The seven inch will always hold a special place in my heart. It is the perfect introduction to a band, an affordable way to acquire new music, and it’s a format that still manages to hold my attention span despite its rapid decrease thanks to modern life. This year’s crop for the most part either emerged from a darker area or pushed the artist into a darker path, though there are more than enough releases on here to contradict that thesis as well. My one rule was that every single must have been physically released in some fashion, so a few very worthy digital singles were unfortunately disqualified.
Pale Lights-EP: There are few things as wonderful a perfect pop single, and Pale Lights' EP was that in strides. Simple but oh so elegant airy pop from a handful of indie-pop veterans who haven’t lost their passion for the craft. Singles like this are almost a dime a dozen, but when done right as Pale Lights did, they just worm their way into the ear and heart and never leave.
King Tuff-"Wild Desire" 7": It is a testament to King Tuff that he could release a single as great as “Screaming Skull” and it could still come in second to another one of his singles. But the “Wild Desire” 7” is just that good. An exemplification of all of King Tuffs’ most addictive qualities (ungodly infectious jangly guitar lines, simple yet honest lyrics, and power-pop, garage, and pop-punk energy fused together), there was not one person (myself included) who was not singing along to this single after one listen.
WAR/VÅR-"At War for Youth" 7”: How many people were caught off guard when this synth project was announced, fronted by the two front men of Iceage and Sexdrome? How many people were caught off guard of how great it was? A single that was not only three tracks of very creative and intelligent lo-fi synth work, but introduced me to a whole genre of music that I wasn't really listening to beforehand. For that reason alone, it should be commended.
Heaven’s Gate-High Riser EP: Heaven’s Gate’s debut, just from the warped cover art alone gives you a solid hint of the distortion inside. Seven slices of decidedly modern shoegaze crammed onto one lathe, all but one song shorter than two minutes. High Riser twists and contorts, stops when you least expect it, screams and shouts out you over its sixteen minute duration. In other words, just utterly awesome indie rock.
Superchunk-"This Summer" 7”: Superchunk are a perfect single band in the sense that every time they decide to release a seven inch, it always winds up being a near indie rock classic (if it doesn't wind up being just a flat out indie rock classic). Case in point with the “This Summer” 7”; two tracks, one a upbeat yet melancholy infused yelper, the other a Bananarama cover of “Cruel Summer”. And not only do the two tracks complement each other perfectly, but I guarantee this single will be spinning every summer for years to come.
Total Control-"Scene from a Marriage" 7": I think Total Control is one of those bands that you just can’t tell how they will sound from one release to another, which may keep a listen on their toes, but is also rewarding as well. “Scene from a Marriage” is that mentality personified. The abstract but dark post punk A-side matched with its (almost literal) deconstruction on the B-side. Not only showcasing both sides of the band (jagged & intense post-punk rockers v. synth based experimentalists), but crafting an amazing single from the duality.
Marching Church-Throughout the Borders EP: Throughout the Borders is almost as ominous as its title and cover art suggest, which isn't a surprise when you hear Marching Church is the solo work of the front man of Iceage. I say “almost” though because what Elias Bender Rønnenfelt creates on Throughout the Borders is so much more than a reduced form of Iceage. Throughout the Borders uses sludge, black metal, post punk, and even folk to craft something that is often abyss like in its bleakness and despair, yet so much more three dimensional than just that and willing to admit to barf scrapes of hope when they are there.
Wax Idols-"Schaudenfreude/The Last Drop" 7”: While the wait continues on another Wax Idols album, at least great singles like their “Schaudenfreude/The Last Drop” 7”exist to tide us other. Front women Heather Fortune’s vocals and guitar work are like a gothic knife; both haunting and piercing at the same and never better showcased then right here. Two tracks of deeply retro sounding but decisively modern punk rock, the A-side filled with kinetic and angry energy and the B-side of boiling unhappiness.
Lower-Walk On Heads EP: I am willing to admit I was late to the party with Lower’s debut release EP, but I am more than happy that I arrived at all. Walk On Heads is a hell of a first release, four cuts of just excellent but utterly bleak post-hardcore. While Iceage comparisons are inevitable, Lower easily manage to avoid being a carbon copy and instead emerged as another dimension to the Danish punk scene.
Dive/DIIV-Geist 7”: I think the “Geist” 7” was when everyone decided to lump DIIV into the psychedelic genre. And I can see where people are coming from, especially with the (wonderfully) trippy guitar elements of the A-side, but it is a deeply limiting description. As DIIV proved themselves on this single, they are the best elements of psych, of dream pop, of reverb-soaked indie rock, combined together to make something that hits harder and makes brains more euphoric than their peers.
WL-“Impermanent/No Escape” 7”: I’m possibly a little bias toward WL’s debut because of how recently I reviewed, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the best shoegaze singles of the year. Encased in a stunning hand screened sleeve that somehow amplifies the single, the woozy “Impermanent” matched by the quiet-to-loud ruckus of “No Escape” coincide so succinctly it’s almost euphoric. I am grateful the grooves on my copy haven’t worn out yet from the hours I've spent spinning this single and being lost in the waves of perfect guitar distortion and ethereal vocals.
Animal Collective-Honeycomb/Gotham 7”: The “Honeycomb/Gotham” 7” that launched Animal Collective’s return this year was a lot of things (a 180 degree turn from the 90 degree turn they made with Merriweather Post Pavilion, a preview of the greater things to come), but above all else it was two utterly great Animal Collective songs. The spaztic, “return to form” of “Honeycomb” perfectly melded with druggy “Gotham” that had old school AC fans like me squealing with joy.
Yohuna-Revery EP-A slight cheat due to this being self-released in some fashion in 2011, but it wasn’t until this year that Art Fag properly gave us the wonder that is the four song Revery EP. Gorgeous does not even begin to do these tracks justice. Like Emily Reo fronting a more trippy Youth Lagoon, each track is like a flower that just blooms right before you; expanding & pulling you effortlessly deeper into Yohuna’s world.
Savages-Husbands 7”: In the best possible situation, a single can completely catch you off guard in the best way. You simply find it in the bin of a record store among the hundreds of others, decide to snatch it due to an electrical synapse in the brain telling you should, place it on your turn table at home, and suddenly your mind is being mildly blown away by the sounds coming out of the speakers. While chances are no one got that exact experience due to the buzz preceding Savages debut single, I’m sure the second, mind blowing half of the experience was left fully intact. Two cuts of deeply dark and powerful modern post-punk infused with an urgency extracted straight from Patti Smith’s Horses. The rush upon hearing the A-side “Husbands” for the first time I don’t think was replicated as powerfully this year as that experience. That is of course, until I heard the B-side “Flying to Berlin”. Just a flat out, perfect single.