2019 In Review: The Art of the EP

The EP is often overlooked when it comes annual round-ups, but this format continually provides us with memorable outsize moments and the year in music would not be the same without them as these 16 releases demonstrate.

Aaron Martin – Test Subjects (Original Score)


Another lovely and moving soundtrack by American composer & multi-instrumentalist Aaron Martin, this time for Alex Lockwood‘s ‘Test Subjects‘ is a short documentary that tells the story of three aspiring research scientists coming to terms with the ethical dilemmas and wrenching emotional burdens associated with animal testing in the ostensible interests of bettering human health. As with so much of what he creates, the potency of Martin’s music lies in his unique braiding of rustic sounds rooted in timeless authenticity with poignant melodies.

Released on digital only

Ben Lukas Boysen & Martyn Heyne – THESIS 16


For anyone who follows experimental ambient, electroacoustic, and modern classical music, the list of artists represented across the breadth of Gregory Euclide’s THESIS project is not only jaw-dropping, but many of the collaborations turn out to be quite unexpected yet inevitably sound as if they were always meant to be. An outstanding example is this fabulous entry in the series Ben Lukas Boysen and Martyn Heyne, a rich and often beautiful interplay of synths, organ, and guitar. And each sleeve & jacket is made by hand using a letter-press, home made walnut ink, heavy acid free paper, a laser cutter and real milkweed flowers from the THESIS prairie (just a few still left at this writing!).

Released on 10″ black vinyl with handmade packaging

Danny Paul Grody – Sunrise, Looking East [Longform Editions]


Launched last year as a “collective for deep listening” and “a space for extended, immersive music pieces from around the world”, Longform Editions released another slew of diverse sonic explorations in 2019 including this shimmering guitar-based meditation by San Francisco based musician Danny Paul Grody. The piece is his attempt at capturing the experience of waking up early enough to appreciate the transition from night to day, something he began to do when his orientation of time shifted on becoming a father.

“The nursery room happens to face east where the sun rises here in California. Getting the chance to share this moment with the little one has become one of my favorite rituals of the day… The arc of the piece approximates the time it takes for the sun to move from a soft glow to being fully visible above the horizon”– Danny Paul Grody

Released on digital only

epic45 – Sun Memory [Wayside & Woodland Recordings]


A lovely follow up to last year’s Through Broken Summer, epic45 mesmerize again with their pastoral infusion of shoegaze, electronica, and melodic post rock steeped in the quirky, melancholic charm of the English countryside  –  ” a paean to youthful summers spent in deep countryside or on the Welsh coast, early tape recording experiments on quiet afternoons, memories of Grandparents’ houses and daydreaming on long car journeys.”

Released on CD & digital.

Jim Perkins – Pools [bigo & twigetti]


A classically-trained musician, composer for film, frequent collaborator, and founder/curator of Bigo & Twigetti, when Jim Perkins goes into the studio to record his own projects, it is safe to assume he has found a fresh and novel concept to explore. In particular, Pools relies on binaural recording techniques and careful layering and spatial positioning of the instruments to create an immersive listening experience best experienced with a pair of headphones and attentive ears.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Low Chord – LC01 [Other Songs]


Low Chord is a new experimental ambient project from Ontario-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Orr and musician Gareth Inkster. LC01, which debuts on Orr’s own Other Songs label is a finespun medley of “non-linear compositions” formulated with analog synths, lo-fi field recordings, and beautiful nylon string guitar by Orr intertwined with Inkster’s sparkling improvisations on piano.

Released on limited edition cassette & digital

Lucy Claire – Untitled 28 [1631 Recordings]


Yet another intriguing collaboration from sound artist and composer Lucy Claire, this time exploring the theme of pairs with sculptor and installation artist Marie-Louise Jones. The EP features six sound pieces each composed in response to the sculptures for an exhibit at Here East in London. The materials used in the physical installation – wood, stone & metal – feature prominently in the sounds Lucy created for her atmospheric binaural recordings along with violin melodies performed by Iona Forna and vocal textures.

Released on digital only

M Shutak – The Widows House [Wow & Flutter]


“An old creaking house in springtime with the windows left open…”

M Shutak is the musical alias chosen by old friends and collaborators Gregory O’Brien and Gary Morrison, a project that finds them creating warm instrumental songs from piano, electronics, and fiddle while incorporating found sounds and other objects like toys or transistor radios. Their homey collection of vignettes called The Widows House debuts on Wow & Flutter, a label launched by O’Brien himself to serve as a home for artists interested in creating electronic, ambient, atmospheric music both in Ireland and abroad.

Released on limited edition cassette & digital

Nils Frahm – Encores 2 [Erased Tapes]


Recorded through an amplified stone well he found on Mallorca, this is the second in a series of three EPs by Nils Frahm each of which focuses on a different pallet of sounds & textures from the same pool of sketches & ideas that yielded last year’s monumental full-length All Melody. Book-ended by the first volume which focuses on an acoustic pallet of solo piano and harmonium and a third which explores electronics and percussive elements, it is the warm ambient piano sketches and beautiful sidereal synths of Encores 2 I found myself continually coming back to.

“The idea behind Encores is one we had from before All Melody; to separate releases each with their own distinct musical style and theme, perhaps even as a triple album. But All Melody became larger than itself and took over any initial concepts. I think the idea of Encores is like musical islands that compliment All Melody” – Nils Frahm

Released on 12″ vinyl & digital

Pan American – Nightbirds [Longform Editions]


This captivating selection from the Longform Editons series was created by guitar player, songwriter & producer Mark Nelson aka Pan American. Nightbirds is an evocative meditation for lapsteel guitar that combines looped sections with melodies played in response to the loops eventually becoming subsumed in a rising tide of distortion.

“I think the mysteries around how we listen to music and how it affects us emotionally are much more compelling than details of its creation… How sound and music hit the human heart is such a wondrous enigma – that opening-up that we can feel through music and sound is the whole point of all the work I do. Listening is composition.” – Mark Nelson

Released on digital only

Shida Shahabi – Shifts [130701/Sing a song fighter]


Following up her quietly stunning 2018 debut Homes, Swedish-Iranian pianist/composer Shida Shahabi returns to Fat Cat Records’ 130701 imprint with this wonderful EP in collaboration with contributions by cellist Linnea Olsson. It really is a wonderful partnership the two musicians have struck here. While it may be technically considered an EP, there is nothing at all diminutive about the deeply rewarding experience ‘Shifts‘ will bring to its listeners.

Released on 12″ vinyl & digital.

Shinja Wakasa – Tranquilo Trasciendo [Rottenman Editions]


Boutique label and art studio Rottenman Editions welcomes Japanese artist, composer, & sound designer Shinji Wakasa with this delicate and introspective affair. Described as a “direct dialogue through his compositions between the human being and his environment”, the album consists of four electroacoustic ambient vignettes gently bustling with pastoral atmospheric elements and filigreed textures. Note the CD and digital downloads include two additional bonus tracks.

Released on 12″ vinyl, CD, & digital which can be ordered with an art poster print

Sjors Mans – Noord [Piano and Coffee Records]


Dutch musician & filmmaker Sjors Mans has quietly released some really lovely recordings over the past 2 years. The liner notes explain to the Mans, his Noord EP represents easiness and freedom, a process of musical rediscovery and a sense of going back home and there is not a moment spent in the confines of its dulcet piano lines or the incandescent warmth of its glowing electronics that contradicts that sentiment. This record is just the ticket at the end of a long and trying day.

Released on vinyl effect CD & digital.

Sontag Shogun – Floréal [Beacon Sound]


While many of us are still savoring the kaleidoscopic panorama of It Billows Up released by Brooklyn-based trio Sontag Shogun this past spring, the band delivered a pleasant surprise along with the turning of leaves in the form of Floréal. The EP introspective “mini-suite” in a distinctly autumnal mood that once again finds Ian Temple, Jesse Perlstein, & Jeremy Young in compelling form with their alchemical fusion of foley & tape treatments, organically derived textures, painterly solo piano compositions, and ethereal vocals.

Released on limited edition cassette & digital.

Tambour – Constellations (ou comment arrêter le temps) [Moderna Records]


Meant as both a reflection of the passage of time as well as a window into the artist’s own recent past, Montreal-based composer Simon P. Castonguay’s third album as Tambour features performances by the Mommies on the run string quartet (Mélanie Bélair, Mélanie Vaugeois, Ligia Paquin, Annie Gadbois) and Pietro Amato (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre), who also engineered the record, on french horn. As the symbolism of the constellations suggests, while each of the five pieces has it own pattern and story, together they make up the whole of the night sky which unfolds with an even grander beauty.

Released on digital with 6″ hand-numbered art poster prints

Valeska Rautenberg – Veins (Songs for Piano, Wind & Water)


Part of a series of releases that began in 2017after taking some time off to tend to her personal life, musician Valeska Rautenberg offers four beautiful piano-based vignettes inspired by early morning walks on the streets of Berlin and being attuned to sounds that can easily be drowned out when the city is bustling. Rautenberg’s delicate minimalist approach and keen ear for tone & melody enables to her to recreate the enchantment of those solitary moments.

Released on digital only