I go out of my way to review local music as often as I can because I feel it’s very important to get the progression of the Houston sound in releases down on the record. For all that people love to say not to listen to critics, regular reviews of work help chart how our city’s music evolves.
That said, I get very excited when artists send me EPs, and a lot less so with LPs. I’ve released both myself with The Black Math Experiment and The Ghost of Cliff Burton so I’m not lacking on perspective when it comes to how each is made and released. As a critic, I prefer EPs because they seem tighter and more cohesive. Not only is there less chafe and filler, four to six songs tend to unite into definite themes. They’re like short stories, and they often perfectly match the eternal half-hour drive to everywhere in Houston.
For most artists, though. The question about how to release music comes down to frequency and cost. Kathryn Hallberg is working on her third in a string of excellent EPs. The shorter format has allowed her to work around a busy schedule. Plus, it keeps her in newsfeeds if she releases fewer songs more often.
“When there’s so much new music constantly showing up in your feeds, it’s a battle against algorithms to stay relevant,” says Hallberg. “I think EPs allow people to cash in on the hype of a release more frequently. If you’re pushing out a single or a short EP every month for three months that’s harnessing the buzz of three new releases as opposed to the one big album release. I don’t think the LP is dead, but as an indie artist with a shoestring budget, EPs seem like a little more bang for my buck right now.”
Newer bands can use that hype schedule to get their name out there. Gen Why capitalized off a big news year picking fights with Nazis in punk clubs to put out Rotten Few, a quick and nasty collection of excellent tunes. They plan to go longer later, but it was product at a time when their name was a hot search term.
“We wanted to just put out music as fast as we could, being a new band,” says singer James McDowell II. “Nothing wrong with LPs, in fact that’s what we're going to focus on for our next couple releases besides an upcoming split.”
Still, even in this day and age of self-releasing it costs money to put out music. EPs aren’t necessarily cheaper than LPs, and they can be limiting in other ways. Michelle Miears has had some of Houston’s best EPs, both with BLSHS and on her own, but she’d ready to go long on her upcoming solo record. And it is an actual record.
“I wanted to press vinyl, no matter what,” says Miears. “My grandpa had his music on vinyl and I wanted mine to be as well. I recently bought a record player and now I’m super into collecting and listening in that format. I was holding Moses Sumney’s Aromanticism LP in my hands and something clicked. I thought, ‘this is a truly incredible piece of art. Physically and sonically.’ I’m holding it in my hands in this beautiful package that showcases all of the hard work put into the final product. I want to do this and do it big. My thing is, if I’m going to spend the money to press vinyl, and this is something I want to look back on and show my future grandkids (if that’s in my cards), then I wanted it to be a full length.”
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Miears has always adhered to regular schedule of shirt releases and hated the idea of a longer work delaying her proven cycle, but she found as she wrote and recorded that an LP was feasible within storyline of songs that she had crafted. For all that EPs can be concise, sometime there does need to be more room.
One of the people who believes that fully is Paul Fredric of Asmodeus X. They dropped a surprise LP this year after a long silence. Though each Asmo record could feasibly be imagined as an EP because of what I would consider to be a small amount of true songs, the noise tracks and background radiation are as much a part of their sound as the singles and dance club numbers. Maintaining that is one of the reasons that the band continues with LPs.
“Nine to 12 songs are good since and enough transitions to represent something like a phase in your life,” says Fredric. “And show that you learned something from it and you’re trying to get better. An EP is only enough to show a small effort, a day in the life of.”
Both formats continue to be viable, but there’s always going to be a debate over which is better for any particular artists at any given time. Luckily, we’ll be here telling you who is doing what and how well!