Over the past two days, we shared our favorite hidden gems of 2016 (Part 1 and Part 2). These were artists and bands who enthralled us with their songs yet still fly under-the-radar. Today, we begin our celebration of the EPs that stole our attention and captured our imaginations. Extended players or mini-albums that throughout their multiple tracks were poetic in their storytelling and enrapturing in their sound. Some of the records were whimsical, others heart-pounding and brutally honest, and many wistful and dream-like. If you have not heard these EPs, what are you waiting for?
Bad Family – EP1 (England)
Bad Family mysteriously showed up on the scene earlier this year with their first single, “I’m a Drunk”. I was an odd introduction, yet one that caught our attention. They slowly released two more singles to follow up their short but powerful three-track EP, EP1. The band’s name is fitting as their songs lyrically document some of the less than pretty aspects of families and relationships that include addiction, lust, and the sometimes darker side of the human condition. Even though there is a serious side to some of the lyrical content, they present everything in an slick and upbeat pop-friendly format. Now what issues will Bad Family tackle in 2017? The suspense is intoxicating. ~~ Wendy
Benji Tranter & The Well Adjusted Individuals – At The Laundrette (England)
Just when you thought you’d heard it all, Benji Tranter and The Well Adjusted Individuals put a new spin on things with At The Launderette. The EP is four tracks of fun that transform everyday monotony into a collection of quirky delights. Jazz, blues, rock, country, pop, or whatever your taste, the EP has it. Even better yet, if you’ve got a fancy for the idiosyncratic, this EP is definitely for you. Expect the unexpected on this delightful record that is perfect for all occasions this holiday season. ~~ Flo
Black Honey – Headspin (England)
With so many bands with the word “Black”, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle and be overlooked. But when a band delivers an EP that literally blew our minds and many others, they rise to the top. Such is the case with Black Honey, the quartet from Brighton who are giving Wolf Alice a run for their money as England’s best indie rock band. Each of Headspin‘s four songs is a revelation. The title track is a Quentin Tarantino-style, cinematic mind-bender while “On Your Time” features one of the best climaxes in music this year. “Mocking Swing” offered a more lush and even lustful number that would make Debbie Harry weep with envy. However, it is on “All My Pride” where Izzy Baxter (vocals/guitar), Chris Ostler (guitar), Tommy Taylor (bass), and Tom Dewhurst (drums) excel. The song is a ferocious, anthemic rocker. It is unquestionably one of the best songs of the year from one of 2016’s great EPs. ~~ Ben
Chris Bathgate – Old Factory (USA)
Whenever Chris Bathgate comes out with new material, the music world says “Hey! That’s really good! Have I heard this guy before?” Then we check All Songs Considered and realize that we loved his last album. Bathgate can be elusive and is not prolific, but his music has weight, expansiveness, and a relatable outlook that satisfies you on every listen. This year’s “Old Factory” is full of experimental textures, delicious rhythms, and Bathgate’s familiar, sandy delivery. He champions his local Michigan folk music scene, and some of his impact can be felt in the success of other bands from the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti music scene. He often takes a local band or artist on tour with him, and he always chooses well. One of the quieter but more impactful musicians you’ll encounter, our world is better for having Chris Bathgate in it, and 2016 was a lucky year because we were graced with a small EP of his new music. ~~ Nick
Chris Watts – The God’s Own Truth (USA)
Honest lyrics seem to be a recurring theme in music that we gravitate towards. Give us songs with compelling stories, and we’ll choose that over anthemic numbers. It is no surprise, therefore, to find Chris Watts‘ five-song EP, The God’s Own Truth, on this list. The entire record is packed full of honesty, reflecting Watts’ personal experience. Over the years, the New Orleans native experienced some dark and troubling times, and those emotions of addiction and confinement are showcased in his music. Watts sings with a weathered, road-weary voice that adds to his honest, blue-collar Americana music. He’s a throwback in some ways musically, but The God’s Own Truth represents a man moving forward and an artist who shows great promise. ~~ Zac
Day Wave – Hard to Read (USA)
One of this year’s perfectly-constructed, atmospheric, guitar-rock EPs is Day Wave‘s Hard to Read. Project mastermind Jackson Phillips (1/2 of Carousel) has the knack for creating laid-back tunes about relationships. Even though the lyrical subject matter isn’t necessarily sunny, all five tracks on the EP take you to another place that is warm and comforting. For that matter, Hard to Read was the EP that defined summer. But beneath the chest-swelling soundscapes, Phillips covers the intricacies of love, trust, and often times the mind reading that we try to do in our closest relationships. Indeed, Phillips the artist and his music are definitely Hard to Read. ~~ Wendy
Eliza Shaddad – Run (England)
When Eliza Shaddad arrived on the music nearly five years ago, she spun tails of hope and optimism with her genteel indie folk and Hope Sandoval-esque vocals. Her sophomore EP, Run, however, was something completely new and different. It was less introspective but instead a brilliant storyteller and philosopher emerged. And the stories were engrossing, emotional juggernauts that captured the evolving relationships between people, communities, and countries. The expanded sound that beautifully merged the cinematic and the brooding provided the ideal palette for her songs, such as the gripping “Wars” and the cathartic “Run”. For nearly 20 minutes, the EP completely mesmerizes, enchants, and blows your mind. It is the hallmark of an artist who has found her sound and her creative soul, and a record that we will remember for a very, very long time. ~~ Ben
Emily Reo – Spell 10 (USA)
Emily Reo’s Spell is one of the most wonderful little records you’ll hear this year. The title track, “Spell”, opens with Reo’s lush, vocoder-laden vocals that slowly get drowned out by other instruments. For over 6 1/2 minutes, the track builds slowly, beautifully, even a bit chaotically before getting back to just Reo and her vocoder. The second side of the record is an updated version of “Stronger Swimmer” from her 2010 record Minha Gatinha. This rendition, though, is truly a lush, dreamy treat. The EP may only be a couple of tracks, but Reo had us under her spell from the very first notes. ~~ Rich
Eskimeaux – Year of the Rabbit (USA)
Eskimeaux’s Year of The Rabbit is a record about the complexity of relationships. The opening “Year of the Rabbit” features lead singer Gabrielle Smith’s voice intertwining with Frankie Cosmos’ Greta Kline, while singing about how there is more to a relationship than staring at a screen. Such is the day-and-age we live in. Every song on this EP is similarly relateable – from the frustration felt on “WTF” or comparing a relationship to that of preying mantises on “Power”. The EP comes to close with the lovely combination of “Bulldog” and “Sleeping Bear”. “Bulldog” is just Smith and guitar, followed by a perfectly executed pause before going into the slow-build finale of “Sleeping Bear”. The extended player is just a taste of Eskimeaux’s talents, and very soon she will have critics and fans proclaiming a year to call her own ~~ Rich
Glen Hansard – A Season on the Line (Ireland)
“I love you, darlin’ and I won’t pretend.” Yep, those lyrics from “Way Back in the Way Back When” sum up why Glen Hansard earned a spot on our top EPs list with A Season on the Line. If you’re wondering how an EP with only four songs can make this list, the answer is easy. This bluesy, rambling number arrived way back in February and never lost any of its charm. The first two tracks weren’t new to anyone who caught the Irish crooner on tour. But for some reason, Hansard’s 2015 LP, Didn’t He Ramble, didn’t actually include the title track. That’s why its placement on this EP – alongside two mellower tunes (“Let Me In” and “Return”) pleases fans. It’s a long-awaited recorded version of music previously heard in concert. Sometimes four songs feel just as complete and fulfilling as a full album. ~~ Hollie
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