EXTENDED Plays v. Long(ish) Plays – Why AOTY Lists Should Include Both Formats

When I sat down to begin mapping out my Top Fifty Albums of 2015 list via a detailed excel ranking spreadsheet (nerd-alert, I know), two thoughts came to mind. The first should come as no surprise: 2015 was an absolutely spectacular year for music. Whereas I had no problem pairing down my list to twenty-five records last year, I effortlessly filled over seventy excel rows with names of some of the best albums I’ve heard in recent memory. Yet, a second thought formulated as I examined the releases both present and absent from my list: where exactly do EPs fit into the mix? In our Staff and Editor groups for the blog, some of us have discussed doing a smaller list for EPs along with our main Albums of the Year list. But 2015 hasn’t been a normal year for me in terms of albums; my standard view of the formats has been challenged by EPs which place emphasis on “extended” and LPs that share more in common with their sister format. As the “rules” for song lengths and track listings become even more of a figment of the past, it’s becomes clear to me that come 2016, LPs will not be the only format occupying my AOTY list.

I won’t attempt to speak for everyone, but my definitions for the formats have typically been as follows: an EP has roughly four tracks and runs for no more than twenty minutes, while LPs have at least to ten tracks and forty minutes of runtime. There are obviously many, many exceptions to this rule, which is precisely the point of this piece. I can guarantee that every single person that read my definition could think of a handful of albums that bend the rules. My favorite EP – Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada by Godspeed You! Black Emperor – contains only two tracks but lasts for just under a half-hour, whereas bands like Napalm Death have released albums of roughly the same length spanning over more than twenty tracks. Granted, post rock and grindcore are perhaps as far apart as genres can be; neither genre would be nearly as effective if they swapped approaches to making music and formats for structuring their releases. But this example – as well as other comparisons you’ve probably made yourself by now – shows that what constitutes a “proper” EP and LP fluctuates heavily depending on the band and their preferred style.

Some entries on my 2015 AOTY list provided the impetus for the above thoughts. The soundtrack for compiling my spreadsheet was Heresy by Soft Kill, an excellent, moody post punk record that reminds me why Joy Division initially made me fall in love with genre. As I typed out their info into my spreadsheet, I hesitated slightly; with just six tracks and a half-hour runtime, it felt like a release that straddled the line between an EP and an LP, though feeling slightly more like the latter. But then again, Shopping have probably made my favorite post punk album of the year with their bright, bouncy record Why Choose?, which isn’t much longer but holds twelve tracks. I ultimately chalked the length up to the band favoring the “punk” side of their genre tag and moved on.

But I encountered this dilemma with another entry on my list from a completely different genre. Several of my friends who were excited when Krallice suddenly uploaded Ygg Hurr to Bandcamp expressed disappointment at the runtime; thirty five minutes isn’t a lot of breathing room for a black metal album, especially considering that Krallice’s past projects have frequently surpassed an hour in length. Again, I found myself asking how far semantics stretch in terms of addressing these formats: should I allow my love of Ygg Hurr‘s sporadic and technical approach to black metal be hindered by track and minute quotas?

At this point the doubts began pouring in. What about Morning/Evening by Four Tet, with just two tracks that run for forty minutes, which is as long as some of his standard full-lengths? Does this Indian-influenced IDM constitute an EP, or does its forty minute total runtime qualify it as an LP? What about Cascade by William Basinski, composed of a single, haunting forty minute ambient piano loop? It’s not uncommon for ambient releases to be structured this way, but it still breaks the standard album mold, even for the genre. Or what about Black Captain, the supplemental EP from Tangled Thoughts of Leaving which was released as bonus record for Yield to Despair‘s dismal post metal? It has just as many tracks (five) as Yield and lasts for over forty minutes, truly making it more of an extra LP than EP.

Black Captain provided me with a slight explanation, as TToL clearly distinguished the release as a separate entity from Yield that doesn’t contain the same amount of emphasis that a standard LP does. In essence, an EP can be a tool for an artist to provide their fans with some additional ideas left over from their previous record while they prep for their next proper full-length. It’s for this reason that I focused on the impeccable IDM on Clark‘s self-titled 2014 full-length despite being introduced to him through his 2015 EP Flame Rave. While I enjoy both releases greatly, it seems logical to assume that fewer tracks and less time is indicative of a slightly, less noteworthy release. This has been my overall approach to EPs: they’re nice and can have come great songs, but ultimately they’re negligible in comparison to official full-length releases.

But is this an accurate assessment? I mean, what does “full-length” even mean nowadays? As I’ve mentioned above, calling some of the records on my AOTY list “full-lengths” seems like a bit of a stretch. Yet, I ultimately included all of these albums for one simple reason: they’re great, and I enjoy listening to them. After all, that’s truly the only imperative criteria for any AOTY list.

So why then wasn’t Flame Rave up for consideration in my mind? It’s not my only entry with four tracks (i.e. GY!BE’s ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress), nor is its twenty-five minute runtime all that much shorter than some of the LPs that made the cut (i.e. the records I’ve mentioned). Unfortunately, my emphasis on the “album” in AOTY has kept me from spinning Flame Rave as much as I would have otherwise, the same reason why I didn’t spend all that much time with EPs from FKA TwigsThundercatGirl BandGrimoire and Urfaust as I would have if they had been considered full albums.

While it may be too late this year, I plan on paying more attention to EPs in 2016 and considering them in the same tier as LPs when compiling my end-of-year list. After all, AOTY lists are ultimately meant to collect and recognize our favorite music from the year, and the formats they may have been delivered with shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Because at the end of the day, regardless of the artist’s intentions, it’s the listener who ultimately decides what meaning they construe from a release. If the numerical parameters for track listings and runtimes that I’ve mentioned in this article seem superfluous, it’s because they are. It shouldn’t matter that M3LL155X  and Flame Rave were meant as brief responses to FKA Twigs and Clark’s acclaimed 2014 full-lengths; they’re both excellent releases that have contributed to my immense enjoyment of what 2015 has had to offer musically.

-SM

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"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger - something better - pushing right back." - Albert Camus






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