The EP has never been an especially satisfying configuration: It lacks both the ambitious sweep of an album and the heady rush of a single. It's appetizer or dessert, but rarely the meal. Partly for that reason, the EP has wasted away; in 2003, the format was even vastly outsold by the now-scorned cassette.
Suddenly, though, the EP has returned, and this time with a more market-friendly reason for being. Generally containing anywhere between four and eight songs and costing less than a full CD, it's ideal for an era in which the song, not the album, rules. (Sorry, Yes and Coheed and Cambria fans.) A batch of fresh EPs demonstrates how this vintage format is being newly exploited for the ADDD (audio digital deficit disorder) age.
EP AS STOPGAP Padded with two alternate takes of ''Volcano'' -- one a rough-hewn demo and another a fiery instrumental -- Damien Rice's ''B-Sides'' achieves one of the EP's time-honored goals: keeping fans at bay until a new album arrives (next year, in Rice's case). This one isn't without its pleasures: A live version of Rice's tour de force ''Woman Like a Man'' captures the Irish troubadour's aggressive, enraptured live shows, even if the mannered ''The Professor & La Fille Danse'' exposes his most gratingly faux-poetic tendencies. Grade: B+
EP AS CONCERT SOUVENIR, ESPECIALLY OF INTIMATE SHOWS YOU MISSED The music of alt-country longhairs My Morning Jacket evokes a drive down a foggy mountain road. And the band still manages to sound murky when stripped down to semi-unplugged basics on the live ''Acoustic Citsuoca.'' Lead singer Jim James' fragile songs and marshmallow voice are more pronounced in this context -- sometimes for better (a lofty version of ''The Bear,'' from their indie days) and sometimes for worse (a wimpier take on ''Golden,'' originally on last year's ''It Still Moves''). Ultimately, the disc benefits from brevity: A full album might have put Tylenol PM out of business. Grade: B
Maroon 5 also go the nonelectric route on ''1.22.03 Acoustic.'' From their crisply played but blandly facile songs to a weak-kneed cover of the Beatles' ''If I Fell,'' Maroon 5 cement their reputation as kings of the new faceless pop. Remember when Journey and Styx were derided as generic corporate rock? In retrospect, Steve Perry and Dennis De Young were idiosyncratic oddballs compared with Maroon singer Adam Levine, whose voice sounds more grating than usual without the much-needed studio gloss. Grade: C
EP AS MOVIE SOUVENIR Despite sharing a title with the behind-the-curtains documentary, Metallica's ''Some Kind of Monster'' isn't what one would expect: It doesn't contain any of the outtakes from ''St. Anger'' that we see and hear in the film. Instead, the EP is dominated by concert recordings from last summer. As if the band wanted to shore up its thrash cred after being filmed in group therapy, the repertoire is taken exclusively from their first three speed-metalling albums. But Metallica are older, and it shows. They can still riff hard through ''The Four Horsemen,'' but the youthful, apocalyptic zeal of the originals is gone, replaced by numbing monotony. Some kind of letdown. Grade: C
EP AS EXPERIMENTAL WAY STATION For some musicians, EPs have been dumping grounds -- outlets for rejected or leftover material too out-there to fit onto an album. Such is the case with Rufus Wainwright's ''electronic EP'' ''Waiting for a Want,'' four songs available exclusively on iTunes. Even odder than last year's ''Want One, Waiting'' is a series of pop-opera reveries more rococo than Wainwright's norm. Its highlights are the hazy, truly dreamlike ''Waiting for a Dream'' and the grand, Muzak-choir-driven ''Gay Messiah,'' who, Wainwright notes, will be ''reborn from 1970s porn/Wearing tube socks with style.'' Such inspired rambles are truly the stuff of EPs. Grade: B+