trans Day Of Revenge, the first and reportedly final 7” from Olympia Washington’s G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit). The quintet’s furious 80s punk attack is whittled and massive all at once, and the narratives contained within – dedicated both to recording the many persisting inequities that are currently threatening to become even worse in 2017 as well as defiantly demanding a very real revolutionary resistance – are delivered with righteous explosiveness that is never less than galvanizing. With Trans Day Of Revenge, G.L.O.S.S. set a new standard for contemporary hardcore by joyously investing in both punk’s sheer sonic force and in its legacy of radical defiance.
Vince Staples – Prima Donna
With last year’s Summertime ’06, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples released an absolute masterpiece, a double-album that wasn’t just excellent for a debut, but was in fact as good as 2015’s other instant classic, Kendrick Lamar’s ultra-dense To Pimp A Butterfly. Staples, who already had one terrific EP on his resume with 2014’s Hell Can Wait, barely waited a year before following up his grand debut with another release: Prima Donna. Clocking in at a streamlined 22 minutes (including an eerie intro track), the EP’s 7 tracks largely echo and extend the mood and ideas of Summertime ’06, which is decidedly a good thing. Thus songs like “Smile” have all of that album’s avant-garde sonics, with Staples rhyming over ghostly vocal samples and corroded guitars, a brief but rich mini-sequel to an earlier triumph.
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Long Live Happy Birthday
A highlight in an ever-expanding catalogue of singles, splits, and 7”s, Long Live Happy Birthday found The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die further hammering out the finer points of their sound circa 2016: a rich, romantic sound that is at once spacious and carefully-detailed, making room for David Bello’s increasingly central melodies while filling the space around him with painterly post-rock harmony. The 7”, split between Side A’s “Even More Forever” and Side B’s “Katamari Duquette” also finds the post-emo collective further divvying up its ethereal, major key instinct (Side A) and its more overtly dark, ominous corners (Side B), making Long Live Happy Birthday a striking study in contrasts.
Empty Grows Every Bed – Brother Why The Bluish Hue
2016 saw reissues from both Hey Mercedes and Bear vs. Shark, making for a mini-renaissance of bands who took the post-rock tangles of June of 44 and Pele and married them to the brawny thrum of Jawbox, then added atop all of that a power-pop penchant for hooks. Empty Grows Every Bed, who hail from Western Massachusetts, have by all appearances learned those lessons well, and their debut EP, Brother Why The Bluish Hue (a terrific title) is a brisk, clever joy. No song breaks the 2:20 mark and the EP, recorded and mixed by Ampere’s Will Killingsworth, is crisp and bright (see the nearly alt-country “This Could Be My Hoover Dam” for reference). The band sounds far denser than its two members, and admirably never let their tastes for odd tunings and odder time signatures get in the way of making actual honest-to-goodness songs.