I have a soft spot for EPs. Artists who find themselves between albums — and the touring and publicity machine that comes with album releases — can keep their creative juices flowing with these musical quickies, and fans don’t have to wait years for new material. Favorite artists of mine such as Ben Folds and Belle and Sebastian have put out some of their best work on EPs.
The Web has made EPs something of an anachronism. It’s easier now to upload a new track to your website — paid or free — and offer up new music in breadcrumb fashion. That’s how Lil Wayne became the hottest rapper in the world before he ever released a proper album. But I remain a CD guy, and I prefer a physical EP to a group of downloaded songs that I can’t hold in my hand.
Keane’s latest release, Night Train, is a great example of an EP done well. Its eight songs (including a short instrumental) were recorded in seven international cities during the tour for their 2008 album Perfect Symmetry and mostly carry over the vibe of that album. But it contains enough new flavors to hook me in and pique my curiosity about what they’ll come up with next.
The newest twist for the British trio is the introduction of Somali rapper K’Naan and Japanese MC Tigarah as guest vocalists on three tracks. K’Naan’s rapping is a particularly unexpected touch from a band whose brand of mope-rock was endlessly compared to Coldplay after their first two albums. Those comparisons ceased when Perfect Symmetry‘s 80s new wave flourishes hit the airwaves and Night Train severs those ties completely.
Most of the tracks on this EP are enjoyable but I can see why they weren’t saved for the next full-length album — only one song here stacks up against the band’s best work. ‘Looking Back’ comes close, with its bizarre opening horn part mirroring the Rocky theme, but the real standout is the single, ‘Stop For a Minute.’ It’s a buoyant electro-pop ditty with an undeniably catchy chorus and a rap break by K’Naan that somehow perfectly complements the “whoa-oh-oh” backup vocals.
That song will find its way into my rotation quite a bit this year, even if Night Train doesn’t get the spins of its full-length Keane siblings. Still, I’m happy to have the boys check in between albums.