Top 20 EPs of 2016: 10-1 (Jarvix’s Big 50)

For info on the Big 50, head over here.

album art for Pop Rocks & Cocaine by TRPQWN, released 2016

10. Pop Rocks & Cocaine by TRPQWN

It’s not easy to convey the rowdiness of a live punk show in a studio setting, but Trap Queen (stylized TRPQWN) comes awfully close. The tracks on its summer release, Pop Rocks & Cocaine, play hard, fast, fun and loud. For all of their raw energy, though, the recordings are markedly clear and have well-developed taste in distortion. Vocals and guitars blast through speakers and earphones, but the abrasion comes in different shades of intensity. Trap Queen is a band that can’t help but lace its music with a thoughtful ear even when it just wants to rock out and blow fuses.

Some songs aren’t as energetic as others, but this adds dimension to what would otherwise be a rapidfire five tracks. “Dump Em Out” is a good example, as it is a full-fledged rock song given the punk treatment. In the context of itself, it carries a different light than it does when held against the tracks around it. That isn’t to say that it’s slow or soft. It’s just more grounded.

The decidedly NSFW content of Pop Rocks & Cocaine is perfectly conveyed by its title. It contains a pointed sugar high for the ears and a, well, different kind of high for the brain, and both are readily lined out for consumption.

Recommended track: “Get Some Fuck”

9. Pollen by Special Thumbs

“Smothered”, the first track of Pollen, has sly way of drawing the listener into the unusual world of Special Thumbs. It begins with a predictable kick drum but adds mild electronic fizzle, then clean indie rock guitars. Low octaved vocals then come through as acoustic guitar rises to the brim and backing vocals start to hang in the background.

Past the one-minute mark, kitschy organ adds pep right before singing abruptly turns to tonal shouting. “Smothered” then jumps back and forth between its subtle and overt behaviors somewhat erratically, but in a way that is soundly composed. Cowbell makes an appearance at the end, for example, but it’s done in a way that is natural and almost unnoticeable.

The next three tracks have similar surprises behind their respective veils. Pollen‘s lyrics and music both have a slight, absurdist sense of humor, but it’s never over the top and is only sometimes tongue-in-cheek.

Atypical, wide-ranging choices organized under the guise of psychedelic pop/rock are what make the album, and the offbeat perspective is simply what drives it. While it’s more of an exploration than a manifesto for Special Thumbs, Pollen is an interesting, exciting project that reveals more with each listen.

Recommended track: “Smothered”

8. Apollo 18 by Lonemoon

The latest in Lonemoon’s burgeoning discography dropped mere weeks ago, shooting a three-pointer just under 2016’s buzzer with naught but net. Following a constant string of releases with titles like Crescents, New Moon, and Whereisluna, the spacey hip-hop artist released Apollo 18 in mid-December as a culmination of everything he’s done to this point.

Lonemoon mixes atmospheric instrumentals with beats that frequently reference trap rhythms but do not rely on them. This creates a signature sound that relates an artistic voice not lost in dreams but built on them. While he has produced a deal of his own work in the past, he taps into a slick roster of collaborators on most of Apollo 18, and the different perspectives work remarkably well together.

The verses hold up, too. His rhymes are frequently fun and occur in dense multiples along his varied approach to lyrical flow. He also scraps many of hip-hop’s more superficial tropes and rarely brags beyond the opener. The way he presents himself is confident enough, whether its the album art’s dead center eye contact or the knowingly rough take of “80” that trusts its lyrics to speak for themselves.

Recommended track: “rollin (feat. ivy hollivana & maffypop)”

7. Designer Genes by The Bourgeois

The Bourgeois once covered Lorde’s “Royals” while cramped in a graffiti-riddled bathroom, but the footage was well-lit and remarkably coherent. Similarly, the band’s sound oozes with grungy punk flavors amidst clear production and approachable rock arrangements.

On Designer Genes, The Bourgeois presents four new jams that feel whole unto themselves, yet leave the listener wanting more the way great EPs do. The in-your-face title track stamps out false idealism with crunchy guitar and a drum kit strut. Conversely, “Summer George” is more theatrical, creeping back and forth between thin and heavy takes on the same gloomy tone.

For an EP, it has breadth, but at the center of every song is the band’s signature vocalist. Even when his raw, waspy punk inflections turn breathy, they don’t lose their sleazy alternative appeal. The Bourgeois have had years of releases and shows to solidify its sound, and it shows on Designer Genes. It’s a great addition to a growing catalogue from one of the state’s most consistently engaging rock bands.

6. TGFKHACLR by Chris The God MC Cain

Heavy on clever verses and real world perspective, Chris The God MC Cain was a force to be reckoned with in 2016. In addition to dropping multiple EPs, an LP, and a diss track that saw much circulation in the OKC underground, he put out TGFKHACLR, which is more than happy to have a deep reference title that nobody can pronounce.

Most of the tracks on this release also have unconventional titles like “Slick like the ruler with jewels like Shaka Zulu” and “I cant tell where you’re from when i hear you rap/talk”. This is basically a middle finger to commercial rap, as his EP is unruly to promote not just for its prickly titles but also for its bold, uncensored thoughts on race relations and culture. He raps strictly for his people and the art, not the fame and fortune, as he indicates in the track “Bologna sandwiches in the holding cell” with the line “I don’t see the offering plates, I see the pastor.”

The lyricism is the foremost focus on TGFKHACLR, and there are razor sharp, mic drop worthy moments at every turn. Better yet, they all come with credentials. Cain readily spits militant fire that will be a turn off for some, but that he does so from a place of passion and honesty ensures the fireworks don’t ring empty.

Recommended track: “J Dilla i wish i could’ve done a song with you”

5. Hiraeth by Space4Lease

Space4Lease’s proper debut is an amalgamation of different moody genres, though perhaps its most suitable label is psychedelic blues. Of course, that doesn’t clue in the fact that the tracks are built on piano chords or that the band’s vocalist occasionally channels a hip-hop like lyrical flow.

From the outset of opener “Holding on to Hope”, Hiraeth broods in atmospheric minor keys and favors dark waltz-like meters. The chosen tempos are notable, too, as they frequently are just slow enough to embody a heavy, sluggish feeling while being on a parallel plane quick enough in double time to have upbeat internal rhythms. Perhaps this is unintentional, but it is nonetheless a distinguishing factor in Space4Lease’s signature combination of elements.

The band’s blend makes a remarkable transition by the final track of its EP, too, with the simple flip of a switch. “Dot” plays in major keys instead of minor ones, and suddenly, the burdensome fog of the prior tracks becomes an atmospheric field of clouds, finally finding the hope that it has been seeking throughout the album. If Space4Lease can pull off an arc like this within five tracks, one can only imagine what could happen with ten.

Recommended track: “Separation”

4. Recordings by Idabel

Like its album title, Idabel is understated and enigmatic. Working with a three-piece folk outfit, the group doesn’t strive to maximize its resources to puff up a full band sound, but rather soaks in its empty spaces. In a world where radio hits parade a cheapened idea of sonic sparsity, it’s always nice to be reminded just how uniquely rich a minimal arrangement can be.

Take the percussion on Recordings, which is unlike any other in town. Snares are rare, favoring shakers, hand drums, and hard-to-place wet metallic hits that ring of found objects. There are also no bass parts in earshot. Instead, the other two members pick out lines on guitar, slide guitar, violin, and/or banjo with little in the way of strumming. The band’s rustic vocalist, too, sticks to the treble side of his easy-going melodies as he rambles and wails through his ponderous internal thoughts.

All of this is in service of a chilly, dark blues folk sound that feels as isolated and foreboding as the unassuming woodsman on the album cover.

Recommended track: “sweet talker”

3. Relativity EP by The So Help Me's

Kicking the year off on a high note, Relativity EP heralded a bold new presence in the Oklahoma music scene. Since releasing it in January, The So Help Me’s have recruited an enthusiastic following by tirelessly playing shows in and out of the state while working toward a highly anticipated full-length record.

While that eventual album simmers, the EP remains the band’s calling card, and it does an excellent job. On the surface is an indie rock sound with captivating lead harmonies, but a peek under the hood reveals contemplative thoughts and inventive arrangements that beckon a whole new world at this band’s fingertips.

There isn’t much to say about Relativity EP that wasn’t already covered in this blog’s review at 2016’s outset except that, perhaps, it is even better than initially suggested. This is one of the most ambitious, hardworking, and promising groups in Oklahoma City today, so be sure to catch The So Help Me’s while it’s still easy to do so.

Recommended track: “Apollo”

2. People Can't Stop Chillin by Sports

Fresh off of its hit debut from last year, retro dreampop trio Sports dives right in for more on its follow-up. The new EP proves to be more than a mere revisit of the same territory, however. Where 2015’s Naked All the Time was full of tropical poolside breeze soaked in slow tempos and reverb, People Can’t Stop Chillin kicks it up a notch for the nightlife counterpart.

Sports breaks out the saxophone on cuts “Takin’ a Cruise” and “Someone You’d Rather Be Dating”, while “Gotta Know Better (I’m Crazy)” features a full-fledged synth solo, and “Manicure” slips in some spoken word. “Whatever You Want” even has some pitch shifting going on. To say that Chillin is more adventurous than Naked is an understatement. Nonetheless, Sports impressively retains its chilled out oceanside feel while pursuing night drives and neon-lit escapades.

This is aided by the way the album sets itself against key soundscapes. Between and often within the songs are either an ambience of tropical wildlife or a soft fervor of a loft party. “Drivin on by You” and “Takin’ a Cruise” even work in a track-to-track transition with mild automobile sounds that suggest a secluded overlook.

Despite its fondness for the retro, Sports shows a lot of interest in infusing it with modern elements, so it’s enticing to consider where the trending band may venture to next. In the meantime, People Can’t Stop Chillin offers plenty of replay value.

Recommended track: “Manicure”

1. Carolina EP by Taylor Rapp

Carolina EP‘s opening seconds of sad guitar strumming, while brief, are important. They echo run of the mill singer-songwriter acoustic recordings and momentarily trick the listener into thinking this could be one of them. Then a full arrangement of synths, drums, bass, and harmonies picks the opening number up and carries it to another level. The subsequent, tonally diverse tracks on the EP go on to sound more like the work of a band than a solo artist, and that’s where the little acoustic bug planted in the beginning does its magic.

Taylor Rapp sometimes writes more like a band member than a singer-songwriter, but his songs are no less rooted in the same sentiment. For listeners unaccustomed to his hybrid approach, he uses presentation to inform of his songs’ inner workings. The often catchy and warm-hued folk rock of Carolina EP might otherwise mask them.

A number of local artists like Space4Lease and Foxburrows all tackled existential dread this year, but Rapp captures it in a pitch-perfect light–warm, familiar, and fractured. On “Messages”, he spins golden melodies that wind through a looming fog, while on “Existential Crisis”, he uses quick-paced rock ‘n’ roll to convey the bustling side of angst. With each track, he doesn’t sulk in darkness. He uses music to carry through it. Carolina EP embodies the limp feeling of functioning one way and feeling another. Rapp finds direction, though, in a quest for direction, and it’s that sort of ironic momentum that keeps the lifeblood flowing through the EP and, in its greater context, the very will to go on.

Recommended track: “Carolina”

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