Keeping Track: 20 Essential Emo EPs, Part Three
by Chad Jewett
11.) Rainer Maria – Atlantic EP
Released between the now-classic Look, Now Look Again and 2001’s A Better Version of Me, Rainer Maria’s Atlantic EP plays like a cross-section of the two, a comfy middle ground between the wider pop soundscapes of the Better Version and the spectral, glassy emo of Look Again. In that sense, despite its short run-time (three songs, twelve minutes), the EP might actually be one of Rainer Maria’s most essential releases, a definitive example of the plucky interplay of Caithlin De Marrais’s expressive bass and Kyle Fischer’s shimmering, plaintive guitar. Album-opener “There Will Be No Night” remains an all-time great document from emo’s second wave, all cycling, autumnal guitar and gorgeous slow-phase melody: “If we put things right / Then we’ll sleep tonight / If we can’t put things right / Then there will be no sleep tonight.” De Marrais turns the lyrics into a refrain, subtly changing her melody each time around, constantly re-shaping the subtle tunefulness and affecting sense of melancholy that mark Rainer Maria’s subtle greatness.
12.) Owen – (the ep)
Before (the ep) Mike Kinsella’s folk-emo project largely served as a more pastoral version of the kind of bittersweet nostalgic tone-poems that characterized his earlier band, American Football. In that sense, (the ep) serves as something of a pivot point, introducing a more tangibly acerbic, post-adolescent point of view, less half-fond of first loves and senior year than bitingly honest about the failures, hypocrisies, and disappointments of quarter-life crises. The music of Owen changed in kind, adding the bruised twang of alt-country (“In The Morning, Before Work”, “That Mouth”) and the pleasantly contrasting bounce of indie-pop (“Skin and Bones”) to Kinsella’s signature winding guitar figures. (the ep) now sounds like the moment where Mike Kinsella found precisely the feelings and realities that would form the raison d’etre for Owen – the tough next decade to follow the twilit suburban romanticism of American Football.
13.) The Jazz June – The Boom, The Motion and the Music
Released ahead of the band’s first classic LP, 2000’s The Medicine, The Boom, The Motion and the Music is in some ways embryonic, featuring rougher, early intimations of a more expansive aesthetic. But it also offers some of the more buoyant, vividly energetic music the Pennsylvania post-hardcore greats would produce, starting with the opening pop-emo burst of “When The Drums Kick In”. On its face the song features the same loud/quiet jumpiness and spindling guitar that would characterize early work by The Promise Ring and The Get Up Kids, but you can also see The Jazz June already playing with that sound on the margins, beginning the track with thirty seconds of free-form noise, and stretching the song out to a more exploratory five-and-a-half minute length that evolves from a brightly glacial intro to an enormous chorus to an all-out sprint of a bridge. The Jazz June would eventually get more explicitly cerebral and experimental – finding room for the grooves and intellectualism of Fugazi and Wire on 2002’s tour de force Better Off Without Air – but you can already hear the wheels turning on The Boom, The Motion and the Music.
14.) Bright Eyes – There Is No Beginning To The Story
By the time the five-song There Is No Beginning To The Story EP was released in 2002, Conor Oberst’s shape-shifting Bright Eyes project had moved from the wooly, mercurial basement novellas of early breakthroughs like Letting Off The Happiness to a more stately blend of country, folk, indie-rock, and chamber pop. There Is No Beginning thus has less of the ad-hoc DIY scrappiness that made previous, very good EPs like Every Day and Every Night more easily categorized as something at least adjacent to “emo”. But of the several LP-teasing short records that Bright Eyes would release (No Beginning was an appetizer for Lifted), There Is No Beginning To The Story features the best crop of songs, from the magisterial radiance of Lifted-highlight “From A Balance Beam” to the warily intimate “Messenger Bird’s Song” to the Salinger-esque reveries of “We Are Free Men”. But the EP’s real triumph is “Loose Leaves”, a clattering, joyful synth-pop celebration of youthful possibility, wasted afternoons, and poignant memories. In that sense it’s the closest Bright Eyes would come to conceptual (if not sonic) peers like American Football and The Promise Ring.
15.) Annabel – Here We Are Tomorrow
Richly tuneful and brightly energetic, Annabel’s 2010 EP Here We Are Tomorrow packs a hell of a lot of melody into its athletic twenty minutes, ranging from the vivid, effusive “The Forgetting of Names and Faces” to the bursting sing-song irreverence of “We Came As Today”, which retrofits the chanting bonhomie of Cap’n Jazz into high pop splendor. Annabel would eventually grow the sweetly literary indie-pop of Here We Are Tomorrow into 2012’s grand semi-concept-album Youth In Youth, but you can already hear the seeds of that album’s mix of the wistful and the jubilant on songs like the jangling, crystalline “Summer Health”: “Memory, I have to say / You’ve done your job / But in the wrong way / You remember each day / As if they’re all the same.” Looking back, Here We Are Tomorrow plays like the spirited good old days that Youth In Youth spends its thirty minutes coming to terms with.