OPINION: Dawn of the Planet of the EPs

Now that PressPLAY is expanding like the waistline of Galactus in front of the Milky Way, we’ve somehow started having semi-serious, music-related “discussions”. How worthy. One of these emerged as a heated conversation about the expected lines between the EP and the LP in today’s environment.

Should each step in an artist’s career be taken individually?  Or can EPs and LPs bleed into one another, producing a fluid overall career? We thought it’d be fun to settle this with a Hunger Games, but decided that we couldn’t be bothered cleaning up all that blood. Instead two of our layabouts, Adeel Amini and Ed Nightingale, present their arguments below…

“If some previous tracks proved popular, why shouldn’t they be reused?”

Ed: This whole EP/LP debate calls into question the very purpose of both record forms.  As a new artist especially, why start by releasing a short EP before a full-length LP?

Mostly, an EP is a chance for an artist to test the waters, to try something new, to gauge audience reaction.  It offers a small taster of what’s to come in the future, what we can expect from an LP.  There’ll probably be a lead single, followed by some more experimental tracks, perhaps even something acoustic or a cover.  There’s nothing to stop an EP from being a cohesive record in itself, but more often than not they offer fragments of a greater career.

An LP is the big one.  It’s a collection of an artist’s best work, a statement of intent, a culmination of songs that define an artist at a particular time.  A record that says “This is me as an artist, now, in completion”.  If some previous tracks proved popular, why shouldn’t they be reused?

Now I’m not saying that an LP should simply be a collection of EPs.  That, indeed, would be lazy.  Take Niki & The Dove’s Instinct from 2012: it’s a brilliant album, but the majority of the tracks had already been previously released on EPs meaning the full album provided little that was new.  Over-familiarity leads to disappointment.

But what if an artist’s EP(s) contain(s) a couple of career defining songs?  Why should these be omitted from the full LP?  Does that enhance credibility somehow?  It’s one criticism I have of the new FKA Twigs album: as exceptional as it is, tracks like Water Me and Papi Pacify – breakthrough tracks that brought her the attention she deserves – are curiously missing.

Besides, Michelangelo didn’t just jump into painting the Sistine Chapel; he drew a number of preliminary sketches beforehand to test out his ideas.  Why should music be any different?

“The traditional rules just don’t apply any more”

Adeel: The first problem here – like with most aspects of the industry these days – is this stubbornness to continue viewing releases in the most traditional sense. We’re in this new territory of individual tracks on iTunes, of charts counting online streams, and of people becoming overnight sensations based on one viral hit. The traditional rules just don’t apply any more.

Part of the argument, then, is to do with consumption. Music is so readily available online, and there are countless outlets that are waiting to lay claim on the Next Big Thing. When an artist – new or established – releases anything, it’s going to do its first lap on the blogs, a second one on YouTube after a video comes out, after which it might be granted a final one on the radio. It’s what the chart race is all about.

Which is why an EP isn’t necessarily that first taste any more (hell, an EP could tank, but one choice cover or a gobsmacking live performance might suddenly bring an artiste and their back catalogue to prominence). We’re not bound by the same label-enforced trajectories as we perhaps once were; by the time a proper album comes out, we’ve already heard a great deal of an artiste’s work already, and we’ve probably already moved on from it. It’s precisely that effect that made the MS MR album – lovely as it was – sound so underwhelming when it was finally released.

That kind of leads to the second problem: abandoning artistic merit. There’s a chance that people are so keen to get that recognition that they’re merely using EPs as a commercial factory-line for their music, as opposed to looking at them as an artistic canvas. We shouldn’t undermine what FKA Twigs and her release strategy has taught us: each record, regardless of length, is a fully formed body of work and a statement. Water Me and Papi Pacify have already been birthed – they were part of where Twigs was as an artiste when EP2 was released, her missive at the time – so it’s hard to see how and why they would add to LP1.

So to take that Michelangelo metaphor further: EPs no longer feel like sketches. They will inevitably be put under a microscope as standalone pieces, and therefore ought to be treated as such. Just as one wouldn’t expect wholesale elements of artwork transposed onto a new canvas, it’s not unfair to reject the idea of the same track(s) appearing on release after release.

There’s always a bright side, though. Regardless of what you make of EPs or LPs, we can all still be grateful for one thing: at least they’re not a fucking mixtape.

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OPINION: Dawn of the Planet of the EPs
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A discussion on the merits of EPs and LPs
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