Keeping Track: 20 Essential Emo EPs, Part Four
by Chad Jewett
16.) Cursive – Burst and Bloom
Recorded between Cursive’s two foremost achievements — 2000’s prickly Domestica and the picaresque 2003 concept album The Ugly Organ — 2001’s Burst and Bloom now sounds like an idealized intersection of the two, pairing the band’s earlier angularity with Gretta Cohn’s baroque cello and the tongue-in-cheek grandiosity of the Omaha group’s later work. Indeed, singer Tim Kasher makes that reading of Burst and Bloom somewhat literal on the EP’s indelible opener, “Sink to the Beat”, not only citing a “D.C. sound / Shudder To Think, Fugazi” but also branding the short record “Intended to shock, create a mystique / A cheap strategy, a marketing scheme / Building awareness for the next LP”. Elsewhere, the barbed verses (featuring early versions of the satirical sing-song that Kasher would deploy throughout the next two Cursive LPs) and grand, tuneful choruses of album stand-out “The Great Decay” play like an early, more whittled version of Organ classics like “A Gentleman Caller.” The special timing of the record – just as Cursive was in fact re-working their “D.C. sound” into something radically original and right in the middle of Saddle Creek Records flawless 1999-to-2005 run – makes it a seminal emo classic, and one of the genre’s most compulsively re-listenable documents.
17.) Orchid – Dance Tonight, Revolution Tomorrow!
As feral and explosive a post-hardcore album as you’re liable to find, Orchid’s classic 2001 10” Dance Tonight, Revolution Tomorrow! rends through its ten songs with equal parts abandon and precision. The only real respite comes at the album’s start, on lead track “Destination: Blood!”: an opening twenty seconds of lone guitar, a recycling arpeggio that is suddenly buried in the Amherst band’s controlled, squalling chaos. Perhaps the defining document (though 2002’s Gatefold is likely the quartet’s magnum opus) of a Massachusetts emo/post-hardcore scene that would yield similarly intellectual, propulsive bands like Daniel Striped Tiger, Ampere, and Sinaloa, Dance Tonight is one of those special records that inevitably leads down YouTube rabbit holes just to see how Orchid executed this stuff live. Produced by Kurt Ballou of Converge (which should give you some sense of the EP’s sheer sonic force), Dance Tonight, Revolution Tomorrow! is emo at its most daringly physical and conceptually thoughtful.
18.) Their/They’re/There – Their/They’re/There
It would be easy enough to include Their/They’re/There, the 2013 EP from the Chicago trio of the same name, based on pedigree alone. Featuring Mike Kinsella of Owen, American Football, and Cap’n Jazz, Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It., and Matthew Frank of Loose Lips Sink Ships, the band is a family tree of modern post-hardcore and emo all on its own. But the trio’s self-titled EP, released by Polyvinyl Records (an outlet with its own storied place in emo history), is a vibrant, melody-rich six songs that somehow both belies and synthesizes the CVs of its members. There’s plenty of the clean bounce of recent IIOI releases on album-opener “Their/They’re/Therapy”, but also a galvanizing punk energy that feels new. Elsewhere, the silvery guitar trickle of “572 Cuthbert Blvd” recalls Owen, but takes on a new valance with Weiss’s elastic low-tenor swapped in for Mike Kinsella’s conversational rasp. Their/They’re/There ends up being an EP that manages to metabolize a whole lot of veteran emo DNA into something unexpected.
19.) Hey Mercedes – Unorchestrated & Hey Mercedes
Over the course of their six years as a band, Illinois emo supergroup Hey Mercedes released two great LPs, 2001’s classic Everynight Fire Works and 2003’s Loses Control. But the band’s best work can be found on their two EP’s, an early, Polyvinyl-released self-titled record and the near-flawless 2005 swan-song Unorchestrated. Where Everynight Fire Works was airier, more elliptical, Hey Mercedes and Unorchestrated are filled with quick, vivid guitar-pop, blending the easy, charming melody that Bob Nanna has perfected since at least Braid’s 1998 masterpiece Frame & Canvas with the muscular strums of Colour and the Shape-era Foo Fighters. Especially great is “Warm Chords”, a bursting three-minute highlight from Unorchestrated that, twelve years later, has aged into one of emo’s great hidden gems, defined by the band’s oblique two-guitar attack and Damon Atkinson’s cleverly deconstructive drum work: “Play those warm chords, the ones we all adore”.
20.) Christie Front Drive / Boy’s Life – EP
The history of emo is rife with splits that, a decade or two later, feature almost unbelievable pairings: The Get Up Kids and Coalesce, Small Brown Bike and The Casket Lottery, Braid and Burning Airlines. But ranking at the acme of all of those now essential releases is a 1995 split between fellow heartland emo trailblazers, Christie Front Drive and Boy’s Life. Recorded and released just before each band’s magnum opus (1996’s Departures and Landfalls for Boy’s Life, Stereo of the same year for Christie), the shared EP found both bands just rounding into their best work. Indeed, the long-form melodrama of “Sight Unseen”, Boy’s Life’s quite-then-LOUD 8-minute album-opener is just about prototypical for the kind of expansive, sweeping mood-music that was the Missouri band’s stock and trade. Elsewhere, the springy melodicism of Christie Front Drive’s “Bowl” could easily have worked on the similarly textured and tuneful Stereo. It’s not often that a short, shared release stands as a band’s signature achievement, let alone two bands who both went on to record hugely important full-lengths. But EP might just be that record, a document of everything falling into place at exactly the right time.