Staff List: Eli’s Top 5 EP’s of 2016
Posted: by The Editor
Over the next few weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2016, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.
In the second part of my four-part EOTY series, I write about my five favorite EP’s of 2016. As someone who strongly believes in the notion that less is more, I think EP’s are a great way for artists to either introduce themselves, introduce a new sonic direction, experiment, or simply hold fans over without having to commit to a full record.
Although there were a lot of really cool splits and seven inches this year that didn’t make it onto this list, these are the five that stuck with me most.
5. Turnstile– Move Thru Me
If the explosive reception for Turnstile’s 2015 record Nonstop Feeling didn’t secure their standing as the biggest band in hardcore, this year’s signing to Roadrunner Records did. In a genre that often views success and deviation from the pack as betrayal, a move like that was daring. However, the band swiftly put the punks at ease by releasing a thrashing new EP on a DIY label—the Baltimore-based Pop Wig Records that’s owned by one of their own: Justice Tripp of Trapped Under Ice and Angel Du$t.
In classic hardcore punk fashion, Move Thru Me whizzes by in less than ten minutes—though it feels even quicker since the first two songs blend into one. Turnstile are playing for a wider audience now, yet they still have the blistering urgency, raw production and primal delivery of their earliest work. They haven’t lost their edge—the epic gang chants on the title track hit just as hard as the shout-backs on their 2011 fan-favorite “Death Grip”—and have only improved as performers throughout their rigorous touring schedule. The breakneck drum fills and Kerry King quality solo on “Come Back For More” are testaments to why this band deserves—and has the ability—to become a force in rock music.
4. Total Yuppies– Pleasantries
Singer Jacob Walsh references coffee on three of the six songs on Pleasantries—which, intentional or not, is a beverage that perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy of this project. Most of these are perky power pop tunes that’re sweet to the tongue like a cappuccino—though loaded with a double-shot of espresso since there’s a potent flavor of fuzzy heft in there too. However, Walsh and Co. are depending on that sonic buzz as motivation to push past the tiring tribulations of navigating through their early 20s; as frequent mentions of day drinking, struggling romances, and aging friends suggest.
There’s a general feeling of hopelessness within these tracks but Total Yuppies own it the whole way through. “I Feel Busted” proudly wears Beach Boys harmonies, a clap-along rhythm, and shreddy guitar solos—but underneath the flashy outfit, Walsh admits, “I think I want a hole in my head.” After the anxious “Middle Afternoon” the band tries their hand at a Parquet Courts impersonation on “Our Waitress For President”—featuring half-stoned, muttered vocals and a pulsating rhythm section that provides a necessary changeup from the immediacy of the previous tracks.
The EP is engaging from front to back, although the first song, “Dreaming,” is unequivocally the best due to its chorus—which is both the catchiest and the most lyrically compelling; the line “Now I only drink on the weekends / now I only drink in the afternoon / spent the summer wasting the morning / spent the summer wasted in a crowded room” is an ardent enunciation of how it feels to be that age. Total Yuppies are still local but hopefully not for much longer.
3. Haybaby– Blood Harvest
The Brooklyn trio’s 2015 debut Sleepy Kids showed promise but lacked focus. On Blood Harvest, Haybaby honed in on what they do best: creepy, atmospheric basslines that unexpectedly burst into meaty riffs and vocalist Leslie Hong’s ghastly wails. Whereas many of the tracks on Sleepy Kids begged to rupture and instead fizzled out, each song on Blood Harvest has a satisfying climax that makes the haunting verses even tenser.
“Joke/Rope” and “Kramer/Dreams” both utilize this dynamic—the latter fittingly feeling like you’re being sucked into a nightmare while Hong croons, “you can only dream a dream / you can make your dreams come true.” However, the last two tracks are where the band shows off their versatility and they’re probably the most memorable of the bunch. “What It Is” is a battering hardcore song with walloping drums and vocals that sound like a pack of wolves mauling their prey. That unforeseen heaviness doesn’t disappear after the sub-two-minute track though, as closer “Pig” has the droniness of an Electric Wizard song—complementing Hong’s shrieks surprisingly effectively.
Blood Harvest is a cohesive project but it also presents an array of different directions that Haybaby can take on their forthcoming LP.
2. Turnover– Humblest Pleasures
On last year’s Peripheral Vision, Turnover filtered their emo/pop-punk songwriting through a dreamy, indie pop lens. It was a significant departure from their soft grunge beginnings and ended up acting as a bridge into the indie rock realm for both themselves and much of their audience. Rather than let fans sit on the record and lose interest though, the band made a smart move and dropped two of the best songs they’ve ever released, the Humblest Pleasures seven-inch, in late winter.
Although not particularly complex, and unashamedly repetitive, Peripheral Vision’s strengths were in its flagrant catchiness and shudderingly forthright lyrics. Humblest Pleasures is a continuation of those strengths and a hint at more expansive songwriting. The title track could replace almost any song on Peripheral Vision—as it’s essentially Turnover doing that same sound again, but better. The catchy little “oo-oo’s” are infectious and vocalist Austin Getz lamenting “why is the simplest thing the hardest?” is personal yet universally relatable, like many of the lines on Peripheral Vision.
However, “Change Irreversible” is a real standout in Turnover’s catalogue. It’s the longest they’ve ever released (5:06) as well as the drowsiest—maintaining a nodding pace that works in tandem with the haziness of the production. It’s still got a memorable hook though and lines like, “disappointment waiting for me / like a hunger in the morning,” that hit hard as ever. On paper this music isn’t unique, but it’s hard to find a band today that’s doing this sort of thing better than Turnover.
1. gobbinjr– Vom Night
The words “bedroom pop” are often aptly used to describe music with pop sensibilities that came from one’s home studio, or lack thereof. The classification emerged during the early 2010s (the inception of the Bandcamp era) and has since become somewhat of a catch-all for artists ranging from lo-fi acts like Elvis Depressedly and Teen Suicide, all the way to Bellows, Katie Dey, and Alex G—the three of whom have put out records within the past year or so that aren’t the least bit homemade or “bedroom” sounding.
When does an artist like Frankie Cosmos or Alex G—both of whom pioneered the movement by uploading gobs of self-recorded material to their Bandcamp profiles during their early years, but have since moved on to bigger labels and hiring outsiders to mix and master—grow out of the epithet and into just “pop” or “indie?” Did bedroom pop ever mean anything or was it just an aesthetic? A way of flagging someone’s work as intimate, pure, and untouched by the hands of the capitalist music machine.
These are questions that arise when an overly analytical music journalist like myself listens to Vom Night, the beautiful, crisp, clear, intricate, and paradoxically “professional” sounding “bedroom pop” project of Brooklyn-based songwriter gobbinjr. It’s an EP that sets the bar a step higher for what can be accomplished by a self-recording artist, as the production on this thing is immaculate and the vocal performances are pristine. However, there’s a juvenility to the pitter-pattering clave blocks on “manatee” and Casio-esque keyboards on “Undies” that give Vom Night an immature charm that’s often apparent on projects with the bedroom pop tag.
There’s also an expectation of revealing lyricism within the idiom, and lines like, “no one wants to love someone who’s never been loved before,” and, “I just wanna be a firefly/ I just want the human race to die,” add a sense of vulnerability to the music that’s otherwise confident and punchy. Vom Night did bedroom pop so well that it shattered the label altogether—and no line sums up what gobbinjr did here better than her mantra from the song “Perfect”: “I just wanna be perfect / anything less is shameful.”
Eli Enis | @eli_enis