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Let's talk about EPs [#1]

In the recent days they are becoming a more and more popular way to release music to catch up with the evolution of the musical audience. We are talking about EPs. Originally standing for extended play, these records are something in between a single, or standard play (SP), and a long play (LP), what we would call a regular album. These usually contain 4 to 6 tracks in total, supporting a main release, somehow extending the concept of the b-side.

EPs are now used in very different ways by debut acts and established artists. An EP is in fact often used as a quick way to release a taste of what a debut artist can do, without the commitment of a full album; in this case EPs tend not to be necessarily cohesive but they are a musical business card, or a simple test by the artist or the record company to check the audience reaction. And they are usually cheap. Established artists instead tend to use these as bonus releases to accompany a major release (usually an album) or for risky moves, such as an independent release.

Are we at popstonesheroes fond of EP? I personally wouldn't say they're my favourite, because I'd rather have a full album, but some EPs are spot-on in what they're meant to represent and offer to the public. We have chosen for today a bunch of EPs that we consider worth listening to.

1. Annie - The A&R EP

This EP has been released in 2013 and represent the first full collaboration between the Norwegian singer Annie, a favourite here at popstonesheroes, and the legendary producer Richard X (hence the A&R title).

The incredible sound of the productions of Richard X will bring you back to the early 2000s when pop used to be at its finest points. Annie's voice keeps all the tracks light and enjoyable even in the general blue vibe of the lyrics. We recommend the opening and closing tracks Back Together and Mixed Emotions. Satisfaction guaranteed.

2. Alex Gardner - The Alex Gardner EP

An example of a debut artist is The Alex Gardner EP (not much of a fantasy on that title, uh?). This guy was meant to debut and start his pop career back in 2010 with a collaboration with our beloved Xenomania production. The main single I'm Not Mad was immediately followed by this EP which has been released in physical only in selected countries (like in Italy but not in the U.K., why?). This record was initially meant to be only an album sampler but it was extended with additional two tracks and released to the market. Although it does contain very enjoyable pop tunes, sung with an interesting low tone, this release unfortunately turned out to be his only major release. He tried to revamp his pop career a few years later, but this still represents its most relevant outcome. Yesterday's News is a great catchy tune with a genius ending, and, together with I'm Not Mad, is a good example of a good uptempo pop song sung by a male artist. You See With Me is a taste of a ballad that could have been seen as a prequel to the later success of mainstream young male artists (Ed Sheeran etc.) Oh well, this remains a hidden gem that we're happy to bring back to life.

3. Kelly Clarkson - The Smoakstack Sessions EP

Kelly Clarkson was coming back on top in 2011 when she released the smashing album Stronger after the success of the two opening singles Mr. Know it All and he worldwide hit What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger). But not everyone had the chance to listen to the amazing bonus EP that was released together with the album through her official website. Now, this release is very difficult to find even in the streaming era, I had to put a Youtube playlist and I'm not ok with that, but bare with it. This EP mainly contains alternative versions of some songs included in the album, but with a more intimate vibe, a touch of country and raw vocals. I wouldn't call this unplugged or a demo release as that would be very reductive. The rendition of The War is Over and the solo version of The Sun WIll Rise are already worth this EP. The beautiful cover of the all time classic I Can't Make You Love Me shows how Kelly Clarkson is the queen of covers. But, dear readers, the real masterpiece here is a completely rework of a song contained instead on her previous record, the messy All I Eever Wanted, and which is brought to a complete new life. The song is If I Can't Have You that goes from a rocky, angry mood to a heart wrenching powerful ballad with a stripped down instrumental that explodes towards the end of the song. The vocals are much more controlled and clean compared to the original version. Kelly shows what she can do to a song when she has full control. Absolute tune.

(no iTunes link guys :( sorry...)

4. Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION: Side B (+)

In 2016 the Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen used the EP formula to release some extra tracks from her Emotion era: Side B is basically a collection of 8 tracks that didn't make the album.

I remember back then looking at this and thinking: hold on, did she just release some sort of Kylie tribute? Look at the track names: Higher, The One, Fever, Body Language. I was confused. But no, that happened to be just a very fortunate coincidence. These songs are the daily dose of cheese you need for your week, weekend, whatever. Personal favourites: two songs stood out for me, The One and Fever. The placement in the tracklist is interesting as well. Basically with The One she is talking about making a move on a friend without wanting things to actually go in a certain direction because it's too much pressure. Then in the following track Fever it's like she switches sides and sings about that moment when my breath was lost when you said friends, Well that could work but I'm still hot for you. A two sides of the medal, right there for you, people, pick your side!

Fun fact: her recent single, Cut to the Feeling ended up being included in a Japanese release of this exact EP, with a + added to the title, as opening track. Such a lame move... but yet, good for collectors!