I’m building a still to slow down the time

Recently I purchased Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank EP” from my local Independent Compact Disc store. The title track is a charming lullaby, with Justin Vernon’s typical harmonious vocals rising above the soft instrumentation. The rest of the disc doesnt live up to this highlight, offering up moody, ambient folk with indeterminable lyrics. The words imprinted on the inside of the album case are necessary for the ethereal, vocoder-tinged “Woods”, which rises and falls nicely but without much effect. It has a sensuous feel to it, and a lot of ingenity when it comes to the use of the vocals. But compared to “For Emma, Forever Ago”, the EP’s companion album which it stylistically it is much similar to, it is weaker, and seems to lack any purpose.

After the 16-minute, 4 song collection had finished, I began to ponder not the quality of “Blood Bank”, which is undeniable, but the point. Is the EP a valid way of releasing music? Is it necessary to have something that sits on the fence between an album and a single? An EP is made up, presumably, from songs cut from the main album, in this case from “For Emma, Forever Ago”. I understand the purpose of an EP when used by unsigned bands to attract attention and hopefully finance a full-length equivalent, but “Blood Bank” was released a good eight months after the album. Why would any tracks that had fallen out of favour during the album sessions be used on a mid-length record, when they would make perfectly acceptable B-sides to any singles, or even saved for the next album.

I put on the Fleet Foxes EP, “Sun Giant”, to see if that would enlighten me any further. It does much the same job as “Blood Bank”, it accompanies an album, but without providing much reason as to its existence. I appreciated the quality, but in comparison to the album, the EP did not seem a worthwhile venture.

I quickly realised that this was what had prevented me seeing the purpose behind EP releases. I made needless comparisons with whatever album had been released in sync with it, and presumed that the EP should serve the same purpose as the album. I shifted my perpective, seeing EPs not as half-hearted attempts to create a microcosm of their accompanying record, but instead as a bonus, a reward offered to loyal fans. The audience benefits because every new piece of material they can find on their favoured artist is worth investing in, no matter what manner it is released in.

Of course, at this stage, you may think that excess material should be added to singles, which still benefits the fans whie at the same time being a more widespread release than an EP. However, if you look at the current trend of downloads, singles are starting to become just that, a single track. So perhaps the best way for an artist to release material safe in the knowledge it will get listened to is through an EP. Another argument would be that it can simply be attached to the end of an album, as a bonus track or hidden on the depths of a song. This leads to excessive, overlong albums, or sometimes albums which have inconsistant rhythm. To showcase music without upsetting an album’s mood it cannot crudely be pasted into the middle of an album.

So in terms of length and purpose, EPs deserve their existence, in principle at least. But do they justify it in practice? For definitive proof that the answer is a wholesome “Yes!”, I refer to The National’s “Cherry Tree EP”. Released a few months after their second album, “Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers”, it contained six new tracks and a live version of one from Sad Songs. Another song from it, “All The Wine”, was eventually placed on their next album after good fan reception. This successful experiment would on its own validate the release of the EP (“All The Wine” truly is a beautiful ode to the feeling of immortality that is bestowed upon the severely inebriated), but it has so much more to offer than just that. The opener “Wasp Nest” is melancholy, with The Nationals trademark baritone vocals and slight, arpeggiated guitars framing subtle lovelorn lyrics. The title track is paranoia-laced, filled with droning guitars and slowly rising percussion. The live track, “Murder Me Racheal”, is a stunning frenzy of anger and ill-treated violins. It even has a minor form of experimentation, with the final track being nothing like what is commonly thought of as The National material, elegantly moving as it does at a zimmerframe pace, multiple strained vocal lines sluggishly crawling along parallel to loose guitar strumming, never seeming to go anywhere, but never really needing to. There is so much enjoyable material coming from this that would have been missed had The National decided that they were above EP releases.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I exactly proved the case for EPs as short as “Blood Bank”, but when I listen to “Cherry Tree” I know for sure that EPs are a very strong method for artists to not only getting extra music out to fans without spoiling albums, but also to test out new styles and to make points that could not be made on an album or as a lone B side.

(Obligatory Pitchfork-list update: Portishead’s Third came in at No. 71. I am agape).

(Obligatory My-list update: I have a list of my top 34 albums of the decade, alongside a list of 10 albums I need to listen/re-listen to. These 44 albums must be properly evaluated, cut down to 25, and reviews written of them all. Thus far I have managed to write four of said reviews. I may still be a while, but at least I should come out at the end with a list that I am proud of).


About Alex Pavitt
I work in the field of emotion. My tools are instinctual feelings and my laptop is the medium between my brain and the outside world. I deconstruct and rebuild. I imagine. I steal other people's lyrics because somtimes, my own words aren't enough. I spend all of my time somewhere inside my head. I worship Douglas Adams, and in the back of my mind I am always painfully aware that I will never be as good as him or, for that matter, anybody else.

3 Responses to I’m building a still to slow down the time

  1. DennisVega says:

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    • Alex Pavitt says:

      Thanks for that! It’s always nice to get a positive comment.

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