Small But Perfectly Formed: 50 Must-Have EPs

Good things come in small packages as they say, and there’s none finer proof than this catalogue of superlative EPs. Speakers at the ready…

50 Mogwai – ‘EP +6’

Scottish post rockers Mogwai originally released this comp of tracks in Japan in 2000 and then brought it to the UK the following year thanks to popular demand. Highlights include the ambient landscape of ‘Superheroes of BMX’ and the ode to fallen auteur ‘Stanley Kubrick’ who died in 1999.

49 Slayer – ‘Haunting the Chapel’

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Although obviously doomy, the title here from America’s hardest thrash band sounds vaguely quaint when compared to some of the awful things metal bands call shit these days. Take a listen to the ‘Haunting the Chapel EP’ though and you’ll realise there’s nothing quaint about it. It sounds like molten lava being poured into your arsehole.

48 Calexico – ‘Even My Sure Things Fall Through’

Not necessarily the coolest band on the list, but who gives a shit about cool when the songs are this good. ‘Crystal Frontier’ is a mariachi classic that sounds as hot as the desert plains that inform so much of their work.

47 Anthrax – ‘Attack of the Killer B’s’

Anthrax aren’t quite the thrash metal force they were back at the end of the 80’s and early 90’s, but this still sounds absolutely ferocious. Put lead track ‘Milk (Ode To Billy)’ on and turn it up really fucking loud if you want to put a smile on your face and annoy your neighbours at the same time.

46 Beta Band – ‘Los Amigo Del Beta Bandidos’

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If My Bloody Valentine had to work hard to compete with the splendor of their early EPs, then for the Beta Band the challenge to live up to their early work was just too insurmountable. ‘Los Amigo Del Beta Bandidos’ is one of three brilliant early EPs, though these folktronica spearheaders never quite lived up to their early promise elsewhere.

45 NWA – ‘100 Miles and Runnin’

Coming out in 1990 on Ruthless Records after the departure of Ice Cube, this EP appeared two years ahead of the LA Riots and yet it is rife with the tensions with police that would explode following the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers in 1992. The tracks themselves still sound exhilarating even now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nznw8ckYakg

44 The Pogues – ‘Poguetry in Motion’

Recorded with producer Elvis Costello between their two best loved LP’s ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’ and ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’, this EP became the Pogues first hit and includes four great songs, one of which – ‘Rainy Night In Soho’ – is a bona fide classic.

43 The Fall – ‘Slates’

Mark E Smith was in scything, rasping form on this early Rough Trade EP recorded with longtime collaborator Grant Showbiz and featuring a young Mark Riley on bass. ‘Prole Art Threat’ takes props for the most paradigmatic Fall title.

42 Elvis Costello – ‘New Amsterdam’

Elvis Costello is maybe the finest songwriter of his generation (though he has plenty of competition) and back in 1980 he knocked out songs for fun, including the three minute waltz of the title track and three more rarities besides. ‘New Amsterdam’ was released the previous year on his much-loved fourth studio album ‘Get Happy!!’

41 Broadcast – ‘Extended Play Two’

Following the release of their ‘The Noise Made By People’ album, Broadcast still had some great material left to release and so out came this EP in 2000. Listening to the vitality of ‘Illumination’ now still makes it hard to believe that Trish Keenan is no longer with us.

40 Biffy Clyro – ‘Thekidswhopoptodaywillrocktomorrow’

Despite exhibiting an early penchant for dodgy nomenclature, the title of this year 2000 Biffy Clyro EP turned out to be prescient on two levels: a) rock and pop are cyclical and b) we’ve all stopped bothering with the spacebar. What they probably didn’t envisage is how hard the kids would rock out to Biffy Clyro in the future. Mon!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=105qxwfi7oQ

39 Interpol – ‘The Black EP’

‘The Black EP’ is an unusual release in that it is a compilation of the best moments the New York miserabilist-revivalists recorded on French radio. A full-length Black Session bootleg is also in existence, and trickier to track down too.

38 Coldplay – ‘The Blue Room’

The Blue Room was Coldplay’s second EP, and the first to be put out by spanking new label Parlophone in 1999. Expecting big things from their new signings, they immediately ran up a whopping 5,000 copies.

37 Guns n Roses – ‘Lies’

Is it an album or is it an EP? The fact this 1988 release sold five million copies in the US alone probably means that Guns ‘n’ Roses couldn’t care less either way. ‘Lies’ is a game of two halves, with kick ass rock (and an Aerosmith cover) on one side and some sultry acoustic ballads on the other, including bona fide G’n’R fave ‘Patience’.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnoKT_q2xDw

36 The National – ‘Cherry Tree’

‘Cherry Tree’ is a lauded EP from Cincinnati’s The National – launched five years into their career – and for those of you with spare pocket money who like their music tangible, there are said to be red 10” picture discs out there somewhere just begging to be snapped up.

35 Boards of Canada – ‘In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country’

Boards of Canada have been releasing acclaimed music via Warp Records for over 20 years, including the much-loved ‘Music Has The Right To Children’. But the EP that followed that album – ‘In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ – may just be the Scot electro artists’ most incredible moment to date.

34 Parquet Courts – ‘Tally All Things That You Broke’

They might owe a debt of gratitude to slacker rock, but Brooklyn rockers Parquet Courts are no slackers. In amongst a hectic touring schedule this last 18 months, they’ve managed to put out two albums and this tremendous EP.

33 Echo and the Bunnymen – ‘Shine So Hard’

Back in the 80s, live EPs used to regularly chart and here was one by Echo and the Bunnymen which slipped into the top 40 in 1981, becoming their first hit single in the process. A live version of ‘Crocodiles’ from the 1980 album of the same name leads the EP.

32 Motörhead – ‘Golden Years’

Everyone knows Motörhead are best experienced in the live arena and here you have four live tracks, including a cover of the slept on Motown classic ‘Leaving Here’ written by Holland-Dozier-Holland. Remarkably Lemmy’s version is the more successful in Britain – it made no.8 in the UK charts in 1980.

31 Janelle Monáe – ‘Metropolis: The Chase Suite’

Janelle Monáe’s career to date is as enigmatic as it is slightly frustrating. Released in 2010, debut album ‘ArchAndroid’ – although good – failed to live up to the promise of this earlier 2007 EP. Expecting her to play safe and cover all bases in 2013, Monáe brought out a double album, the last refuge of the bighead.

30 Muse – ‘Muscle Museum’

It’s weird to think that back in 1999 Muse were dismissed by many as fly-by-night Radiohead copyists. “I have played in every toilet,” sang Matt Bellamy on the title track, who has now played every major festival as well as two sold out two-night stands at Wembley Stadium in 2007 and 2010.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYqmDqFh038

29 Ride – ‘Fall’

From the mighty drum track on ‘Dreams Burn Down’ to the static fadeout and waves crashing away at the end of ‘Nowhere’, the ‘Fall EP’ is 19.09 minutes of unexpurgated shoegazing heaven. Released originally in 1990, it certainly sounds of its time, but a recent revival has made this an influential classic for bands of a neo-psychedelic ilk.

28 Warpaint – ‘Exquisite Corpse’

Warpaint are a brilliant live proposition, though on record when they’re at their most experimental they can seem a little impenetrable. In fact some would argue that 2008’s ‘Exquisite Corpse’ was their most coherent moment in recorded sound to date.

27 Ice Cube – ‘Kill at Will’

Following the phenomenal success of NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’, Ice Cube split soon after being presented with what he saw as an unfavourable contract. He certainly didn’t suffer out there on his own, with ‘Kill At Will’ going gold in 1990 and platinum in ‘91, the first hip hop EP to do so.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VCNf9pNOSg

26 Cocteau Twins – ‘Sunburst and Snowblind’

With a typically evocative title, the music within the sleeve certainly doesn’t disappoint in its richness. The Cocteau Twins – and especially Liz Frazer – dazzled on this luminescent trio of tracks from 1983.

25 Suede – ‘Stay Together’

It was a no.3 hit and for Suede fans ‘Stay Together’ is one of their finest moments, though the band themselves have disowned the song (the release preceded the departure of guitarist Bernard Butler, which may be significant). ‘The Living Dead’ and ‘My Dark Star’ are also excellent, and can now be found on B-sides album ‘Sci-fi Lullabies’.

24 Metallica – ‘The $5.98 E.P.:Garage Days Revisited’

Between albums Metallica these days make massive 3D films with hokey premises and play bigger and bigger festivals, but back in the 80’s they’d knock off incredible EPs like ‘The $5.98 E.P. : Garage Days Re-Revisited’, where they covered classics by Killing Joke, Misfits and Diamond Head.

23 Sufjan Stevens – ‘All Delighted People’

Sufjan was all set to release ‘Age of Adz’ in December 2010, so it seemed a peculiar decision for him to drop an EP of unrelated material a few months prior (which was actually a lot longer than many albums). Like his old chum God, Sufjan moves in mysterious ways, and ‘All Delighted People’ treads a fine line between crazy and praise-y.

22 Bright Eyes – ‘There Is No Beginning To The Story’

Conor Oberst is another artist who can’t be accused of resting on his laurels, and despite a prolific output of his poetic Omaha country blues, he maintains a fair level of consistency. ‘There Is No Beginning To The Story’ is the apex of his creativity.

21 Jeff Buckley – ‘Live at Sin-é’

Live at Sin-é first appeared as a live EP in 1993, recorded in the coffee house of that very name in New York City, though if you’re expecting it to be Central Perk smug then you’ve got another think coming. It was later extended and turned into a posthumous live album ten years later.

20 The Coral – ‘Skeleton Key’

Scouse psychedelic Beefheart fans The Coral certainly got the critics into a froth when they emerged in the early part of the century: on ‘Skeleton Key’ it’s easy to see why.

19 LCD Soundsystem – ‘45:33’

Corporate commissions are hard not to judge cynically, so it’s interesting to hear dancepunk legend James Murphy pulling out all the stops on this assignment by Nike; you suspect he was in such good form that he just couldn’t help himself. Originally only available on the trainer maker’s iTunes store, DFA eventually brought it out on their own label in 2007.

18 Pavement – ‘Watery, Domestic’

Few bands were as sharp or incisive as Pavement in 1992, and ‘Watery, Domestic’ ably demonstrates why Malkmus and co are considered gods of the indie rock genre, influencing everyone from Weezer to Blur.

17 Burial – ‘Kindred’

Few EPs in modern times have been met with the sort of universal adulation that Kindred’s ‘Burial EP’ received when it was released in 2012. Clocking in at 11 and a half minutes, the ambient lead track of the same name epitomises everything that was forward thinking, innovative and deliciously experimental about the 2-step garage scene.

16 Blur – ‘Popscene’

Popscene came at a funny time for Blur, when after an initial flurry of success they had inexplicably slipped down the dumper. It would take a further change of direction for them to become household names, but ‘Popscene’ remains a fan favourite and total banger that would have charted higher in this list if its other tracks matched its greatness.

15 Alex Turner – ‘Submarine’

Alex Turner took his first foray into solo artist territory with the contemplative soundtrack to offbeat Welsh comedy ‘Submarine’ from first time director Richard Ayoade. Acoustic and intimate, songs like ‘Hiding Tonight’ and ‘Piledriver Waltz’ have become AM fan favourites.

14 My Bloody Valentine – ‘You Made Me Realise’

It still sounds as fresh and face-melting as it did when it first came out on Creation Records in 1988, back when Kevin Shields was a sprightly Irish lad with an ear for a weird tune and not the time lord of procrastination we know and love him for these days. My Bloody Valentine were an explosion in vitality.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8kjbjx2EUw

13 Buzzcocks – ‘Spiral Scratch’

Dating back to January 1977, this is the sound of punk rock delivered by people who could actually write a decent song or four. In fact the four tracks here – all essential listening – weigh in at under 10 minutes. Straight ahead playing, unpretentious production and Pete Shelley’s ear for a tune all add to what is considered one of the classic EPs of all time

12 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs’

When Yeah Yeah Yeah’s burst onto the scene in 2001, ‘Bang’ – the opening track on their self-titled EP – became a favourite at London superclub Trash and then with hipsters everywhere. It’s been uphill ever since for the New York three-piece.

11 Joy Division – ‘An Ideal For Living’

Joy Division’s ‘An Ideal For Living EP’ is an interesting document in the development of a band, and when held up against it’s bleaker musical siblings of the future it can almost be described as hopeful. The band had recently changed their name from Warsaw, though the title is captured for posterity in the punk rock of the opening track.

10 Radiohead – ‘Airbag’

The quality of songs bequeathed on charity albums are invariably poor, but that wasn’t the case with ‘The Help Album’ (which sought to aid the war stricken in Bosnia). And then Radiohead brought ‘Airbag’ to the table. It was no surprise this incredible tune surfaced again as ‘OK Computer’ opener, and preceded the release fronting a glorious EP for the North Americans.

9 Jesus and Mary Chain – ‘Some Candy Talking’

It’s difficult to convey what a breath of fetid air the Jesus and Mary Chain were in the synth saturated mid-80’s, but the Scottish rockers infused the then highly unfashionable Velvet Underground and Phil Spector in one perfectly packaged EP and caused a proverbial riot. They went on to cause some actual riots.

8 Nirvana – ‘Hormoaning’

Pressed up only in Australia and Japan when Nirvana were on tour in 1992, this highly sought after collectors item featured a Wipers cover, a Devo cover and two Vaselines covers (which later appeared on ‘Incesticide’). A cursory look on eBay sees ‘Hormoaning’ going for silly money.

7 Aphex Twin – ‘Come to Daddy’

1997 was a pivotal year in Britain. With the rise of New Labour and Noel and McGee off to 10 Downing Street, there was a feeling of optimism in the air. Aphex represented the urban menace that had been forgotten, the scary housing projects and the hinterland of your nightmares. Warped drum ‘n’ bass vied with creepy nursery chimes on this mini magnus opus.

6 Sonic Youth – ‘Kill Yr Idols’

Sonic Youth consistently made vital music for three decades, and classic moments trip off the tongue, from ‘Daydream Nation’ to ’Goo’, not to mention their one album as Ciccone Youth. But nothing sounded more intense than their incredible second EP ‘Kill Yr Idols’, out on Geffen in 1983 after originally only being available in Germany via Zensor.

5 Pulp – ‘The Sisters EP’

Pulp were around longer than even they’d care to mention before being snapped up by Island, and ‘The Sisters EP’ – the first for the major – is a fantastic advertisement for persistence. Jarvis’ sharp, observational words twinned with his very English and ever-so-slightly kinky proclivities merge together for this legendary EP. Every song’s a winner.

4 Arctic Monkeys – ‘Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys?’

It’s funny to think that when the question ‘Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?’ was posed back in 2006, a lot of people didn’t have a clue. Britain’s biggest band were on vital form back then ahead of releasing the fastest selling debut of all time, back when singer and lyricist Alex Turner was still but a 20-year-old.

3 The Beatles – ‘Magical Mystery Tour’

EPs are the square peg in the round hole, the bastard offspring and the black sheep all rolled into one. And you don’t get more maverick than this, which featured John’s ‘I Am The Walrus’ and George’s far out ‘Blue Jay Way’.

2 Pixies – ‘Come On Pilgrim’

These days everyone rips off the Pixies, but in 1987 they sounded like they were from another planet (a planet of sound). ‘Come On Pilgrim’ – fairly lengthy as EPs go – featured ‘Nimrod’s Son’ and opened with ‘Caribou’, announcing a band that inadvertently shaped alternative rock as we know it.

1 The Strokes – ‘The Modern Age’

If you wanted to distill what 2001 sounded like in three easy numbers then it would be hard to look any further than the three songs from ‘The Modern Age EP’, which launched the five New Yorkers to superstardom in January of that year. ‘The Modern Age’. ‘Last Nite’. ‘Barely Legal’. And from there, this EP started everything.

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