25 Great EPs From 2020
I don’t know about you but my attention span has been shot to shit this year. There’s only so much music one can take in between doomscrolls, so EPs have become an even bigger slice of the listening pie than usual. (And considering this is the sixth year we’re doing this list, they’ve always been pretty prominent for me, anyway.) As always, there’s little tying these releases together beyond their shorter runtimes. Usually the EPs list is heavier on new artists, some of whom you may recognize from our Best New Bands list, and that’s still the case, but many established artists turned to EPs as a way to chronicle this weird and tumultuous year, as well.
As it has for the last few years, our 25 Great EPs list is an addendum to Stereogum’s 50 Best Albums Of 2020 list so that we can celebrate this year’s shorter releases and highlight a larger pool of music. We collectively voted on these as a staff, though I (it’s James, once again) wrote about all of them and made the final decisions about what to include and exclude, which means that the results probably trend toward my tastes a bit more than a true consensus list might. That also means that the EPs list is not meant to be exhaustive and definitive — because of their very nature, EPs sometimes slip through the cracks. We encourage your picks in the comments below.
So read on for Stereogum’s list of 25 Great EPs From 2020, which are presented alphabetically.
Over the last decade, Blue Hawaii have traveled across the pop spectrum, from dreamy to abrasive, and on their latest project Under 1 House they turn their sights on house music. Lit up by the intoxicating pull of the dancefloor, Raphaelle Standell-Preston's voice feels particularly suited to the propulsive funk explosions the band creates here. On standout "Not My Boss!" she sounds like a disco diva reincarnated, fueled by the passionate fire of independence and euphoria.
This team-up between Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner and Crying's Ryan Galloway combines both musician's sharp pop sensibilities for a collection of songs that are sensual and groovy. BUMPER's pop songs 2020 was put together remotely while in lockdown, despite its creators living only three blocks away from each other in Brooklyn, and it aches for the desire of human connection, lit up by sparkling city lights and a sense of forward momentum that's going nowhere.
Dave Longstreth spent the year releasing five Dirty Projectors EPs in total, four each spotlighting one of the group's new-ish cast of vocalists and one on which they all come together. They're all strong but Flight Tower is a particular highlight. Felicia Douglass, also of Ava Luna and Gemma, is the focal point on this one. She sounds divine on "Lose Your Love" opposite Longstreth's muffled squawks, soft and smeary textures coalescing into some classic Dirty Projectors transcendence.
Haircut, like a lot of other hardcore bands, are masters of the shortform. Cake is their third EP in three years -- last year's Sensation also made it onto this list -- and it's staggeringly confident, the work of a band that's fully locked-in to one another. Barreling through six tracks in six minutes, the Richmond/Charlottesville group offer up a potent distillation of seething fury that's as catchy as it is intense.
Hannah's Little Sister have all the energy of an animated children's TV show come to life. The songs on their debut EP.mp3 are gloriously chaotic and triumphantly fun. Meg Grooters is a fearsome leader, directing these unwieldy songs with the gusto of a camp counselor. But despite their ability to capture the world with a childlike sense of excitement, what they're singing about is decidedly more adult: consumerism and capitalism and the mind-numbing reality of living in an increasingly fractured society. When Grooters begs to be taken anywhere on the EP's final track, it's clear that she's hoping that anywhere is somewhere far away from our current world.
Initiate's Lavender builds up slow but once it gets going, it really goes. The Southern California band is fronted by Crystal Pak, whose craggy howl takes the band's bread-and-butter hardcore to the next level. "I'm searching for a refuge where I can say the words on my heart/ Where taking chances won't set me apart," she screams on the title track, and it seems she's found her place fronting a band as visceral as Initiate.
The Las Vegas musician Ivana Carrescia has adopted a few different names over the years, including Eddi Front and Gioia. Her latest project is Isola, another collaboration with Godmode producer Nick Sylvester, and it's filled with intoxicatingly smooth dance wriggles. There's still some semblance to the intimate spectral folk music she was making in her earliest iteration, but this time her whispers are prone to breaking out in a spasm of noise, involuntary ecstasy as she moves further toward the realm of the dancefloor.
Inspired by the breakthrough she felt after making "Crunch" with the producer MELVV, Jordana Nye wanted to create more songs in that vein, somewhere between hooky indie-rock and twitchy bedroom pop. She spent this year chasing that high. On Something To Say -- the first of two EPs the Wichita, KS-based musician released this year -- Nye's voice goes a mile-a-minute over gliding soundscapes that sound like waking up from a dream in a cold sweat.
Kurt Vile has been leaning more into the country side of his sound recently and his Speed, Sound, Lonely KV is the result of various recording sessions in Nashville over the last few years. One of those sessions was with John Prine, who duets with Vile on one of his own songs, Pink Cadillac's "How Lucky"; Vile also pays tribute to the late legend again with another Prine cover, "Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness." Speed, Sound, Lonely KV feels like a very personal tribute to some of the music that's shaped him and Vile's two originals here, "Dandelions" and "Pearls," demonstrate that he's plenty good at replicating that sound.
As one-third of Palberta, Lily Konigsberg finds harmony in chaos. But on her own she tries to make that chaos as orderly as possible, as evidenced by the clean-cut lines of "At Best" and "I Said," two concise and precise hits of indie rock. The rest of her solo EP is a little less concrete but no less enthralling -- the throbbing dance jiggle of the title track and aching sway of "Summer In The City" show off Konigsberg's knack for melody and hooks that make this four-song EP feel much fuller than its short runtime would suggest.
Little Simz made her Drop 6 EP during lockdown as a way to get back in touch with her roots, before fancy studios and recording engineers and a series of increasingly elaborate albums entered the equation. Tellingly, Drop 6 doesn't have many moving parts but what's there is absolutely intoxicating. It's murky and tight and sounds like a breakthrough for the UK MC, who uses the hyped-up opener "might bang, might not" to re-establish herself as a formidable talent: "I'm back on my bullshit," she boasts. "You ain't seen no one like me since Lauryn Hill back in the '90s, bitch/ Feeling myself, yeah, I might be, bitch."
The prolific Los Angeles-based musician Ian Shelton is the ringleader of Regional Justice Center and a part-time member of Self Defense Family. Militarie Gun is his newest project, an outlet to explore melodic hardcore that fuses anthemic roaring choruses with a blistering ferocity. The four tracks on the band's debut My Life Is Over are seesawing, twisting epics that contain a lot of bile but also a lot of hope. "Not everyone's problems are yours/ Idiot!" Shelton chants on "A New Low For Progressive Society." "I can't stay in decline," he wails on closer "Life In Decline," amid gleaming guitars that sound like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Mindforce aim to bowl you over and that they do. True to its title, they come out swinging on Swingin Swords, Choppin Lords, the Hudson Valley band's follow-up to their acclaimed 2018 full-length Excalibur. Over four tracks, the band stomps through big, shredding riffs and mosh-ready thrashing with a chaotic energy that does not let up. "Hope dies in the city!" the band's Jason P. yells on the EP's penultimate track, a rallying cry to move away from all the complications and just get lost in the music.
Nilüfer Yanya's debut album Miss Universe found the young English musician flitting through a bunch of different ideas. Feeling Lucky? opts to maintain a singular mood over its three tracks, a melancholic swirl that's always on precipice of breaking apart. "Crash" sounds like classic Yanya, a brick wall of pulsating guitar lines that promises a great downfall and encourages you to look on. All of the songs, in some way or another, have to do with chance, the way fate dictates all of the good and bad that happens to us simultaneously.
박혜진 Park Hye Jin works in hypnotics, her songs circling around phrases as they churn. The Seoul-born, Los Angeles-based producer uses How can I as a sampling board for all her talents. She dabbles in house, techno, and footwork, pointing a ton of different genres but never settling into one place for very long. From the dreamy "Like this" to the trap-inflected title track, How can I is effortlessly cool and chilled-out and full of possibility.
Halfway through "Rot," the riotous opener to PUP's This Place Sucks Ass, Stefan Babcock imagines himself giving an award acceptance speech, thanking the Academy while deep down feeling that he's full of shit. His imposter syndrome is real, but so are his skills as the leader of a band that has become a well-oiled machine of righteous catharsis over the last few years. "I'm doing something productive with my self-destruction/ It's the one thing keeping me sane," Babcock sings, assuring himself that no matter how low he feels at least he can engage in the act of making tight punk-pop songs as a way to get by.
"Life's gotta get easier/ Can't carry a heavy heart into another year," Josiah Wise sings on "A Comma," the opening track from his latest serpentwithfeet release Apparition. Not sure how well that worked out for him, or any of us, but Wise certainly sells the desperation on a song that begs the Lord for nicer punctuation on an existence that seems increasingly open-ended. Like all the songs he makes as serpentwithfeet, Apparition is high drama with high reward, a short but impactful collection that applies operatic grandeur to very human concerns.
There's alarm coursing through every song on ALIAS, Shygirl's sophomore EP. The London singer celebrates the different facets of herself, which she's nicknamed Baddie, Bovine, Bonk, and Bae. If that sounds over-the-top, then it is, but Shygirl is gloriously extra. On "FREAK" especially she goes full-out, a cacophonous roar that's throbbing and sticky and grossly liberating, a dancefloor anthem ready for when you want to feel your nastiest. Elsewhere on ALIAS, there's still panic in her voice, as if she's discovering all these parts of herself she's not sure she's ready to confront just yet. The result is thrilling.
Operating under a different sort of pressure than her name might imply, the music that Helen Ballentine makes as Skullcrusher is weighed down by the immensity of life, expressing that weight not through a howl but in a sigh. Her self-titled debut EP is transfixing and haunting, made up of understated and gutting folk songs that pinch a nerve probably best left untouched. On its best song, "Trace," she wonders: "If I get up will it be worse? If I stay here, what is that worth?," an open-ended musing that, much like her own music, has no concrete shape.
The first sound you hear on Songs To Yeet At The Sun is a feral scream, delivered by the band's Pierce Jordan in characteristically blood-curdling fashion. Soul Glo's new EP is over in just 12 minutes but the Philadelphia band play with a ferocity that makes it feel like a massive work, a collision of hardcore thrashing and blasted beats. Soul Glo are upfront about their reverence for nu-metal, and though the songs they make are furiously sloppy and punk, they are also concerned with quick hits of emotional catharsis and they certainly deliver in that regard.
Thunder Dreamer were part of a mid-'10s wave of pastoral emo that also included Foxing and Wild Pink. They've become more chilled out and twangy on Summer Sleeping, the Indiana band's first release in 3 years and one that reconfigures them as celestial dream-rockers. Frontman Steven Hamilton descends into these songs like a head hitting a pillow after a long day, weary and resigned to keep going. Thunder Dreamer manage to find some silver lining in the trudge of everyday life, though, perhaps a vestige of their more riled-up days.
Tkay Maidza's appeal rests in how much she can do so well. Sometimes that's resulted in the Zimbabwean-Australian sounding a little scattershot, but Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 has found a way to harness her different creative wavelengths into one cohesive release, or at least one that's confident enough to treat cohesion as the enemy. From the propulsive club-rap of "Shook" to the watery guitar lines on "My Flowers" that open the EP, Last Year Was Weird is the kind of genre-agnostic release we expect from young artists who have grown up mainlining the internet and the limitless list of influences that creates.
Sarah Beth Tomberlin has a way of distilling comically complex emotions into only a few words, like on "Hours" when she sings: "It's all sacrifice and violence, the history of love," before twisting to the intimately personal: "But remember when we stayed up?" It's those sort of aching questions that haunt Projections, her new EP on which she tries to dismantle the ideas about love and self-worth that she's built up in her head. Tomberlin's placid folk songs are simple but elemental and on Projections, she sounds more sure of herself than ever.
"Why can’t I have a little common sense? Why don’t I realize that I might end up dead?" Sebastian Murphy sings on the title track to Viagra Boys' Common Sense. It's a refinement on the nervy chaos of the Stockholm band's 2018 debut album Street Worms, a glowering reflection on Murphy's own self-destructive habits that fueled so much unrest. There are some jams in the vein of the debut on the rest of Common Sense, but that opening crest is the EP's most enduring moment, approaching a clarity that Viagra Boys so often sound like they're running away from.
The reliably great Wye Oak are just as good at the short-form as they are at the long. There's nothing slight about No Horizon, their collaborative EP with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus that finds Jenn Wasner teaming up with an impressive group of kids for a collection of sky-scraping hymns that only this band could make. They sound like they're constantly searching for clarity in a world that's grown increasingly chaotic, whether they're reverting back to elementary vowels on "AEIOU" or searching for equilibrium between their body and mind on "No Place."