Amid all the lists for the year’s best albums and songs we sometimes forget that some pleasant, effective and downright seismic work is released in smaller forms: 7″ splits, EPs, singles, and mixtapes. In fact, this year we saw one of the most exciting musical experiments this side of Radiohead’s “pay what you want” hullabaloo in 200?, when Kanye West announced he’d release a new single, via Twitter, every Friday until his latest opus hit store shelves. West’s G.O.O.D. Friday experiment was a monstrous success, in as much as it kept his name on the internet without significant embarrassment (though he may want to reconsider his Bieber remix). It also gave us at least half a dozen solid to amazing additions to the Yeezy catalog. But Mr. West wasn’t the only one to shirk conventional lengths and release formats this year. Below I’ve compiled 15 (or so) of my favorite releases too short for consideration on my top albums list but too great to be denied mention and acclaim.

1. Kanye West – G.O.O.D. Fridays (G.O.O.D. Music)
The conversation on non-conventional releases starts here. Anyone who pays attention to music at all was almost forced to pay attention to Kanye West’s stunt. And because this was not only successful from a publicity standpoint, but also, largely, from a musical one too, there’s just no way that this isn’t first on this list. And beyond all of that, Kanye’s GOOD Fridays series was probably the most successful mixtape in the history of mixtapes (save maybe DJ Dangermouse’s Grey Album): it had an amazingly high profile (even if you consider West’s ubiquity), it brought some young MC’s to a larger audience (Big Sean, Cyhi da Prynce), and had some serious, durable contributions to Yeezy’s cannon. It’s pretty stunning. In fact it rivals West’s proper release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

“Christian Dior Denim Flow” (ft. Pusha T, Lloyd Banks, Ryan Leslie, Kid Cudi & John Legend):


2. Wise Blood – ‘+’ (self-released) & Solo (‘4’ Claire) (Transparent Records)

Wise Blood emerged from Pittsburgh with ‘+’ which came cloaked in a haze of analog fuzz and basement funk not unlike the coal haze which used to coat his stomping grounds. While all y’all were busy fawning over How To Dress Well, you were missing out on the true lo-fi R&B revivalist. Wise Blood hedges a bit closer to TV on the Radio’s brand of slinky, shaky sexy from their Young Liars EP than HtDW’s more breathy, whispy come-hither croons, but he still brings the funk in a wonderfuly idiosyncratic way. And before he could be pigeon-holed as a perpetual opener for TVotR or HtDW, he released a snearing Velvet Underground-chanelling 7″ for Transparent records. It’s still full of glitchy samples (many are obvious and would cause serious troubles for major labels to clear), but the two cuts for Solo (‘4’ Claire) are darker with a street-smart swagger.

 

3. Bored Fortress 7″ Series (Not Not Fun)
For it’s 2010 installment of it’s 7″ series, Bored Fortress, Not Not Fun put together an impressive roster: High Wolf, The Savage Young Taterbug, Infinite Body, No Age, Ducktails, Rangers, Gnod, Robedoor, Psychic Reality, Sex Worker, Wet Hair, and Peaking Lights. Each act gets one side of a 7″ single and the worst cuts are still solid. Any way you slice this you’re still getting one of the best underground/DIY acts in the country. (Plus there’s the heavy emphasis on Iowa City talent with both Taterbug and Wet Hair contributing sides.)

Psychic Reality – “Foxey”

4. Caboladies – Kind Glaze (Peasant Magik)
Caboladies is a, thankfully, prolific ambient duo from Chicago. This lathe-cut split is another wonderful inclusion into their catalog. Placing this solid split this high may be a bit much, but I just discovered this band’s output from the last couple years and wanted to lavish a little extra praise on them. Seriously, check these dudes out.

“Kind Glaze”

5. Freddie Gibbs – Str8 Killa (Decon Records/Gibbs Family)
Freddie Gibbs is sort of a pastiche of anachronistic fads. He’s heavy on the thuggery of 90’s Gansta rap, his Midwestern drawl draws heavily from the syrupy slur of Southern MC’s, and Gibbs’ angry, young, black man seems nearly ancient in a field crowded by moguls (Jay-Z), Euro-trappers (Kanye West), viral versers (Soulja Boy), and whatever alien tip Lil’ Wayne’s on. That off-kilter nostalgia is certainly part of the appeal, but Gibbs, for me anyway, is more about what he represents. As one of many young rappers finally cut free from major label labyrinths which couldn’t figure out how to market him, there’s something “unpackagable” about Gibbs. There’s a promise that he’ll continue to grow and that some angst-ridden anthems will be launching pads not plateaus. And if you look to tracks like his ode to the downtrodden, “Rock Bottom” (bolstered by a banging verse from Bun B), cliches about the sky being the limit cease to sound like hyperbole.

“National Anthem (Fuck the World)”:

6. Alex Body – Just Say YesCulture of Closed Doors (both Self-released) & Little Hazey (Moist Tapes)
Alex Body didn’t sit on his solo career for very long after 12 Canons went on indefinite/perminent(?) hiatus. In January, Body pumped out a self-released CD-r, called Just Say Yes, full of canned Casio beats, rusty, analog synths and his elastic whine. Not only was it a grand departure from the macabre psych-folk of his previous project, it was pretty damn good. Since then Body’s released an uneven but pleasant cassette, Little Hazey, on the now defunct Des Moines label, Moist Tapes, and two cassettes in September; one a self-released number called Culture of Closed Doors and the other (which I’ll get to on another list), Chief of Time and Frequency on Night-People Records. Get on board now, before he leaves you behind.

7. Samuel Locke Ward & Boo Hoos/Mumford’s – Split 7″ (Self-released)
Comprised of three tracks (with titles almost as long as the songs) from power-poppers, Samuel Lock Ward & The Boo Hoos backed by a delightful psuedo-murder ballad from Mumford’s, this split 7″ is one of the best cultural artifacts to emerge from Iowa in 2010. The Boo Hoos use two thirds of their side to skewer the middle class (the time-clockery of “When it’s Gone” and the portrait of a man slipping into beer-bellied middle age “Tell it to the Man of Diminishing Clout”) before closing with the punchy blast about obsession called “Haunt You.” Flip this baby over, and you’re in for a treat. “The Way that I Live,” by Ames outfit Mumford’s, tells the story of an eccentric, life-long killer, how he’s evaded capture and how he selects victims among other juicy tid-bits.

8. Tim Hecker – Apondalifa (Room40)
At this point, Tim Hecker could just show up and warrant an honorable mention come year end list season. “Apondalifa” isn’t a whole lot–one track taking up two sides of a 7″, but all 8 minutes of it are fantastic. You can listen to the whole shebang below.

“Apondalifa”

9. Ryan Garbes – Ryan Garbes (NNA Tapes) & Real Sugar (Arbor)
As one half of Wet Hair, it’s easy to understand how Ryan Garbes’ Real Sugar 7″ could bare a strong resemblance to his band’s work, but the two songs he cut for Arbor Records may be the most akin to Wet Hair that I’ve heard. In fact the A-side finds Garbes channeling bandmate Shawn Reed’s caterwauling vocal style. Garbes’ self-titled cassette on nna Tapes, however, has only skeletal similarities to his band, offering up longer form phych-folk workouts. His cassette concentrates on creating expanses of winding synth lines and analog hiss, emphasizing space and repetition without asking for vocals or a hook to add structure.

“Real Sugar”

10. A Lull – Weapons for War (Self-released)
A Lull still has their first full-length release on the horizon (slated for an April ’11 release), but this 7″ provides plenty of good grooves to get started. This Chicago quintet comes at indie psych-rock through a see of swirling vocals and giant, tribal beats comes out sounding like the logical extension of Animal Collective post-Merriweather Post Pavilion.

“Weapons for War”

11. Olivia Rose Muzzy – The Fisherman’s Dream (self-released)
Olivia Rose Muzzy’s debut EP is, partially, a victim of the transition from live to the studio. Muzzy’s music, consisting entirely of a double bass and her voice, is a treat to watch live as she loops and constructs massive intertwined soundscapes for her elastic vocals. However, some of the tracks on her EP suffer from showing her hand, so to speak. Where it’s a treat to witness her act live, it’s not always as pleasurable to hear. However, some tracks, “O’ Wandering Love,” “Oceans/Field Dance,” and especially “Waltz for You” work immaculately. Both “Wandering Love” and “Waltz” are bolstered by a second musician, Ed Bornstein on drums, and that additional element really puts them over the top, feeling like the most vibrant and live pieces on the six-track EP.

“Waltz For You”

12. Rene Hell/Pete Swanson – Waiting For The Ladies (Self-released)
Rene Hell (a/k/a Jeff Witscher who has more monikers than a member of the Wu-Tang Clan) has been littering the underground/DIY/avant-garde with tapes and 7″s over the last two years with his sci-fi-infused analog trickery. Describing Witscher’s recent output as Hell is a challenge that I don’t relish, but praise and adverbs come easily for former Yellow Swan Pete Swanson. Swanson’s side from this platter is an epic helping of hisses and analog burbles. If you’ve enjoyed Yellow Swans in the past and you miss them now that they’ve parted ways, you couldn’t do much better than to follow the hiss, crackle and glow, the beautiful din Swanson creates.

Rene Hell – “Glass (Coke)”

13. Bitchin Bajas/Moon Duo – “Fresh Hair/Bopper’s Hat” Split (Permanent Records)
Both Moon Duo and Bitchin Bajas (an unfortunate moniker for a member of psych-rock purveyors Cave) put out some sweet stuff in 2010 which I was lucky to hear but have not had the luck of tracking down a digital or physical copy of since hearing. This however, I was fortunate enough to find both. This placement is as much for the swirling, overlapping, minimalist psychedelica of Bitchin’ Bajas’ “Fresh Hair” and Moon Duo’s jazzy shuffle on “Bopper’s Hat” as it is for each group’s output in 2010 and Moon Duo’s 2009 releases as well (both acts were new to me this year).

Bitchin’ Bajas – “Fresh Hair”

14. CyHi da Prynce – Royal Flush
One of Kanye West’s protege’s and a star of the G.O.O.D. Friday series. CyHi’s gruff rumble and syrupy southern drawl are almost all one of his mixtapes would require for inclusion on this list, but on top of that he has a slippery way with words. It’s not until the second or third listen, that some of his lyrical ingenuity finally sticks to your ribs. And despite the fact that mixtapes have become an almost cottage industry, there are still good and great beats to be had and CyHi’s cribbed some good one’s. Just get an earful of “Ring Bellz” below.

“Ring Bellz”

15. Wet Hair/Rene Hell – “Flowers of Light/55 RN gaz” Split (Bathetic Records)
This is just more goodness from the mind of Jeff Witscher packaged with a wonderful, sunny pscyh-out from Wet Hair. I’m looking forward to hearing their new split with Naked on the Vague…a little elf told me to expect it under the tree this holiday.

Wet Hair – “Flowers of Light”

16. Pure Ecstasy – Easy (Light Lodge), Voices (Acephale) & SLEEP ∞ OVER split (Light Lodge)
This Austin, Texas trio has found an absolutely beautiful space somewhere between the lo-fi punch of No Age and the reverb soaked elegies of early My Morning Jacket, borrowing some of the basement stank of the former and soaring vocals of the latter.

“Dream Over”

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