LWE’s Top 5 EPs of 2012

2012 was a year that saw techno and house splinter off into numerous directions — or was it that a diverse set of scenes started pointing towards dance music? It seemed this year many artists were keen to make a statement, and while albums can tend to drown in formalities, the EP is a favorite means for artists to expand and dive deeper into their sound outside the confines of dance floor-oriented 12″s and the promotional headaches that often accompany an album. More than any other year since I started doing this column, 2012 presented a rich cornucopia of strong, focused EPs that saw artists seek to both realign themselves toward dance music as well as bring their audiences further down their respective sonic rabbit holes. This is by no means a comprehensive list, as records from Pépé Bradock, John Roberts, Vatican Shadow, and MM/KM all narrowly missed the cut, but the five records that follow are masterful exercises in perfectly formed slabs of vinyl. Some introduced us to new artists, some amplified the eccentricities of others, but all breathed some fresh air into a scene edging to the peripheries of dance music.

{Note: I am continuing to use my own personal, perhaps arbitrary definition of an EP: the record must be released on a single piece of 12″ vinyl, must be the work of a single artist, must contain three or more tracks, and must contain no remixes.}

05. Xian Orphic, Xian Orphic
[Pre Cert Home Entertainment] (buy)

Andy Votel, the digger extraordinaire behind Finders Keepers, has put that digging to good use over the years through productions under his own name, Applehead, and Anworth Kirk — assembling the funk, psych-rock, and library records he’s encountered into free-form trips through obscure samples. His hip-hop production style makes perfect sense when digesting Iranian funk records, but what about classic synth records? Synth music can tend to be quite precious about the expensive modular rigs used to create it, so Votel’s Xian Orphic project, which sees him bring those same hip-hop sampling methods to his collection of Suzanne Ciani and Bernard Parmegiani LPs is a wry stroke of genius, completely removing the synth itself (along with the bloated “synth maestro” concept) from the equation. That it’s more emotive, propulsive, and engaging than much contemporary synth music makes Xian Orphic all the more triumphant.

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04. Lee Gamble, Diversions 1994-1996
[PAN] (buy)

For a new artist, you can’t really argue about debuting with a record like Diversions 1994-1996, the much-loved crown jewel of PAN’s 2012 that evoked praise from all corners, as well as a couple comparisons to Burial. Like Votel did for synth music, Gamble changed what a genre could be, taking old jungle cassettes and forming those shredded samples into blurry drones and heady bass-bin rubs. But what makes Diversions so great is that he keeps the context intact, creating a sort of bizarro jungle rather than turning his samples into something else entirely. The bass weight of jungle is here in nearly oppressive doses, while the pads that might be found in many a Photek cut are spread out into hazy clouds that Gamble can’t seem to quite remember the details of. The MC comes in with amen break in tow near the end to remind you that you’ve been ostensibly listening to jungle this whole time, not to mention one of the year’s best records.

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03. Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui, Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui EP [Crème Organization] (buy)

With analog synth and drum machine fetishism reaching record proportions, I’m sure we can all rattle off our favorite Roland X0X machine or Doepfer synth module, but I can pretty much guarantee you the Casio MT-520 is not on that list. It’s kind of a piece of junk — the drums sound horribly flimsy and as a keyboard you’re mostly working with Casio presets. Leave it to Legowelt and Xosar, then, to make one of the year’s best house records consisting of little else but that machine. From the weirdo faux-preacher yapping on “Fortunes of the Lord” to the peak-time jacking of “The Feeling The Force,” this is everything I look for in a great house EP: cohesive and original (largely thanks to that Casio), but covering myriad moods with gusto. As Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui, these two artists, one an elder statesman with plenty of aliases himself and the other an exciting new face in house, invent both some new names for themselves and a tongue-in-cheek new genre (“surfer house”). Essential.

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02. Svengalisghost, Mind Control
[L.I.E.S.] (buy)

It’s hard to pick a favorite from a label that seemingly could not put out a bad record this year, but as an EP, Svengalisghost’s Mind Control established early on that 2012 was L.I.E.S.’ for the taking. The debut release from the Chicago-based artist once known as Below Underground, Mind Control burrowed deep, deep into dance music’s collective psyche with the slow burning, hypnotic, and appropriately titled “Deep Into Memory.” Meanwhile, “Mars Out Of Range” slips and slides its way through a thick stew of synths and handclaps, and the acidic roller “Marathon” frightened with tweaking resonance knobs and spectral pads. Recorded in the mid 2000s, and released after its author had stopped working on music, Mind Control took the familiar Chicago tropes of house and acid (before they were so in vogue) and refined them into a sound all Svengalisghost’s own. A definitive record of 2012: a year where some took classic house sounds down a path that diverged from history.

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01. 2562, Air Jordan
[When In Doubt] (buy)

What does it take to make the year’s best EP? Being an artist at the height of your game doesn’t hurt, which is exactly where Dave Huismans has been on the few records he’s put out in 2012. While A Made Up Sound continues to mine 4/4 music with aplomb, his 2562 alias has become more sample focused. Last year’s Fever folded his disco collection into the dubstep-not-dubstep that 2562 has traditionally been reserved for, but this year’s sole 2562 missive, Air Jordan, although still sample based, breaks with just about everything he’s ever done. The samples in question are recordings he made while in Jordan, and the music it issues stands out from just about everything else this year, exploring terrain both geographic and musical. Funked-up, stepping dance tracks from the sandy caravan? “Desert Lament” has got it, while if you’re in the mood for eerie atmospherics from the cold, dark depths of the desert “Solitary Sheepbell” will be your jam. But the B-side is where Air Jordan truly makes its case for record of the year and totally delivers. “Jerash Hekwerken” works his samples from the old city into a mental, addictive groove, while “Nocturnal Drumming” heads back into the desert. Sampling hypnotic Bedouin drumming, it whips up a dancer’s frenzy over its eight minutes at tempos slower than Huismans has ever used before. Air Jordan starts with a lofty goal and doesn’t drop the ball once, folding 2012’s major themes (Demdike Stare-esque sampled sorcery, Middle Eastern patterns, and free-form rhythmic posturing) into a cohesive whole that never once sounds like anyone other than 2562. Huismans has long hinted that he had a record this groundbreaking in him, and it’s only fitting that with capitalizing on that potential he’s created something unlike anything else this year.

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Cope  on December 10, 2012 at 2:40 AM

No Head High – Rave? mmm…

deltafiore  on December 10, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Air Jordan’s definitely up there for me, but Pepe Bradock’s Imbroglios Pt I definitely takes the cake for me – Katoucha and 12turn13 are masterpieces

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 10, 2012 at 10:19 AM

@Cope

“Rave” wasn’t an EP.

fukfoff  on December 10, 2012 at 12:39 PM

ultimate hipster top 5.

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 10, 2012 at 12:42 PM

Yeah, this list is really a “who’s who” of hyped names in the hipster set.

…Oh wait, no it’s not.

Andrew  on December 10, 2012 at 1:59 PM

Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui was one of my favorites, too. It was awesome getting to see Legowelt perform it live in a little sweaty room in SF earlier this year.

Si  on December 10, 2012 at 3:30 PM

Air Jordan is a beauty

Out of interest, what is the definition of an EP vs a single or album?

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 10, 2012 at 3:39 PM

@Si

Chris gives his definition after the intro above.

Sartre  on December 10, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Svenghalisghost EP is amazing. The live show is a whole other level! One of the most exciting heads around right now for sure.

Flash  on December 10, 2012 at 5:09 PM

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Welcome in 2012:)

Comrad  on December 10, 2012 at 8:46 PM

Lee Gambles Diversions 1994-1996 completely blew me away, a few of these passed my by. Will have to check em out.

sotek  on December 11, 2012 at 3:51 AM

Yeah, Air Jordan sure blew my mind properly when it came out. Def not #1 for me, but still a fantastic EP by all means….

Pedro  on December 11, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Nice one!
here is mine:
Max Cooper – Egomodal
Sam Barker & Andreas Baumecker – A Murder Of Crows
Frak – Traffid Gossip
Guy Gerber – The Mirror Game
Secluded – Blinded

Joseph Hallam  on December 11, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui is totally essential! I will be hunting that one down.

verukka v  on December 12, 2012 at 2:07 AM

I like where you’re going with this; it’s motivating me to create my own end-of-year lists. Glad to see Xosar, Legowelt, LIES, Fräk, Madteo, and an honorable mention of KM (hell yes) in your charts. Long live the music! Peace, from Metro Detroit.

sma  on December 12, 2012 at 9:44 AM

great selection. didn’t know any of the eps, but really enjoyed all the sample tracks presented here.

Mario  on December 20, 2012 at 5:01 AM

Well deserved number 1, and a great list in general.

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