25 Great EPs From 2015
There are a couple of reasons this year has seen the release of so many great EPs: cheaper recording technology, easier distribution methods, the death of the album cycle. But I think the prevailing reason is that, as our attention spans grow shorter and the amount of music we have to check out every day grows larger, artists are starting to realize that sometimes it’s better to pack a big punch into something concise. EPs are no longer just stopgaps between albums or scraps from the last recording session; increasingly, they’re becoming standalone artistic statements. This is something that has always gone on in electronic music and on the fringes, but it feels like the rest of the scene is finally starting to catch on.
That’s why this EPs roundup includes selections from artists who made some of the best albums of last year, but whose releases this year are no mere throwaways. We also, of course, have a fair share of promising debuts or releases from artists still on the rise. These are efforts we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention in some capacity, even if they wouldn’t exactly fit in on our best albums list. So here are 25 of the greatest EPs of 2015, presented in alphabetical order, selected by the Stereogum staff and written up by me except where noted. Take a look, have a listen, and let us know what we missed.
A Pregnant Light – All Saints’ Day (Colloquial Sound)
The guy behind A Pregnant Light — Michigan resident Damian Master — is one of the most prolific artists in music today: He’s constantly self-releasing new work under so many monikers that I actually can’t count them all and give you a conclusive total. But APL is the jewel in his crown, the outlet for which he reserves his finest material. APL are sorta post-black metal and sorta post-hardcore, which is a roundabout way of saying that APL’s music is heavy and loud and melodic, and not really defined by any genre tags. All Saints’ Day may be the single best release in Master’s seemingly infinite catalog; EP opener “Fear Of God” is so good that I just listen to it on repeat, grudgingly forcing myself to move onto tracks 2-4 … and they’re just as good! If you follow Master on Twitter, you know that he thinks he’s a superstar already. Which, like, he’s not. But every time I hear something new from the guy, I find myself wondering: Why the hell is he not a superstar already? How the hell is he not a superstar already? — Michael
A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Planning Weed Like It’s Acid / Life Is Loss (Mis Ojos Discos)
Since last year’s triumphant return, A Sunny Day In Glasgow seem to be going through the kind of creative resurgence most bands could only dream of. Planning Weed Like It’s Acid / Life Is Loss — not one EP but two — came about from the band’s improvisational collaboration in the studio, each taking a crack at putting together songs and switching around instruments they don’t normally play as they felt like it. But, if anything, that loose songwriting process makes for some of the tightest tracks the band has composed to date — the crashing noise of “Recognizing Patterns” and the jubilant vibrancy of “Hey You’re Mine” show two very different sides to the group, both very much worthwhile.
Annie – Endless Vacation (Pleasure Masters)
Each release from reigning Europop queen Annie should be cause for celebration. She proved as much on 2013’s A&R EP, and she continues the trend with Endless Vacation, another in a long line of collaborations with Richard X. “Cara Mia”‘s house sparkle and the to-the-floor intensity of “WorkX2″ are perfect for a neon aerobic workout session or a night out at the club. And while Annie mines well-trodden sounds, she still manages to progress pop music bit by bit, even if she’s never likely to get the mainstream recognition she deserves.
DeJ Loaf – …And See That’s The Thing (Columbia)
With last year’s Sell Sole mixtape, DeJ Loaf put to rest any worries that she wouldn’t have any staying power after her breakout hit “Try Me,” while …And See That’s The Thing solidified her position as one of hip-hop’s most promising up-and-comers. “Back Up” and “Hey There” gave her solid single contenders, and the rest of the EP fleshes out her more romantic side. Well, with some reservations — “Been On My Grind” is subdued with fangs, but “Desire” and “We Winnin'” are sensual and celebratory in equal measure. “I don’t ask no questions, I just handle business” is how DeJ opens her major-label debut. Damn right.
Diet Cig – Over Easy (Father/Daughter)
When we introduced Diet Cig at the beginning of the year, they had barely played any shows and were just gearing up to release their debut. As 2015 closes, they’re poised on the edge of greatness. That’s due in large part to their boundless live energy, but also the strength of the jump-around-your-room joyous Over Easy, which only seems to get better with age. It’s a collection of fuck-you songs of incomparable measure, ones that never take themselves too seriously but still cut close to the heart. Sharp lyricism and an ambling forward momentum are sure to leave you, well, breathless.
FKA Twigs – M3LL155X (Young Turks)
There’s no reason why FKA Twigs had to release anything in 2015 — we’re all still processing her momentous debut — but let’s be thankful that she did, because M3LL155X contains some of her best work yet. Epic but succinct in scope (and accompanied by some of the greatest visuals of the year), she crafts an all-encompassing, often suffocating experience. It’s like Tahliah Barnett replaced all of the negative space on her debut with an inky, shadowy blackness — there are devilish whispers and an ominously ticking clock, all contributing to the feeling that you’re being buried alive. With insurmountable pressure and urgency, she tackles autonomy and authority, waiting and being told to wait. It’s a monumental work from one of our greatest musicians, and it’s a shock that it clocks in at under 20 minutes.
Florist – Holdly (Double Double Whammy)
“At least I know that my house won’t burn down to the ground… or maybe it will,” Emily Sprague sings in one of many direct moments on Holdly, her five-song debut collection of intimately sprawling folk songs. “If I’ve been in love before, and I’m pretty sure I have/ I’m pretty sure that my house can burn down, down to the ground tomorrow.” That interplay between certainty and uncertainty is what makes Florist so heartwarming and wrenching, and it’s something to look forward to on the band’s forthcoming debut, The Birds Outside Sang.
Frankie Cosmos – Fit Me In (Bayonet)
“Young” is the shining star of Frankie Cosmos’ Fit Me In, but the rest of the tracks are only a notch below that: The reworked “Korean Food” works well as a sleepy opener, and her love song in miniature “Sand” is a perfectly succinct ode to New York. Greta Kline’s making the lateral move to a more synth-based sound — just like her boyfriend Aaron Maine is with Porches — but she’s still holding onto the glowing intimacy of her earlier work. The cover art sees the two of them bundled up under the covers, lumpy and sticking out at irregular angles, but still fitting together snugly. Likewise, there’s not a discomforting note on the EP, which emanates a welcoming warmth as we move over to the colder months.
Guerilla Toss – Flood Dosed (DFA)
Boston spazz-rockers Guerilla Toss have dealt almost exclusively in EPs so far, and 2013 full-length Gay Disco’s abbreviated length may as well qualify it as an EP too. As they continue to demonstrate their mastery of the short form, Flood Dosed is made up of three expansive, progressive tracks that are as off-beat as they are arresting. Kassie Carlson’s voice clips through the band’s skronked-out, thorny arrangements, the epitome of which is “Polly’s Crystal,” the acerbic cherry on top of a punk sundae.
Katie Dey – asdfasdf (Orchid Tapes)
Katie Dey’s asdfasdf is the only release on this list that may not exactly fall under the definition of an EP, but it’s nonetheless well worth a mention. The Melbourne experimenter deals in inverted and introverted pop songs, where only the barest of bones peek through. From the squealing of “unkillable” to the evocative pops of closing track “you gotta get up to get up,” Dey forges a path all her own. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this uplifting, comforting seven-track collection — one of the most interesting, promising, and groundbreaking debuts of the year.
Kelela – Hallucinogen (Warp/Cherry Coffee)
There was a lot to admire about Kelela’s debut mixtape, Cut 4 Me, but at times it felt a little scattered and all over the place. Give her an EP to pare down her sound, though, and the DC-to-LA singer’s hard-hitting, futuristic R&B sounds electric and hyper-focused. Hallucinogenic squeezes a concept out of six tracks, and its reverse-order relationship narrative provides a peg for some of the strongest songs about desire and the dissolution of said desire that have come out this year. And even though Hallucinogenic arrives after two years of waiting, it bears none of the weight of that expectation — any pressure is turned inward, gasps of air pointed towards personal failings and times when you’ve fallen short.
Kississippi – We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed (Soft Speak)
“There are only so many ways I can build it up before I can’t hold it together,” Zoë Allaire Reynolds sings on “Unkempt Leather,” the opener to Kississippi’s dramatically titled We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed. The songs contained therein are the sound of when everything breaks down, or you’re just barely holding it all in. They slide together in perpetual motion, repeating phrases and notes like whispered chants: “I can’t move because he’s comfortable there,” “…but not for me, like I for you,” “Should’ve known that you don’t like to be touched.” These refrains are about giving everything up to someone, and not getting the same in return. A painful sentiment, but one that rings all too true.
Modern Baseball – The Perfect Cast (Lame-O)
The Perfect Cast may not be treading any new ground — it’s six catchy punk songs from a band that has already proven over two albums that they’re great at constructing them — but it’s so relentless in its hook-filled approach that it’s impossible not to smile and nod along. Even when Modern Baseball deal with heavy topics like depression and anxiety and feeling like you’re not always all there, they do so with curiosity, verve, and breakneck lyricism. “Can you sing it with your friends, or alone?” they ask in a particularly bitter moment. The answer is both, and thank the Holy Ghost for that.
Natalie Prass – Side By Side (Spacebomb)
Natalie Prass already gave us one gift at the beginning of the year with her self-titled debut, but she decided to round out 2015 by bestowing on us another one. Side By Side is made up of two live renditions of tracks from her LP that reveal new strengths, and three covers that diversify their approaches: There’s the uplifting take on “Sound Of Silence,” the relatively straitlaced interpretation of Anita Baker, and a jazzy reimagining of “REALiTi.” Each of these versions recontexualizes these songs in new lights, all while putting Prass in a spotlight all her own.
Nef The Pharaoh – Nef The Pharaoh (Sick Wid It)
Nef The Pharaoh was relatively unproven going into this year, but the promise shown on the Bay Area rapper’s self-titled EP may mean that he won’t be unknown for much longer. The six tracks on his debut are squarely focused on the party circuit, but they all arrive at that location from different directions. There’s the gentle creep of “Boss Me,” a thumping “Big Tymin'” that got a boost from a Ty Dolla $ign and YG-featuring remix, the world-traveling and raspy “Mobbin” — these all bear the marks of an ambitious upstart who’s still trying to figure out his lane, but one worth keeping an eye on.
Ryan Hemsworth & Lucas – Taking Flight (Secret Songs)
In addition to being a top-notch artist in his own right, Ryan Hemsworth has been demonstrating his strong curatorial skills through his Secret Songs label for a while now. After Seattle-based producer Lucas contributed a song to the project last year, the two of them hit it off creatively and went on to work together on Taking Flight, a collection of five transportive tracks featuring deep, pillowy beats and bells and whistles that reward repeated listens. Most of it stays in the same kind of muffled, in-your-head space that these two so readily excel at, but moments when they lift themselves out of that — like on “From Grace” or the dark ambient lullaby “U Remain” — show these two really clicking.
Sharon Van Etten – I Don’t Want To Let You Down (Jagjaguwar)
Sharon Van Etten is another artist that didn’t need to prove anything going into 2015 after last year’s devastatingly cathartic Are We There, but she still manages to delight on I Don’t Want To Let You Down. The title is derived from a sentiment expressed to her family when she decided to become a full-time musician, but it could just as easily be applied to the upward trajectory of her career so far, always managing to one-up whatever came before. Standouts like the pounding “Pay My Debts” and the quivering title track show that, despite all that Van Etten has given us so far, there’s still so much more where that came from.
Sheer Mag – II (Katorga Works/Wilsuns RC)
“You don’t know who you’re tangling with,” Christina Halladay belts on the closing track of her Philadelphia band’s second EP. “I’m a bad bitch if I please/ I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again/ I brought many a man to his knees.” Sheer Mag’s anti-authoritarian attitude bends around Halladay’s powerful voice and charisma; they’re a blown-out Alabama Shakes for the basement set, taking their cues from a lot of the same ’70s inspirations as their Southern contemporaries, but infusing their sound with a hefty dose of gasoline. They make anthems for a generation of punks who need an extra kick in the ass to pick up the fight: “You’ve got to fan the flames/ You’ve got to stand up and break the chains.” II is matter-of-factly threatening, a rousing and intoxicating rallying cry to carry on the cause.
Slutever – Almost Famous (Self-released)
Front to back, Slutever deliver Almost Famous with a sneer. Amid shouts of “smother me!” and “nobody loves anybody,” LA punks Rachel Gagliardi and Nicole Snyder craft huge, heaving grunge blasts that smell like stale cigarettes and taste like last night’s regret. Wake up hungover as fuck, look around discouraged, go right back to bed — Almost Famous confronts grown-up problems with anxiety and unpreparedness: “Now that you’re older, things aren’t much better/ It starts to look bad when you can’t pay your rent.” Yeah, that’s bad, but at least Slutever are stumbling through it with style.
T.I. – Da’ Nic (Grand Hustle)
T.I.’s output over the past few years has been hit-or-miss, but the fact that he can give us something as strong as Da’ Nic 15 years into a very prolific career demonstrates that he’s worth keeping around. It’s the first release billed under the TIP stage name that he used when he was first starting out, and it recaptures some of the magic from his younger days. This is the most vital he’s sounded in a long while, and even though its peak sees him vying for space against Young Thug and Young Dro on “Peanut Butter Jelly,” he still manages to come out on top, which bodes well for his forthcoming Dime Trap album.
Weyes Blood – Cardamom Times (Mexican Summer/Kemado)
“Take You There,” the stunning centerpiece to Natalie Mering’s third release as Weyes Blood, is a 7-minute hymn that approaches longing with self-conscious scarcity. “Losing touch with time,” she doles out her words slowly. “You take me there/ I’m so scared…” Each languorous note mimics the feeling of allowing yourself to fall for someone completely; every hesitant howl is a reminder of how vulnerable doing that makes you. What’s most remarkable about Mering’s compositions here and on the rest of the tracks on Cardamom Times is her skill to make everything sound vivid and grand, even with so few moving parts. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that feel the most elegant, a lesson that Weyes Blood’s spectral folk knows well.
Yautja – Songs Of Lament (Forcefield)
Nashville death/grind/sludge trio Yautja broke out in a small way in 2014 with their Songs Of Descent LP, and followed that this year with a companion EP called Songs Of Lament. In many ways, Lament feels less like a discrete entity than a previously unrevealed third side to the full-length, but if this is your introduction to Yautja, you’re in luck, because this thing is a crusher. The band’s combination of technical chops, unexpected swerves, sheer brutality, and concrete-slab guitar tones make for an intoxicating listening experience, and there’s now more than enough evidence to suggest Yautja’s next LP is gonna see them break out in a big way. And there’s plenty of room for them to grow, of course, even if it’s hard to imagine any songs sounding much bigger than these. –Michael
You Blew It! – Pioneer Of Nothing (Jade Tree)
For me, the tracks on You Blew It!’s 2014 sophomore album Keep Doing What Your Doing with the most staying power ended up not being firebrand favorites “Match & Tinder” and “Award Of The Year Award,” but the slower and more methodical types like “A Different Kind Of Kindling” and “Better Than Best.” That means their Pioneer Of Nothing EP was a special treat for those who shared my line of thinking, as the Florida emo group made three more tracks crafted in that same vein. The tenuously sliding “Lanai” is maybe their most impeccable yet, throwing up its hands and declaring, “Time won’t fix this,” and the other two songs feature the same kind of satisfyingly hard-lost regret. They fit right in at their new Jade Tree home.
Yung – These Thoughts Are Like Mandatory Chores (Fat Possum/Tough Love)
These Thoughts Are Like Mandatory Chores was the second EP released in 2015 by Yung, but the Danish band seems to have no shortage of ideas. Their first 2015 EP, Alter, showed that they’re great at building up a scuzzy hook — and they do that again here on “God” and “It Happened Again” — but I find myself gravitating toward the tracks where they spread out, particularly the back half of “Offshore.” The spiraling staircase on the artwork feels apt: It’s easy to fall down into these songs, and get completely lost in your own head.
Yvette – Time Management (Godmode)
Every Yvette song is a teeth-chattering march to the end, and they take no time to fuck around on Time Management, which hits harder and more swiftly than anything on the duo’s wildly great 2013 debut. “If Process was a meditation on the sound of mechanical objects,” Noah Kardos-Fein explained, “this is a kind of meditation on the sounds of mechanical behavior. What is more mechanical than time management? What happens to your brain and body when you keep to a brutally mechanical schedule?” Indeed, all four tracks here have a circuitousness, but instead of echoing the sleepy mundanity of everyday life, they explode with fury at the thought that we should ever have to be bored with life at all.