The past two days, we shared our Favorite Hidden Gems of 2017. Today, we commence our countdown of our Favorite EPs of 2017, sharing the first ten of thirty.
Alex Lahey (AUS) – B-Grade University (via Dead Oceans)
2017 was a breakout year for Australian singer-songwriter Alex Lahey. She signed with Dead Oceans, who released her debut EP B-Grade University worldwide in June. The EP is a smart, youthful record with themes obviously inspired by college and university life. The music rocks hard and is insanely catchy. Lahey is backed by a band that supplies a poppy, punkish background that isn’t exactly pop-punk. You’ll see.
“Ivy League” starts the EP on total fire with its driving drumbeat and ridiculous guitar lick. The chorus is infectious, too, almost certainly encouraging a sing along. “Let’s Go Out” is another song that will get stuck in anyone’s head and could conceivably be an anthem for university students everywhere. On “Wes Anderson”, Lahey hits a sweet spot where fellow Melbourne artist Courtney Barnett thrives. For instance, its first moments describe taking a shower to avoid doing anything. Meanwhile, “L-L-L-Leave Me Alone” has a wonderful bass line, great jangly guitar, and relatable lyrics. B-Grade University is without a doubt one of the year’s finest, and her LP I Love You Like A Brother which also came out this year is quite a worthy follow-up. ~~~ Rich
Amber Arcades (NL) – Cannonball (via Heavenly Recordings)
When Annelotte de Graaf isn’t busy making the world a better place in her job as a law assistant at the International Criminal Court in the Hague (she holds two law degrees), she’s trying to give people a mode of escape through her musical project Amber Arcades. Her debut album, 2016’s Fading Lines, featured infectious guitar-pop a la Alvvays, and this year’s EP, Cannonball, was an extension of that first effort. It was also an extension of herself and the people she’s come to touch through her many activities.
The quietly euphoric title track, for instance, sees de Graaf singing into the distance and telling the story of a person yearning for new adventures who has come to another country seeking hope and a second chance. The cinematic and breathtaking ballad, “Wouldn’t Even Know”, which features Bill Ryder Jones, is a tale of undying love. de Graaf, though, is a master of the cathartic and rapturous, as she reveals on the top-tapping, hand-clapping “It Changes” and her jangly rendition of Nick Drake’s “Which Will”. And similar to the late Nick Drake, there is something familiar with de Graaf’s music. It’s not merely the bubbly guitar-pop but the stories she crafts, where we feel we are her or one of her protagonists. That this song is about us, and this is a rare gift. ~~~ Ben
Amy Allen (USA) – Get Me Outta Here! (self-released)
On her debut solo EP, Portland, Maine’s Amy Allen may have crafted 2017’s best pop record, and that’s saying something since Get Me Outta Here! has only four tracks. The EP is packed with catchy-as-hell pop songs that rival any of the year’s top pop releases, including Lorde. Allen’s band is fantastic, too, creating an appealing blend of ’80s synth-pop mixed with modern pop aesthetics. Get Me Outta Here! is a great little collection of singles from the songwriter.
The record kicks off with the title track, “Get Me Outta Here!”, which has a killer, synth-laden groove and a great, catchy chorus. There’s this wonderful bridge, too, where the dreamy harmonies ebb into a full-blown knockout. “Chasing Jenny” sounds almost like it’s from Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion, and it’s accompanied with a ripping guitar solo. The synth bass on the track is also a great touch. The slow-building “I Had You” and the amazingly upbeat energy on “Whatcha Do” put the final stamps on a great little EP. ~~~ Rich
Annabel Allum (UK) – All That for What (via Killing Moon)
“Be bold” is a mantra often told to young artists, but not everyone heeds the advice. Then there are singer-songwriters like Annabel Allum who discard the basic pop and rock templates and dare to be different. Who dare to be themselves while waving two big middle fingers at those who wish to mould them into what the mainstream wants. Her sophomore EP, All That for What, is her coming-out party, where she sets aside her pleasant folk origins in favor of gritty, titanic indie rock that recalls PJ Harvey in her youth.
Like the UK legend, Allum delivers sonic and lyrical explosions, such as on “Rich Backgrounds”, which is an attack on consumerism, materialism, and elitism. The propulsive, tongue-in-cheek banger “Eat Greens” sees Allum use wit to call out the judgmental. Meanwhile, the reverb is dialed up on the emotionally ferocious and introspective “Picture on Picture”. Even when she dials down the volume, such as on the closer, “Spit”, Allum hits hard with her stunning vocals and lyrics that will crush your soul. With the combination of power and grace, ferocity and elegance, All That For What is a formidable record that would rival anything released this year. Allum might only be in her early twenties, but her future has arrived. ~~~ Ben
Anteros (UK) – Drunk (via Distiller Records)
Since Anteros‘ arrival on the indie-rock scene, we’ve been predicting their breakout, which seems to be on the verge of happening. This year, though, saw the London-based quartet sell out venues across the UK while having their last single, “Love”, shared on BBC Radio. At long last, Laura Hayden (vocals), Joshua Rumble (bass), Charles Monneraud (guitar), and Harry Balazs (drums) are gaining the recognition they’ve long deserved. Helping their cause this year is Drunk, a dynamite of a four-track EP that showcases the band’s ability to pair anthemic indie pop-rock with clever stories.
The outrageously catchy “Drunk” kicks off the record with a groovy disco pop-rock vibe, which provides the canvas to Hayden’s lyrics about the intoxicating effects of love. The dazzling, ’90s-esque “On the Moon” features a great guitar line and sees Hayden not so subtly tell a lover he should take off if he isn’t committed to their relationship. Seventies funk is infused into the band’s blistering indie pop-rock sound on the fun and dance-friendly “Cherry Drop”. Where Anteros has always amazed us is their ability to create spell-binding ballads like “High, Goodbye” that echoes the soaring power ballads of the ’80s and ’90s. While it still rocks on the edges, Hayden’s soothing vocals take the song to near euphoric levels.
The EP only has four songs, but it’s a perfect microcosm of their talents. Seriously, take a sample of Drunk, and you will be thirsting for more. The next serving of Anteros should come in 2018, as the band is working on their debut album. ~~~ Ben
Bad Family (UK) – EP 2 (self-released)
To understand Bad Family requires understanding their history. The Brighton-based quintet was formed out of frustration with the sugar-coated sentiments of modern-day pop music, so they created their own outfit and address hard-hitting subjects like infidelity and addiction. Last year, they released their debut EP, and twelve months later they delivered their second record, the aptly titled EP2.
While just three songs, Bad Family once again tackle taboo subjects with their upbeat indie rock. Sonically, Bad Family have packaged each song with confident rock melodies that are peppered with ’60s Brit-pop influences. Their music, as such, may seem to be a contradiction with songs you can easily dance to all the while singing about the brutal reality of women that move on too quickly (“On The Wall”), the toxicity of co-dependent relationships (“It Ain’t Me”), or lack of direction in life and drug use (“All My Friends Are Cokeheads”). But that’s part of the genius Bad Family – to make you feel conflicted yet entertained. ~~~Wendy
Cabbage (UK) – The Extended Play of Cruelty (via Skeleton Key Records)
Less than six months after the release of their fantastic debut album Young, Dumb and Full Of…, Cabbage decided to pull an incredible EP out of the bag. The Extended Play of Cruelty continues the indie rockers’ trend of delivering thunderous and often humourous political songs. They’re not only tackling social issues or critiquing the performances of politicians – such as on “Celebration of a Disease” and “Fraudulent Artist” – but they’ve taken aim at small “p” politics. For instance, EP highlight “A Network Betrayal” addresses the state of the UK’s current train network. More specifically, Cabbage tear into the privately-owned rail system, as Joe Martin hilariously mocks train conductors with a droning impression.
But not everything is serious. “Asa Morley” is dedicated to one of the band members. The lyrics to this one are fun if somewhat a little different. Who would have thought the drummer makes salad for his family? How he finds the time to do these duties is beyond us since Cabbage are constantly throwing superb gigs! ~~~Paul
Colour of Spring (UK) – E.P. (via House of Love Records)
Colour of Spring surprised us this year with one dreamy track after another after another, perfecting their brand of shoegaze rock. After we heard their first single of the EP, “Echoes”, we knew we were in for some amazing tunes. Not only is their mesmerizing blend of rock mind-blowing, but their songwriting skills are top notch as well. With E.P., they tackle subjects like growing up on “Echoes”, the pure bliss from the blossoming of a relationship with “Love”, and nostalgia surrounding past summer days on “Sun”. They’re kind of like the perfect combination of Slowdive and Cocteau Twins, giving a new generation of music fans their very own shoegaze legends. ~~~Wendy
Ela Minus (USA / Colombia) – Adapt (self-released)
At times, it feels difficult to understand what is happening in the world. During these moments that feel truly dark and hopeless, we often turn to music to help us get through and understand what is happening. On stage, Gabriela Jimeno‘s – a.k.a. Ela Minus – rack of electronics reads, “Bright Music for Dark Times”. Her latest EP, Adapt, is exactly that.
Jimeno bridges the barrier between languages, kicking the record off with “Juan Sant” and “A.R.P”, which are both in Spanish. Those are followed up with two English-language songs, “Ceremony” and “I Wish I Had A Hat”. Jimeno describes Ela Minus’ music as “tinydance”, and all four songs on this record definitely apply. Each song feels so simple, but they’re built on complex synth instrumentation that creates a completely danceable sound. Jimeno’s voice, meanwhile, floats over each number, then at times it gets a sinister layer of distortion. Special, that’s really the only way to describe Adapt. ~~~ Rich
Frightened Rabbit (UK) – Recorded Songs (via Atlantic Records UK)
Christmas came early this year for fans of Scottish indie folk-rockers Frightened Rabbit with the release of a surprise EP in September. The three tracks on Recorded Songs show a mellower side of the band that had toured practically non-stop since releasing one of our favorite albums of 2016, the stellar Painting of a Panic Attack. Sure, three songs does not a substantive album make – unless you’re a band known for delivering music that packs an emotional, lyrical, and musical punch. This alone qualifies Recorded Songs as an Album of the Year contender; that it also features their 2016 tour mate and fellow beloved indie artist Julien Baker clinches its spot on our favorites list.
Equally earnest and intimate, the stripped-down songs are “stunning in their simplicity”, as we describe in our review. The duet with Julien Baker (“How It Gets In”) is a tender ballad that showcases Baker’s plaintive vocals while frontman Scott Hutchison displays a “melancholy burst” of brilliance on standout tracks “Rained On” and “Roadless”. Despite its brevity, Recorded Songs delivers massive heartfelt rewards and reminds us why we first fell in love with this band over a decade ago. ~~~ Hollie
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