Music » Album Reviews

Eight EPs to start the summer

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The up-and-down fate of the 45rpm single may have hit a new low, but the extended-play format is alive and well. Recent EPs that rate more than a casual listen include strong local efforts from Kevin Mitchell and Edith (formerly Edith Makes a Paper Chain), as well as worthy national releases ranging from Protomartyr to Grouper.

Kevin Mitchell’s The Gray Crown (Apollo) is a virtual full-length rumination on activists getting older (“Black Coffee” proclaims a 46th birthday, making the widespread jabs at J. Cole for being 33 look silly). Arrangements are more varied and precise than ever, with tracks like “Future Vibes” bursting with ideas.

Edith’s second EP and fourth recording overall, Hummingbird (Right Heel), relies on Sarah Hope’s bold use of voice modification, as well as a selection of oft-overlooked covers, including the Bee Gees’ “Holiday.”

Jeremy Van Hoy’s brass enhancements not only provide backbone for Edith, but also show up on the new EP from local bard John C. Spengler, Workin’ On It (Right Heel), whose half-dozen songs are both wistful and thought-provoking, particularly the hilarious “South Park Sheriff.”

Further afield, Paul Sprawl is a rural Texas flat-picking virtuoso and a regular Colorado visitor whose blues recalls the genre’s more traditional artists as well as a hint of Captain Beefheart oddity. Sprawl’s new EP Signs of Life (self-released) is a diverse collection that embraces a wide range of styles.

Two talented female experimentalists are also offering up short-form releases this summer.

Grouper may not be calling their Grid of Points (Kranky) an EP, but the 22 minutes of seven solo piano and voice tracks fit the time frame, and find founder Liz Harris moving in a direction similar to the White Chalk album by P.J. Harvey.

Meanwhile, Scandinavian experimentalist Jenny Hval calls The Long Sleep (Sacred Bones Records) a companion to her 2017 album Blood Bitch, but the soft psychedelia of the new EP seems utterly new for a singer usually known for her stridency.

Detroit’s Protomartyr went into the studio with Kelley Deal of The Breeders and a chamber quartet for the Consolation EP, and the Deal co-written “Wheel of Fortune” is the highlight here. The three remaining tracks are dark, brooding and slower than much of the band’s output.

Also in a slow mode is Mazzy Star’s latest return, the four-song Still (Rhymes of an Hour Records), offering a remix plus three tracks that have been in the band’s repertoire for a while. Hope Sandoval provides beautiful dream-pop, though no new moves.

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