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The Rise of the EP and the Death of Filler

Why short-form recordings are a healthy trend

 

I spend a lot of time scouring Bandcamp for the best stuff that nobody's heard of. It's not to fulfill some need in me for hipster cred or to get a leg up on people who've only heard of the latest Pitchfork circuit. (I like a lot of what Pitchfork likes, too.) It's more because it's exciting for me to discover the wide range of what's out there, to hear what risks people are taking, to see what they're launching into the world without expectation or pretense. Bandcamp's an open platform and most of these artists are unsigned bedroom musicians carving up raw recordings and spilling them out into the world just to see what happens. I've unearthed a lot of weird stuff I never would have heard otherwise, and a lot of it is great precisely because it doesn't pander to any label or major media outlet. 

All my ongoing musical research has led me to notice one trend in particular: that the EP is emerging as the primary vessel for recorded music. Not that the album is dead or dying by any means; I still see plenty of great LPs all over the place. But more often, I'll see bands with whole discographies of short-form records. Bands will debut with six- or seven-song releases. Some will even gain significant traction off a format that was initially used to tease the interest of labels, who would then fund the recording of a debut LP.

But the thing about all these half-albums floating around in the world is that they're packed completely solid. They're muscular little things. They don't waste a second of their recorded time. If you're going to put out a record that's only six songs long, you'd better make sure every single song works as a powerful part to an overall engine. And most bands do precisely that. I rarely hear filler anymore. I can't remember the last time I skipped a song on a favorite EP because it felt lackluster compared to the rest.

Look at what Burial's been doing with himself lately. Following the success of the Untrue LP, he's gone on to release EP after EP, forsaking the full-length for the 25-minute stretch. And you can't skip a single second of his most recent work. Lose a minute of Kindred and you might as well not listen to it at all. It's divided into three tracks, but only for formality's sake. It's a movement designed to be swallowed whole. The concept of filler does not exist in Burial's universe.

And really, why would it exist in anyone's anymore? There's little need for labels, for length requirements, for record sales at all. There's no need to pad an album. If you've only got five strong songs, release them as an EP. If they're good, they'll be good without superfluous noise around them.