Tuesday, November 10, 2009

EP Round-Up: Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter, & Bon Iver

Grizzly Bear- Friend EP
Friend may be referred to officially as an EP, but it's a dubious designation for two reasons. One, it clocks in at 43 minutes, which is longer than full albums by a lot of bands. The other reason is that three of the tracks are actually covers of Grizzly Bear songs by other bands. Perhaps it's better to think of this as a hip hop style mixtape?? I don't know.

Regardless, the three covers are all generally good and done in the style of the respective bands. I do wish that CSS or Atlas Sound would've flipped a coin so we didn't get two covers of 'Knife', but whatever: I love that song and their takes on it are very different. As for the Grizzly Bear material, it represents a strange nexus between all three of their albums. Their remakes of 'Alligator' and 'Little Brother' are in the more electric, dynamic style of Veckatimest, which is odd since that album wouldn't be released for another year and a half after the Friend EP was. Anyway, 'Granny Diner' is clearly a Yellow House leftover and there's an alternate version of 'Shift' from Horn Of Plenty, so we've effectively got pieces of every Grizzly Bear release on this EP, whether in spirit/sound or actual music. The rest of the material is as hit or miss as you might expect, though I do want to mention that I wish that annoying gap of silence and subsequent rocking out wasn't tucked unto the end of 'Deep Blue Sea.'

While everyone should get the albums first and most people will be content with only those, diehard fans looking for something more--not necessarily something new--will find much to enjoy in this surprisingly meaty EP.

Deerhunter- Fluourescent Grey EP
I have the habit of thinking of bands as a linear progression or story, with a very clear evolution or path toward or away from something. While I probably have forced this structure where it doesn't belong, it seems like more often than not it fits a band. Something like the Fluorescent Grey EP is reason why because it is such an obvious stepping stone between Deerhunter's Cryptograms and last year's phenomenal Microcastle.

Of this release, in an interview with Pitchfork Media, Bradford Cox said: "It's like four singles. I almost feel like we should have saved the songs for the next record...But they're all four singles; they're all four good. They could stand on their own." While I couldn't have planned the "stepping stone" comment any better if I was trying to make him connect the albums, I do want to address the "these are four singles" comment. Mind you, Fluorescent Grey is only four songs, so it's easy to criticize such a release for not having enough material. But in the same way that Portal, the PC game, was so awesome partially due to its brevity, Fluorescent Grey is awesome because it gives you just enough music to enjoy in one burst. Also similar to Portal, the quality of the material is shockingly high. I don't know if I'd qualify all of these songs as singles in the traditional sense of a Top 10 hit song, but in terms of indie rock 7"s or what have you, they could absolutely fly. The first three songs definitely feel like steps toward the more pop oriented Microcastle, while 'Wash Off' is a look back to the by turns dreamy and intense shoegazer-isms of Cryptograms.

Like their friends in Animal Collective, Deerhunter seem to get that EPs can be more than just "maybe a new track or two and some remixes or covers." Fluorescent Grey is an excellent dollop of songs you can't get anywhere else, and well worth the price for casual or hardcore fans.

Bon Iver- Blood Bank EP
If this decade has, for the mainstream anyway, been the decline of the album--due to digital music stores, the ease of piracy, or the way we listen to music nowadays--then it has also seen the resurgence of the single as a viable artistic venue. Since people don't feel bad about spending $1 (or less) on a song (or a ringtone of said song), singles have become a much bigger thing than in the 90s, when they pretty much died thanks to the lameness and expense of CD singles. At the same time, I think the EP has come into its own as an artistic format as well. If you buy digitally, you're still only spending about a dollar per song.

According to Wikipedia, most of Blood Bank's sales came from digital sources. That's pretty much par for the course these days, since the only way I ever end up with EPs is getting the digital version (legally or otherwise) or when EPs are packed in as companions with vinyl records. Maybe it's just a money-to-music ratio, I don't know how I justify it. Anyway, since Bon Iver was one of the biggest stories of 2008, it only made sense that those clamoring for more from Justin Vernon would jump on anything Bon Iver in '09, whether it be this EP or his collaboration with a band under the name Volcano Choir. While the latter will likely puzzle those fans who come to Bon Iver from the singer/songwriter/folk perspective, Blood Bank will be a welcome snack while waiting for Vernon's next Bon Iver album.

Other than 'Woods', with its unique vocoder'd vocals and lack of any other instruments (think 'Because' by the Beatles, but not as good), Blood Bank sticks closely to the For Emma, Forever Ago template. So this EP is a case of "more of the same but still good; not essential but recommended for hungry fans."

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