Since the 1950s, EPs have allowed artists to give us what they got in small doses — sometimes to shut us up(or get us talking) before the next LP comes out and sometimes to satiate the artist’s own need to introduce fresh material. This year saw a lot of interesting releases from musicians who had something different to say from what they normally do with their respective bands, among them My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Lucero’s Ben Nichols. Bands like Bon Iver and Blitzen Trapper—eager to keep their massive indie audiences stomping for more—did just that with their EPs, while Animal Collective used its EP to slough off some brilliant extra material. Here are 5 of the best EPs from ’09.

Animal Collective

Fall Be Kind

When Animal Collective’s Fall Be Kind EP was released this month, critics fell all over themselves handing out high marks. (Pitchfork gave its song “What Would I Want? Sky” a 10-star rating, only the second song to ever rate so high on its website.) The EP is a collection of “darker” leftovers from the band’s full-length Merriweather Post Pavilion, out in early 2009, but its layered, kaleidoscopic tracks are as fresh and inspiring as those on its predecessor. Animal Collective diehards were likely already familiar with the five tracks (“Graze,” “What Would I Want? Sky,” “Bleed,” “On A Highway” and “I Think I Can”), as all were getting regular play on the road for months before the disc was released.

 

 

Ben Nichols

The Last Pale Light in the West

Ben Nichols is the perpetually drunk, sandpaper-voiced frontman of the awesome Memphis alt-country band Lucero, and his solo debutThe Last Pale Light in the Westis like a shot of top-shelf whiskey; its release this past Januarygave us a sudden jolt of warmth. Inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, the gritty seven-track EP doesn’t soundat first like much of a departure from Nichols’ softer work with Lucero but its subject matter is considerably weightier. A keening accordion, piano and guitar give Nichols’ country ballads a lonesome, fireside sound.

 

 

Blitzen Trapper

Black River Killer

Taking its name from a track on 2008’s beloved Blitzen Trapper LP Furr, the Portland band’s Black River Killer EP interchanges its bleak title track with upbeat tracks like “Preacher’s Sister’s Boy” and mournful numbers like “Shoulder Full of You.” With seven folksy songs in total, this terrific EP almost has the meat of a full album but still wouldn’t be the best place for Blitzen Trapper newbies to start. Try Furr or Wild Mountain Nation if you’re a Blitzen virgin.

 

 

Bon Iver

Blood Bank

In 2007, with his debut disc For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver made thousands, if not millions, of music fans clasp their hands to their hearts to revel in its stunning songs. Even dudes who normally steer clear of the sentimental in favor of metal and hard rock seemed to like Bon Iver. Justin Vernon is the band’s backbone, and for his legion of new fans, he’s recreated the beauty of Emma with his Blood Bank EP. In the title track, he sings, “I’m in love with your honor / I’m in love with your cheeks.” And we swoon all over again.

 

 

Yim Yames

Tribute To

Sure, it comes across as a little pretentious that My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James has renamed himself Yim Yames for this solo EP, but there’s really nothing else pretentious about James — I mean, Yames. He released the EP this past August, but recorded it back in 2001, days after George Harrison’s passing. The six songs are Harrison originals that do well by Yames’ lonesome touch. With his Tribute To EP and his work with the Monsters of Folk supergroup, he bowed away this year from My Morning Jacket’s psychedelic freak-outs and electronic beats. Strummed acoustic guitars and Yames’ warm, haunted voice — all doused in reverb — recall My Morning Jacket’s gorgeous 2004 album Acoustic Citsuoca.