Pity the EP. Overshadowed by the LP, this diminutive format has become the musical equivalent of a novella — an art form defined by what it lacks. The EP's rep isn't helped by the fact that labels and bands routinely use it to dispense filler, bulking up a wisp of new material with outtakes and alternate versions. While this concoction might make for sound economics, the end result appeals mainly to die-hard fans.
Enter Seattle up-and-comers Death Cab for Cutie, a quartet known for coupling the slinky guitar of Built to Spill with the personal-is-painful lyrics of Elliott Smith. Faced with an impending tour and no fresh product to sell, the members of Death Cab threw together the five-song EP Forbidden Love — a mix of new songs and reworked older material. It seemed like the perfect formula for a typical, forgettable EP.
But like other great pieces of music short on tracks but long on talent (Mary Lou Lord's Lights Are Changing and Pavement's Watery, Domestic come to mind), the scattered tunes on Forbidden Love jell into something fantastic. Sure, the songs are wonderful, but the energy of the thing comes from the way the numbers communicate with each other. Forbidden Love is a hell of a great conversation: a 20-minute meditation on misspent summers, California highways, and cruelly broken hearts.
The EP is also a big step forward in the Death Cab sound. Where the combo's last full-length, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, feels sodden and heavy, the songs on the EP shimmer and pulse: The two redone numbers gain added life in the context of the newer ones, which are the among the strongest the band has written. The combination makes Forbidden Love a very big thing in a very small package, and positions Death Cab as one of the most exciting bands in indie rock. Maybe there's hope for the novella after all.