Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Decade in Extended Plays, #20-11

...aaaaand Against Me! is finally on the EP charts. For the unaware, I'm an AM! superfan. I own three copies of New Wave (deluxe U.S. edition packed with a concert DVD, the French re-release with the B-sides, and the clear yellow vinyl version... plus all of the singles, except for that 12-inch with the crappy Butch Vig remix of "White People For Peace." Some shit just ain't worth the time). Now that I think about it, I also own four copies of As the Eternal Cowboy (the studio and demo version, on CD and vinyl). Those beautiful Floridian boys get me pumped. So I'm pretty stoked to discuss Crime and Disco Before the Breakdown today. I bought Crime the first time I saw AM! in concert, at the Starlight Ballroom with Blood Brothers. Disco's title track is what got me into the band, although it wasn't until I heard "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong" on an AMP Magazine compilation that I really started to notice how freaking, fracking amazing their songs sounded.

Oh yeah, and some other bands on the list too. So, that's cool.

The Top 50 EPs I Paid For... Like a Chump... of the Decade, #20-11

20. Flight of the Conchords - The Distant Future (2007)

While older fans were let down by Flight of the Conchords rerecording their old songs for American consumption, I kind of don’t care. See, tunes like “Business Time” and “Not Crying” are awesome. They will always be awesome. They’re cleverly written comedy bits that double as infectious songs, thereby keeping the novelty alive… forever! The Distant Future was just a taste for fans of the duo’s HBO series, but it was certainly a welcome one.

19. Ben Kweller - Freak Out, It's Ben Kweller (2000)

Retroactively, Freak Out is good as an important artifact for BK fans, as most of its songs ended up being rerecorded for Sha Sha and Ben Kweller. Still, though, these early versions of songs like “Walk On Me” and “In Other Words” have a ramshackle charm. Plus, there are two otherwise unavailable tunes worth hearing – “Problems,” an acoustic romper-stomper, and “BK Baby,” a slightly altered version of “BK Baby.” I think I’ve heard it requested at every Kweller show I’ve been to (Well, that and “Little Pink Stars”), and with good reason: It’s kitschy but surprisingly good.

18. The Raveonettes - Sometimes They Drop By / Beauty Dies (2008)

Haunting. Romantic. Noirish. Beautiful.

17. The Lawrence Arms - Buttsweat and Tears (2009)

The greatest Chicago punk band of all time, with apologies to Naked Raygun and Alkaline Trio, finally dropped a seven-inch and all I can think about is how I want another full-length.

16. The Mountain Goats - Satanic Messiah (2008)

2008 was a sweet year for Mountain Goats fans. We got Heretic Pride, The Black Pear Tree EP, and the Satanic Messiah EP knocked out in a few months, plus a couple of tours. Messiah is the weakest of the three, but really, that means nothing, because it’s still quite good. “Sarcofago Live” opens with John Darnielle’s voice, some guitar, and a bit of piano – now it sounds like a precursor to The Life of the World to Come. “Wizard Buys a Hat” sounds ominous, thanks to its synth line and booming percussion. Then comes the title track – “Satanic Messiah” mostly sounds like it could be a Christian song, as the lyrics triumph the return of the Messiah. Well, a Messiah. OK, the Anti-Christ. Except Darnielle plays it somber, with spare piano and an almost speak-singing delivery. It’s so metal, only not.

15. Silversun Pickups - Pikul (2005)

The differences between Silversun Pickups’ releases have thus far been subtle. Pikul is a little less shoegazey than, say, Carnavas, with more of an acoustic bent that’s further enhancing by the band’s use of cello. The male and female vocals stand apart more. Yet there’s no mistaking Brian Aubert’s bark, however brief, on “Kissing Families.” Ditto for drummer Christopher Guanlao’s thundering, monolithic beats. Another thing it has in common with Carnavas and Swoon is that it’s pretty great.

14. The Secret Machines - The Road Leads Where It's Lead (2005)

The Secret Machines are the sort of band that makes EPs that are almost as long as their albums. The title track of this particular EP (38 minutes total) comes from their full-length debut, Now Here is Nowhere (51 minutes). It’s a menacing, rolling number. When frontman Brandon Curtis hits the chorus – “Blowing all the other kids away” – he lingers just a beat too long before adding “with all your charm.” The rest of the EP is rounded out by covers and other original song, “Better Bring Your Friends.” My personal favorite is the band’s nine-minute take on Bob Dylan’s “Girl From North Country.” It’s pretty different from the band’s usual set-up – drummer Josh Garza is M.I.A. – with the Curtis brothers opting to envelop the song’s melancholy in swirling psychedelia. The lone tangible sound comes from Brandon’s sparse piano chords, but at least they cut through Benjamin’s guitar noise. Not to get all rock sacrilege or anything, but I kind of prefer this version.

13. Against Me! - Crime as Forgiven By (2001)

Ignore the early demos; here is where Against Me! came into being. At just a two-piece guitarist/vocalist Tom Gabel and drummer Kevin Mahon, the songs sound a little shaky, especially when compare with future Reinventing Axl Rose picks “I Still Love You Julie” and “Walking is Still Honest.” But it’s still Against Me! circa their folk-punk days, dang it. Gabel foams at the mouth on songs like “What We Worked For” and “Impact.” The playing is raw and alive, as if the band was playing in my living room. Oh yeah, and “Burn” is just a hella-fun song.

12. Big D and The Kids Table - The Gipsy Hill EP (2002)

Gipsy Hill is basically a dry run for Big D and The Kids Table’s first awesome full-length, How It Goes. “Checklist” and “Those Kids Suck” are infections ska-punk jams, while “Evil Girl/Angry Girl” is the same as “Girls Against Drunk Bitches.” The band takes aim at crappy scenesters (“Scenester”). But their best moments are their most drunken, namely “Find Out (Brighton, UK).” The band gets shitfaced and sings “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” What a great way to make me forget Porch Life ever happened.

11. Against Me! - The Disco Before the Breakdown (2002)

Against Me! dropped Reinventing Axl Rose in March 2002. Then in November of the same year, they put out another awesome, albeit shorter, collection: The Disco Before the Breakdown. The horn-laden title track is the first of three songs, and it’s so ridiculously rocking that I actually got mad at AM! for not playing it when I saw them tour with Cursive circa Happy Hollow. They made up for it by playing it a year later, much to my surprise. “Tonight We’re Gonna Give it 35%” follows, and it’s descriptions of a psychotic breakdown – “It’s got me on my knees in a bathroom / Praying to a God that I don’t even believe in / Well, dear Jesus, are you listening?” – hit hard. Acoustic ditty “Beginning in an Ending” closes the seven-inch out, hearkening back to Gabel’s one-man band years from not too long ago. More personal lyrics, more strife. The line that’s always stayed with me – “Taking all I know about nihilism and trying to build it into a life.” The song itself is about committing suicide and reflecting on the fleeting joys just prior, but that line alone sums up how I’ve felt in my post-college years. I’ve never been an anarchist, but that sense of trying to build a little haven for my ideals in a sea of compromises sure rings within me.


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