2018 In Review

25 Great EPs From 2018

Every year, the parameters for this list get a little more specious. With the rise of streaming services and the decline of physical media, the distinctions between a 7″ and a 12″ have largely faded away. Today, everything is a “project” or a “collection” or (groan) a “playlist.” Artists are still releasing EPs in name, but there’s also a lot of other music out there that might qualify as what we’d traditionally think of as less of an album and more of an EP. In fact, this year it’s gotten so especially confusing that we’ve devoted an entire essay to the topic, penned by my colleague Chris DeVille, that attempts to detangle the confusing borders we now operate in.

But we’re also marching ahead with our Great EPs list — as we have in 2015, 2016, and 2017 — because we believe that there’s value in the short-form and also because this list lets us shine some light on musicians that might have made our ranking of the 50 Best Albums Of 2018. We’ve taken things on a case-by-case basis — like, for instance, you’ll find Vince Staples’ FM! over on the albums list, but Tierra Whack’s Whack World has a spot here — and those criteria basically come down to a matter of intent and perception.

We collectively voted on these as a staff, though I (James, hello) personally wrote about all of them and made some of the hard determinations about what to include and exclude, which means that the results probably trend towards my tastes more than a true consensus list might. But that also means that, of course, this is not exhaustive and definitive — one of the great things about EPs is that, sadly, sometimes they slip under the radar. With that in mind, please leave your picks in the comments below.

Read on for Stereogum’s list of 25 Great EPs from 2018, which are presented alphabetically. You can also listen to a playlist of the selections on Spotify.

03 Greedo & Nef The Pharaoh – Porter 2 Grape (KILFMB / SICKWIDIT / EMPIRE)

03 Greedo started his 20 year prison sentence this summer, but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles rapper from releasing an overwhelming amount of music this year. His collaboration with Nef The Pharaoh came out right around the time he went behind bars, but Porter 2 Grape largely operates in a before context. Greedo and Nef prove to be interesting foils — the latter’s crisp delivery is more fitting on party songs, which most of the tracks on Porter 2 Grape are, but he has Greedo there leveling him out, offering a darker and more blurred perspective.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Amber Mark – Conexão (PMR / Virgin EMI)

Amber Mark made it onto this list last year with her debut 3:33am EP, and the New York-based musician is at it again. Working within the major label system, it’s perhaps a strategic choice to put out shorter releases while concurrently building buzz for a debut album breakthrough, but Mark also has the sort of emotional intensity that works in contained bursts. Her second release, Conexão, is loungey and free-flowing, less concerned with making big statements than evoking a specific mood. It includes a wonderful cover of Sade’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” that maybe hints at the sort of artistic integrity that Mark is striving for, and on Conexão she largely hits that target square on.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Aphex Twin – Collapse (Warp)

Since emerging from his decade-long hiatus in 2014, Aphex Twin has managed to stay in the spotlight. His latest release comes in the form of Collapse, five songs that lead Richard D. James’ long-standing project down a bunch of different corridors. Anchored by its opening track “T69 collapse,” which aches and pulls and disintegrates in the way that only an Aphex Twin song can, the rest of the EP has a ton to offer — cerebral electronic music that still, after all these years, feels instinctual and has the ability to surprise at every turn.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Black Dresses – HELL IS REAL (Self-released)

Devi McCallion has had a big year: with Im Desperate, first released as Girls Rituals, though that name has been retired in favor of Dei Genetrix; with Katie Dey, who released a collaborative album with McCallion this fall; and with Black Dresses, a duo with Rook that has put out a full-length, WASTEISOLATION, and an EP, HELL IS REAL, this year. All of these disparate projects are threaded together by McCallion’s confrontational brand of pop, and on HELL IS REAL especially it’s distilled with a primal urgency. That this is a shorter collection allows the duo to really push the envelope with their aural attacks, like on its title track, which disintegrates into a staticky rush that might make you think your speakers are broken, or on “TRY NEW THINGS,” which crackles and pops like ASMR. Black Dresses are making some of the most exciting, boundary-pushing pop of the moment, and HELL IS REAL is a fitting snapshot of all their talent.
HEAR IT: Bandcamp

Black Thought – Streams Of Thought Vol. 1 (Human Re Sources)

Black Thought has been around for a long time and you can hear it. Tariq Luqmaan Trotter raps with a world-weary confidence that comes from holding down the all-timer group the Roots, which means that he’s seen a lot of shit. On Streams Of Thought, Vol. 1, he steps out on his own for the first time and the whole thing crackles with the ease of someone who knows that he has nothing to prove but still wants to put his best foot forward anyway. Vol. 1 is a collaboration with producer 9th Thought; the second volume, which came out in November, was done entirely with Salaam Remi. It’s just as impressive, but there’s something about the fervor with which Black Thought goes at it here — occasionally lapping guests like Styles P and Rapsody — that feels impressively and urgently fresh for someone that’s been at it for over three decades.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Boygenius – Boygenius (Matador)

It’s almost too good to be true. Three singer-songwriters on the rise get together to talk shop — to compare record label deals and talk about the best ways to stay sane on tour and dish over the many shitty aspects of the industry — and end up funneling all of that energy into an impeccable project known as Boygenius. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus are all amazing musicians in their own right, and on their first release as Boygenius (at least, let’s pray it’s not the only one), they lift each other up and challenge each other to fine-tune their craft. There’s no sense of competition on Boygenius, but there is the sense that all of these writers really brought their A-game to this collaboration. Boygenius has more depth and feeling than most full-lengths released this year, and it’s the sort of collection of songs where everyone has a different favorite and your own favorite may change as time goes on.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Bristletongue – Femme Florale (Prairie State)

Femme Florale comes across like a long sigh. The debut release from Illinois four-piece Bristletongue is a mood piece, with L Morgan’s voice shading in general malaise with a staggering emotional depth. “I think too much of death,” they admit on its opening track. Femme Florale is a tight and considered song quartet that repeats and repurposes similar imagery in imaginary ways — a locked groove that threatens to overtake you. The band’s carefully composed swells of post-rock keep some of the darker tides at bay, reminding you that there’s beauty in the world even when it feels like all is lost.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Channel Tres – Channel Tres (Godmode)

Channel Tres is the latest product out of the Godmode music pipeline, the influential label that has served as the incubator for fellow future stars like Yaeji and Shamir. On the project’s debut release, the Compton producer adopts an icy detachment over insular house beats. These songs wiggle and shake with subtlety, a far cry from his almost-been career as an EDM DJ. “Controller” is Channel Tres’ calling card right now and, like a lot of great dance songs, it’s about the overwhelming power of the music itself. “Throw some sub in that bitch,” he adlibs. “You wanted to find a rhythm that’ll make you move.”
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Converge – Beautiful Ruin (Epitaph / Deathwish)

Beautiful Ruin basically ends just as soon as it begins, but in the seven minutes it does have, Converge leave nothing in their wake. It’s the follow-up to the Boston hardcore group’s The Dusk In Us from last year and it’s ostensibly made up of leftovers from that recording session, but these four songs work so well as a breakneck quartet that it’s hard to imagine them in any other way. The guitar work on “Churches And Jails” is next level; the intense “Melancholia” conjures up a snarling fever dream. The fact that these are just some also-rans speaks to the fearsome power of Converge.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

DRAM – That’s A Girl’s Name (EMPIRE / Atlantic)

DRAM inhabited a joyful infectiousness on his 2016 debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M., but it had been a while since we had heard from him before he put out That’s A Girls Name earlier this year. The title is a play on the fact that his first name is Shelley, and the three songs here similarly defy expectations while still showing that he’s still got it. They opt for a more laid-back soulfulness that acts as a nice contrast to the urgent happiness that characterizes his biggest songs, more luxurious and less frenetic in their execution.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Ellis – The Fuzz (Self-released)

Linnea Siggelkow moved from a big city to a smaller city and her debut EP as Ellis reflects that change, like a clenched fist finally let loose. There’s a beautiful tension release that happens on The Fuzz, six songs of perfectly executed dream-pop that herald in an exciting new voice to the genre. With her band, Siggelkow sounds scrappily precise — her songs are gauzy waking dreams until all of a sudden they’re not, clicking into place with a sharp relief that mirrors the wandering intentions of her lyrics. The Fuzz is all about tone, and it’s delightfully dynamic considering the muted palette it often works in, imbuing those blues and grays with something deeper.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Empath – Liberating Guilt And Fear (Get Better)

Empath’s tape gets its name from an ancient healing frequency that’s meant to rid you of guilt and fear, and the Philadelphia-based band makes just the kind of music that can break through the noise with, well, a whole lot of noise. It’s New Age philosophy with a snarling edge. They traffic in chaotic bursts of energy, muddying up fierce hooks and nature sounds to create something that feels vibrantly alive. Empath paint in primary colors, and then invert those colors so you’re never quite sure what’s going on. Liberating Guilt And Fear is intentionally messy, beautifully broken down and frantic. It reels you in and keeps you enthralled like very little else this year.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Hatchie – Sugar & Spice (Double Double Whammy)

The five songs on Hatchie’s debut Sugar & Spice EP are sparkling. Harriette Pillbeam’s dream-pop project is more on the pop side of the equation, which means that her hooks aren’t buried under atmosphere but rather rise up, transcendent and unimpeachable. Each track feels like it could soundtrack a high school movie’s end dance scene — and, in time, they hopefully will — and it’s fun to imagine the different kinds of climaxes they conjure up: a jilted ex, a jealous hopefulness, the calming settling when you’re wrapped in the arms of the one you really love, amidst the twinkling lights. This Australian band has a cinematic power, one that’s sure to be deepened on whatever comes next.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Jenny Hval – The Long Sleep (Sacred Bones)

The Norwegian experimentalist Jenny Hval makes music that is dense with ideas — her last two albums have explored gender dynamics and economic inequality with a heady lens — but on The Long Sleep she leaves most of her proselytizing by the wayside, opting for a more instinctual and less intellectual approach. That means songs that operate in circuitous rhythms, like the 10-minute-long title track, which meanders and pops like a foggy dream, or the somnambulant, disco-inflected “Spells.” It’s a fruitful new avenue for an artist that is so often defined by her words. Here, she focuses on gorgeous compositions, providing the same intimate sweep as the rest of her music but on a more impressionistic scale.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Kero Kero Bonito – TOTEP (Self-released)

Kero Kero Bonito successfully refined pop to a clean enough degree on Bonito Generation that the London trio felt confident enough to move onto a different genre altogether, to transform it with their unique perspective. The music the UK trio has put out this year takes cues from shoegaze and indie-rock, and on their sophomore album Time ‘n’ Place they engage in the same sort of joyous deconstruction that marked their earlier sound. But even stronger is TOTEP, a precursor to the album, which sounds less muddy and more distinctive. The shorter runtime does wonders for their revamped sound, and here they sound restlessly dreamy, whether they’re freaking out with glitchy abandon on “Only Acting” or chilling out in calm reverie on “Cinema,” they feel comfortable and at ease.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch (Null Corporation / Capitol)

Trent Reznor tried to breathe new life into the EP format a few years ago when he announced that Nine Inch Nails would be releasing a trilogy of them, accurately predicting that shorter releases are often better nowadays. But, ever the pragmatist, after putting out two of them, he realized that streaming services gave the short shrift to EPs in their placement on an artist’s page, so he reclassified the final entry in the series, Bad Witch, as an album. But it’s still an EP at heart, no matter what he says — sorry, Trent — and it’s a great EP at that. Bad Witch offers up six tracks worth of late-era NIN that follow the path he and Atticus Ross set out on — a more cinematic, considered era for the group that still has the capacity to harness some truly haunting, feverish moments.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

No Joy & Sonic Boom – No Joy & Sonic Boom (Joyful Noise)

Sonic Boom’s most lasting contribution to this year is undoubtedly his production work on Beach House’s magnificent album 7, but a few months before that album hit, the former Spacemen 3 member released a great little collaboration with No Joy, the ever-shifting Montreal dream-pop project fronted by Jasamine White-Gluz. The two of them traded tracks across the Atlantic, as Kember is based in Portugal, and the result is four songs worth of serene calm. No Joy / Sonic Boom is trance-inducing, an ambitious but leveled-out pairing that finds beauty in the simplest elements.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Open Mike Eagle – What Happens When I Try To Relax (Auto Reverse)

What does it mean to be relatable? And is it a blessing or a curse? That’s what Open Mike Eagle grapples with on the opening track of his What Happens When I Try To Relax EP. He’s an intensely likable hip-hop artist that is struggling with what it means to be accessible in 2018. The six tracks here fixate on that question and approach it from a kaleidoscope of angles, digging into OME’s persistent anxiety. He uses levity to make some wrenching points about the current state of America and, more specifically, his experience as a black man in a country that’s historically silenced marginalized voices, unless they’re fetishizing them to their own ends. “I live in your neighborhood/ That guy you shit talkin’ is right there in back of you/ So try to act natural,” he raps on “Relatable,” which even he admits is “peak OME,” or rather open and honest to no fault.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Sorry – Home Demo/ns Vol 2 (Self-released)

Home Demo/ns Vol II isn’t technically an EP. I guess the best way to describe it would be a rock mixtape, and it serves as a calling card for one of the UK’s most promising young bands. Sorry have a restless creative energy, and here songs disappear and morph with a fuzzy turning of the dial. Each idea they hit on is sweet and never sticks around for long enough — it leaves you wanting more, which is exactly what a great EP is supposed to do. Home Demo/ns Vol II is a tight 22-minutes of wiry guitars and shapeshifting beats, with an intoxicating pull that makes it hard to ignore.
HEAR IT: Bandcamp

Sudan Archives – Sink (Stones Throw)

The Ohio-born, LA-based musician Brittney Parks introduced Sink, her second EP as Sudan Archives, with a perfect description that’s on-point and a little zany in the way that only an artist can really provide: “Sink describes the way I want my music to make you feel. It’s inspired by my love of fluidity, movement of jellyfish, and water.” Indeed, the songs on Sink wiggle and twist and prickle with Parks’ fascination with the way we move and physically respond to music. There’s impeccably plucked strings throughout, especially on standout “Nont For Sale,” and the other gorgeously glitched-out songs suggest an antsy but supremely confident artist.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Tierra Whack – Whack World (Self-released)

Every song is exactly a minute. That’s the gimmick of Tierra Whack’s Whack World and it’s a conceit that pays off wonders on the slices of songs that Whack offers up to us on her debut release. She quickly cycles through hooks and ingenious ideas that other artists would kill for, and her smooth blend of watery R&B sounds like it has legs. The Philadelphia-based artist has acknowledged that the minute-long concept wasn’t exactly helpful in getting coveted radioplay or playlist placement, but as for making a splash and potentially paving the way to becoming a star? Well, it works just fine. If she can evoke so much with songs this short, imagine what she can do with something a little more fleshed out.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Valee – GOOD Job, You Found Me (G.O.O.D. Music)

The latest shining star to come out of Chicago and the G.O.O.D. Music universe is Valee. He’s been on the up-and-up for a few years now but, his GOOD Job, You Found Me EP is his first for Kanye West’s constellation of artists, following up on a pair of 2017 mixtapes. Valee is a dextrous wordsmith and he often sounds like he’s tiptoeing around his tracks, which are typically sedate and hypnotic. GOOD Job, You Found Me is definitely on a downbeat, but Valee wisely keeps his songs short so they’re slight mood pieces that leave a lasting (and repeatable) impression.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Warthog – Warthog (Toxic State / Static Shock)

Chris Hansell used to scream for the Men and now he screams for Warthog, a New York-based band that’s put out nothing but EPs since they formed six years ago. Their latest is self-titled (confusingly, it’s not their first self-titled) and features four songs that kick ass. Hansell’s voice is acidic but approachable — much like the music he makes with the rest of the band, which puts riffs on top of riffs on top of frantic drumming on top of a never-ending barreling forward momentum. Warthog is an absolute beast of a rush, snarling and gargantuan.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Waxahatchee – Great Thunder (Merge)

Waxahatchee has only gotten more ambitious over the years, and last year’s Out In The Storm was Katie Crutchfield’s best yet, filled with searing hooks that solidified Crutchfield as one of this generation’s greatest songwriters. Its follow-up, Great Thunder, is a flex of a different kind. It’s stunning but muted, slow and patient and wrapped up in atmosphere. Crutchfield’s wording and delivery is measured and haunting. She turned to the piano this time around, and Great Thunder has all the comfort of an old borrowed sweater that hangs onto the scent of a past love. The six tracks on here are reimagined versions of songs Crutchfield wrote with an older project, also called Great Thunder, but here she breathes new life into them and reclaims them on her own terms.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

Westerman – Ark (Blue Flowers)

Westerman has had a good run in 2018 — so much so that arguably the best song he’s released this year, “Confirmation,” isn’t even on Ark. The London-based musician covers plenty of ground on his latest EP nonetheless. He carefully crafts looping and loping songs that are part autre, part pop, and wholly captivating. Westerman’s vibe has drawn warranted comparisons to Arthur Russell, and he certainly inhabits some of that capacious malaise. But on Ark he expands past that into electronic-flecked folk and shadowy ambivalence, further expanding on the sound of one of the most exciting new acts of the year.
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music

Listen to selections from our great EPs list on Spotify.