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AirPremiers Symptomes Astralwerks SukpatchTie Down That Shiny Wave Grand Royal LilysZero Population Growth Darla

The EP is the most underused format in music. Chief among the many evils brought about by the compact disc format is that albums have gotten too long. (Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and the Beatles' Revolver are each only 35 minutes long.) Since CDs can hold about 74 minutes of music, people feel the need to fill them. Problem is, there are few artists who can do anything worth hearing for even half the allotted time. On the other hand, EPs, generally 20 to 30 minutes in length, give musicians only enough time to sketch out five or six songs. Plus, EPs are cheaper for music buyers, so it makes it easier to take a chance on an unknown band. What we have here are three good ideas for EPs: a short retrospective, an unknown band on the way up and an established band exploring a new sound.

There was a time when a sentence with "funky" and "France" most likely also included the word "smell." Now with the success of Daft Punk, Dimitri from Paris and Air, France is the world capital of funky, discofied, retro lounge groove music. Premiers Symptomes is a collection of seven of Air's early instrumental singles (recorded at home between '95 and '97). The duo scored big with '98's Moon Safari, and though this seems like a way to cash in while the band crafts album number two, Symptomes works because the music doesn't seem calculated. Floating Rhodes piano and silky bass guitars are constants, and occasional Burt Baccharachian horn and string melodies add depth and color. Drums are rarely used or are very simple, and the whole record is vocal-free, letting the music drift in its own meandering way. This is a solid, quick dose of late-night, postclub make-out music.

Minneapolis's Sukpatch has a couple of impossible-to-find records, so an EP is a smart way to introduce itself now that it's on the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label. The pair sing like sunshine, what with humor and melody in their voices, but the songs are not something you may want to stomach over an entire album. The duo's sound is sample-heavy, keyboard and drum-machine pop with hints that the guys keep their Run-D.M.C. records alongside their Raspberries albums. The hip-hop beats and organ of "Burnt Buy" are elementary and catchy, but the closing track, "Skin Tight," really steps out. It has processed vocals, a slinky, soulful groove and an aching vocal line, staying tight and funky right to the end.

The chameleonlike Lilys is basically Kurt Heasley's doing whatever style with whomever he wants. On past records the band has replicated the sound of My Bloody Valentine, Small Faces and the Kinks, but on Zero Population Growth, Heasley and company tackle the electronic grooves of krautrock, circa 1975. As part of Darla records' monthly "Bliss Out Series," an ongoing project of ambient pop releases, Zero fits the bill. The rhythms aren't as driving as Kraftwerk's autobahn-inspired "motorik" beats, and the simple keyboard lines recall a modern retro-band like Trans Am, but it's all authentic. The result is 30 minutes of soundtrack-style futuristic beeping and gurgling straight out of Logan's Run. "The Law" has a short violin loop in it for classical touch, but overall this six-track record sounds like it could be 25 years old. Though Lilys and others have experimented with different styles, the EP is a logical format for bands looking to do something new and different without commitment.

 
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