EPs are all over the map. Some are short, worthwhile bursts of creativity. Some are afterthoughts and throw-aways. Some are collections of odds and ends with varying degrees of interest. Some find the artist sitting in a holding pattern.
Here are three recently released EPs that are quite worthy of your attention and, perhaps more importantly, your hard-earned cash.
Cliff Hillis, Song Machine: This seven-song EP was inspired by a weekly songwriting group to which Hillis belongs. Each of the songs is intricately drawn, and Hillis has a keen ability to add touches of drama, detail and personal observation to his compositions. Clever phrasing abounds on Song Machine, but Hillis is also able to take a step back and apply restraint and a light touch when necessary.
I’ve written previously about the opening track, “Dashboard,” and called it one of the twenty coolest songs released so far this year. Its understated drama commands your undivided attention immediately upon releasing its opening lines over a simple, strummed acoustic guitar, rumbling bass and drum: “Put your feet up on the dashboard, I don’t mind/we can talk but if not, then that’s just fine.” The tension builds until a piano kicks off a 40 second instrumental closing just as the evening drive comes to an end:
“Dashboard” is hard to follow, but the remainder of Song Machine keeps up quite nicely.
“Turn On A Dime” could be a typical pop love song, but it’s not. Yeah, she might be able to “stand with Marilyn Monroe” when all made up and with everything else in place, “but the you that I love best, has your hair all in a mess/and overalls, or nothing on at all. “Just One More” rounds out its jangling guitars with a swinging, late-60s Bacharach-like vibe. “Could You Be The Enemy” fairly rocks and will keep your head bouncing for its duration. “Goodnight Sunlight” closes the collection by cleverly playing its theme of emotional storm and sorrow against a quiet and warm acoustic arrangement in front of Hillis’ sumptuous vocal.
Song Machine is beautifully written, performed and recorded throughout its all-too-brief time with the listener. Run, don’t walk, to wherever you purchase fine music and get yourself a copy.
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The Persian Leaps, Drive, Drive, Delay: The Persian Leaps is a self-described “noise pop” band from Saint Paul, Minnesota that sprinkles its melodic pop exercises with well-placed fuzz guitar sounds and, well, noise. The result is a wonderful five-song EP drenched in late-80s and early-90s indie-rock stylings. That does not make it retro. It makes it compelling.
The lead single, “Pretty Boy,” does a nice job of pounding itself relentlessly into your consciousness for two-minutes-and-change. You likely won’t be able to get this one out of your head for quite some time:
The opening track, “Fire Starter,” seems like it’s all guitars, even though it not. That’s a very good thing. “(Goodbye To) South Carolina” adds a subtle chiming guitar to its full mix of pretty guitar noise. Guitars also carry the day on the mid-tempo “Truth = Consequences.” In a collection of otherwise two-minute plus songs that pass at the speed of light, the nearly five-minute closing track, “Permission,” is practically epic. It has a hypnotic, soaring quality that needs all that time to say its peace.
Drive, Drive, Delay is one of the best guitar records I have heard in quite some time. It drops on September 12. You will be able to get it right here, and you most certainly should do so.
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The 286, EP: This is full-fledged symphonic pop-rock in the intentionally ELO vein, with violins and cellos complimenting the basic bass-guitars-drum approach. EP is a mini-EP, with three songs and a separate “radio edit” of its centerpiece, “Let The Rain Fall Down,” a gorgeous song driven by the string instruments:
“Miracle On 286th Street” is a three-and-a-half minute instrumental that nicely conveys a sense of movement. “Little Louisa” is an old-school stomping rocker punctuated by those violins and cellos:
EP comes and goes in about twelve minutes, which makes it a perfect interlude when time is pressed.