Like film versus television, full-length records tend to get more attention than extended players. But as we have seen through the visual medium, the smaller vehicle is rivaling its bigger sibling in terms of ingenuity, power, and impact. Today, we look back at the little records that moved and inspired us in our Favorite 20 EPs of 2020 list. As usual, the EPs are presented in alphabetical order by artist.
Bumper – pop songs 2020
During the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in Brooklyn, Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner and Crying’s Ryan Galloway worked on an EP through email despite being neighbors. Anyone familiar with both bands would know what a dream collaboration this would be. Galloway’s Crying project has created some wild and fun music, while Japanese Breakfast is one of the great bands of this current era of indie rock. BUMPER’s debut EP, pop songs 2020, dials back some of that energy, and hones in on a laid-back, smooth pop sound that is oh so pleasing to the ear. All four of pop songs 2020’s tracks bring something to the table – the playful vibes on “You Can Get It”, the infectious drum machine beat of “Red Brick”, the undeniable groove of “Black Light”, and the piano-led “Ballad 0”. Hopefully, this isn’t the last time we hear Zauner and Galloway together.
deryk – WOMb
Subtlety can still have a piercing impact, especially when it is perfected like it is on WOMb, the debut EP from Auckland-based deryk. The project of Madeline Bradley, the record’s five songs are jarring in their effect. With Massive Attack-like precision, she takes listeners deep into the crevices of her mind on “Call You Out” while bitingly tackles betrayal on the dark-pop spell, “One Star”. WOMb is filled with moments that elicit gasps, and no more so than the gorgeous “Goodtimes”, on which she recalls a moment her innocence was taken away. With her combination of brittlely beautiful arrangements and vulnerable songwriting, Bradley is on track to be New Zealand’s next big music star.
Dirty Projectors – 5 EPs
Okay, maybe we’re cheating a little with this one, but Dirty Projectors released a series of five EPs throughout 2020. All five are stellar, and each featured a different member on lead vocals and, thus, a unique perspective from the other records. There’s the folk stylings of the Maia Friedman-led Windows Open. Felicia Douglass’ undeniable voice guides the listener through Flight Tower. Band leader Dave Longstreth gets weird with Super João, and Kristen Slipp’s Earth Crisis brings some surreal orchestrations. The final EP, Ring Road, features all four together, tying the entire series together quite nicely. All of the EPs are available on the appropriately named 5EPs compilation.
Floating Room – Tired and True
In another era, the Maya Stoner-fronted project, Floating Room, would be heard on every alternative station on the planet and be idolized on campuses across the US. Their latest EP, Tired and True, ranged from Red House Painters-like moody sadcore (“Warm Death (HIFI)”) to buzzing jangle-rock (“Held Open Door”). But what would have and still will make her a hero is her ability to turn deflating experiences into moments of empowerment. “Everybody loves a freakshow / They don’t like the freak though”, she cleverly sings on “Freakshow”. This is Stoner owning the term and essentially waving two big middle fingers at the judgmental and manipulative. Who needs superpowers when one’s words are the sharpest weapon in the arsenal.
Gold Connections – Ammunition
It wasn’t long ago that some commentators said rock was dead. This clearly isn’t the case due to the emergence of young bands like the Will March-led Gold Connections. For the better part of the past half-decade, the Virginia-based outfit have been delivering ’90s-style college-radio indie rock, which included their 2017 self-titled EP that also found its way on our Favorites list. On Ammunition, Marsh raises his songwriting game to deliver five tales about growing up in today’s America. From broken hearts (the charming “Ammunition”) and dreams (the immensely catchy “Stick Figures) to ongoing despair (the slow-building “Fortune” and the wondering “Slow Driving”), the songs are relatable. They are about all of us. But through these hopeless moments, humor can still be found. After all, we, via Marsh’s songwriting, are still around to tell these stories.
Grace Gillespie – After the Harvest Moon
There are songwriters and then there are storytellers. Grace Gillespie is the latter, where her vivid and imaginative songwriting is reminiscent of a young Dylan and Van Morrison. For all her memorable songs, she delivered her finest on After the Harvest Moon. Full of beautiful melancholy, the EP leaves one in an arrested state of calm and awe. The gentle fable of “The Child” rekindles memories of more innocent times, the quiet darkness of “Your God’s Within” is like a silent scream, while “Hoppers” is akin to a post-modern lullaby. The London-based artist, though, hits her peak on “Song for Nick Drake”, on which she gorgeously recounts how many great literary figures and musicians, including the legendary singer-songwriter, helped her understand her surroundings. One day, people will say the same thing about Gillespie and how her genius inspired us.
Jaguar Jonze – Diamonds & Liquid Gold
Deena Lynch is more than just a singer-songwriter. Through her project, Jaguar Jonze, she personifies the term artist, as she is a storyteller, entertainer, producer, and screenwriter. As such, her music, particularly the songs on Diamond & Liquid Gold, possesses a cinematic quality that causes one’s mind to race with images, thoughts, and stories. Each of the EP’s six songs is mysterious and suspenseful, such as the spaghetti western-infused electro-rockers “Beijing Baby” and “Rabbit Hole”. Film noir notions filter through the title track and the sultry “Rising Sun”. Where the Brisbane-based artist truly excels is when she ups the intensity and urgency and delivers a seismic thriller, which she does on “Kill Me With Your Love”. All Lynch has to do now is star in a featured film, which will probably happen soon.
Kalbells – Mothertime
The creativity of Kalmia Traver knows no bounds. From her work with Rubblebucket to her solo project Kalbells, she’s never stayed in the same creative space too long. Her most recent EP, Mothertime, is a testament to her evolution as an artist and her strength as a songwriter and human. Mothertime builds on a theme Traver had in her mind in the years after surviving a battle with ovarian cancer, which drove her debut, Ten Flowers. It’s a powerful listen, both lyrically and musically. It confronts those feelings of uncertainty, of the desire for motherhood, of holding a child for the first time. Musically, it goes into amazing, spacey places baked in disco, electronica, and pop.
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges – Texas Sun
In music, there is nothing better than perfect harmony. Bands will take years to perfect their song while in some cases artists, like psychedelic innovators Khruangbin and soul / R&B singer-songwriter Leon Bridgers, were meant to perform together. At first glance, they seem like an unlikely pairing, but on their one and only EP, Texas Sun, they display incomparable chemistry. From the trippy, psych-country vibes of the title track to the sultry “Midnight” to the funky and sexy “C-Side”, the foursome sound like they’ve been collaborating for decades. Here’s hoping that Texas Sun is just the start of a beautiful marriage. If not, they’ve left us with an instant classic.
Kyd the Band – Season 3: The Realization
Kyd The Band (Devin Guisande) have been releasing upbeat indie pop for the past few years. He’s been super busy in 2020 by actually releasing 3 separate EPs. They include Season 1: The Intro, which featured some of his earliest releases dating back to 2017. Season 2: Character Development included one of his breakout hits, “Easy”, from 2019. We are highlighting Season 3: The Realization, on which new tracks are found. The hip hop-influenced “Corridors” recounts some of his past struggles. “Make It In America” speaks to going through his family losing everything during the 2008 economic crash. He also captures witnessing heartbreak in those he loves on “I’ll Stay” while “Love Someone Else” speaks to a dysfunctional relationship. He then takes on the current state of things and being thankful for those he loves with “The Way the World Is”. Season 3: The Realization is probably Kyd The Band’s most personal yet and continues to prove his talent in songwriting and connecting with his fan base.
Lily Konigsberg – It’s Just Like All The Clouds
Lily Konigsberg is likely best known for her involvement in Palberta, who have established a reputation for their boundary pushing, chaotic, and short songs. On her newest EP, It’s Just Like All The Clouds, Konigsberg channels a more refined sound, and the result is one of the year’s most inviting EPs. “At Best” and “I Said” have some great energy, stemming from its guitar work and drums. “It’s Just like All the Clouds” gets groovy with a slick beat and autotune, which together create a retro-wave vibe. “Summer In The City” closes the EP out nicely with some gorgeous instrumentation. It’s Just Like All The Clouds is a short listen, at under eight minutes, but it’s one that’s easy to keep on repeat.
Nilüfer Yanya – Feeling Lucky?
Nilufer Yanya’s Miss Universe was one of last year’s most notable break-out records, and the young woman from the UK followed it up with Feeling Lucky? this year. Yanya’s voice is as strong as it was on her debut, floating over parts of songs, and cutting through others. Its dreamy qualities complement the heavy bass and drums of “Crash”. “Some Damn Luck” gets even more ethereal with lush harmonies and a laid-back vibe. “Day 7.5090” digs into an infectious retro vibe with synth, and it’s an absolute stunner of a closer. All together, Feeling Lucky? is a wonderful, albeit short sampler of one of the most interesting new artists out there.
Oddnesse – Overindulgence
Since discreetly emerging on the indie scene in 2016 as Oddnesse, Rebeca Arango has gradually released some of the most engaging music in the industry. Her stories are intelligent stories while the melodies she craft are often dazzling and always infectious melodies. At long last, the New Jersey-born, LA-based singer-songwriter and full-time writer released her debut EP, Overindulgence, which featured some of her strongest outputs to date. Among them are the chest-swelling and moving “Doing My Thing” and the blustery rocker “Donut Shop”. She saved, however, the best for last in “American Dream”, which is a song-of-the-year candidate with its breathtaking art-rock approach and poignant lyricism of the sacrifices people make to do what they love. Hopefully, Arango will get to fully realize her American Dream very soon.
Patricia Lalor – This is How We Connect, While You Stand So Tall
Just how talented is 14-year old Patricia Lalor? For starters, she has already been featured on one of our year-end lists with her sensational cover of Radiohead’s “Present Tense”. Now, she’s recognized for her originality and inventiveness as revealed on This is How We Connect, While You Stand So Tall. Through a sonic prism that merges alt-pop, dark-pop, trip-hop, and art-rock, the young lady from Wexford, Ireland has unveiled a stunning record. “This Man Thought He Saved Me” weeps with a brooding urgency while “To Cope” is a slow dive into the lit-less abyss. Meanwhile, the gently delirious “Same Place” and the lo-fi, suspenseful “Felt Something” are spine-tingling. Lalor’s arrangements, though, are not the only things that captivate, but her lyrics about power, abuse, and control are startling in their realism. And again, she’s only 14 years old. Imagine the tour-de-force she’ll be in a few years.
Rodes Rollins – Dissociation
Rodes Rollins’ 2017 EP, Young Adult was an immersive pop record with a heavy western influence. Spinning her latest EP, Dissociation, however, it’s obvious that Rollins has had a big shift in musical direction. The songs on Dissociation defy such an easy classification. They’re bigger, and they have a lush musical quality that adds so much life to each song. There are some incredible slow-building tracks, notably “Against My Will” and “Icon In Your Eyes” that go to some spaced-out places. There are the killer intro to “Joe” and the immense feeling of “Before I Die”. There’s so much to dig on Dissociation, and its pristine production adds to what are already seven stunning tracks.
Skullcrusher – Skullcrusher
Skullcrusher’s self-titled debut EP, Skullcrusher was one of 2020’s most pleasant surprises. While the name may evoke thoughts of something much heavier, Helen Ballentine crafts truly captivating music under the name. The first track, “Places/Plans” is a heartwrencher, especially in its gorgeous closing moments. “Day of Show” builds into an emotionally-charged monster, with a bubbling wall of sound waiting to boil over until the EP’s final moments. It’s just enough music to introduce listeners to Skullcrusher and get them excited about what may come next. Get excited about how a young artist can crush souls with beautiful simplicity.
Thyla – Everything at Once
Unbeknownst to us, Brighton quartet Thyla remain unsigned and continue to fly under the radar despite creating some of the most anthemic and stirring indie-rock over the past five years. This year, however, more music curators started applauding Millie Duthie (vocals, guitar), Mitch Duce (guitar), Dan Hole (bass), and Danny Southwell’s (drums) artistry, specifically their work on Everything at Once. Despite being only four songs, the record is akin to a roller coaster. It soars out of the gate with the booming “Two Sense” and continues to accelerate on “Lennox Hill” before easing on the emotive, Roxette-esque ballad “December. Whereas most amusement park rides slow down at the finish, the quartet take the opposite approach with the slow-building throbber, “Everything”. In many ways, the EP encapsulates Thyla’s career to date, and hopefully this means that they are about to take off.
Tomberlin – Projections
Tomberlin’s riveting 2018 debut At Weddings grappled with losing faith and filling that void left behind. This year, she released a five-track EP, Projections, that continued that arc. The songs on the record feel as intimate as the songs on her debut, but there’s a bit of a more fleshed out sound here. From the beautiful, finger-picked guitar on “Hours” to the brushed drumbeat of “Wasted”, Projection sounds incredible, thanks in part to being co-produced by Alex G and Sam Acchione. “Sin” evokes powerful religious imagery through its slowly building yet stunning, repeating ending. The expanded sound has us excited to hear what might come next for Tomberlin.
Winnetka Bowling League – Congratulations
Winnetka Bowling League are your go-to band for feel good and upbeat indie pop. While Congratulations
is the name of their new EP, congratulations are also in order for WBL for being able to sing about your local pharmacy “CVS” and actually make it so catchy you want to listen to it again. “Come To The Beach” is a call to warmer days and times where we could safely go outside. “Kangaroo” is probably the most positive track, with the song’s title representing the band’s spirit animal and its constant presence. Fun fact: front man Matthew Koma gets help from his wife Hilary Duff on backup vocals and gives her a shout out with the lyrics, “A wife who’s got a better job/She backs me and my indie rock”. If you need to instantly alter your mood in the most positive direction, this EP definitely needs to be put on repeat.
Wye Oak – No Horizon
No Horizon is probably the most unique release yet from Wye Oak. We have been fans for many years and their collection of tracks are like art for the ears. On No Horizon, the addition of the choral arrangements by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus make for a captivating and spiritual listen. “Spitting Image” is hopeful while “Sky Witness” is all but angelic with lyrics that speak of hidden meanings and the world as just a concept. “No Place” is a bit of a transcendent track that addresses the separation between consciousness and our physical bodies. “AEIOU”, meanwhile, has a tribal feel as the band tackle the boundaries of language. Front-woman Jenn Wasner’s vocals soar and the backing chorus makes for an ethereal feel on the track. Overall it’s a bit of a departure from their usual sound, but nonetheless it’s beautiful, otherworldly, and provocative.
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