25 Great EPs From 2021
In all the years that we’ve been doing this list, 2021 is the first time that it seems like so many artists released multiple EPs over the course of the year, or released sequels that revisited ideas from previous EPs that they had put out. I don’t know why that is! Maybe the pandemic has got everyone’s attention span frazzled, or maybe the ever-present vinyl delays mean that artists are turning to the shortform while waiting for their long-players to eventually come out. Whatever the case may be, you’ll see quite a few sequels and Vols. 1 and/or 2 in this year’s list. There are also the requisite entries from hardcore barn-burners and up-and-coming bands that are just starting to prove themselves and a whole lot more in between.
As it has for the last few years, our 25 Great EPs list is an addendum to Stereogum’s 50 Best Albums Of 2021 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 (James, hello) 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.
Read on for Stereogum’s list of 25 Great EPs From 2021, which are presented alphabetically.
Action News - Failed State (Self-released)
Action News count some heavy-hitters in their ranks — its members are also in bands like Nothing, Creepoid, Drowse, Fixation, and Jesus Piece — and together the Philadelphia group makes growling, urgent hardcore. Failed State, their first release, knocks you upside the head from start to finish in deliriously giddy fashion. From churlish opener “Eternal Optimist” through to the heaving, heavy title track closer, their debut is just stupid good.
Beach Bunny traffic in some well-traveled territory (driving ’90s alt-rock) but they do it so, so well. They have a new album on the horizon, and this year’s thoroughly enjoyable Blame Game suggests that the young Chicago band’s songwriting is only becoming sharper and more precise as they age. The chiming “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used)” and the shimmering, prickly “Love Sick” are hooky and winsome. Lili Trifilio has a knack for lyrics that are painfully specific. Packaged in songs that are as universally likable as this, it’s no wonder that Beach Bunny took off as quickly as they did.
A couple of years ago, the snarling Griselda Records rapper Benny The Butcher teamed up with producer Harry Fraud for a marvelous EP called The Plugs I Met, which graced this list back in 2019. This year, he linked up with the New York beatmaker yet again for a proper sequel, The Plugs I Met 2, which revisits the hustler’s world of his Black Soprano Family. Fraud’s sample-based beats provide a dose of old-world opulence to Benny’s real world tales of drug-dealing and regrets.
Blair have ties to both New York skate culture and the city’s rap underground, but they make scrappy emo songs that are satisfying and expansive. The charmingly muddy Tears To Grow is a glorious collection of twinkling guitars and seasick swells that make the friendship between the Brooklyn trio sound palpable. All three members collide against each other in spectacular fashion on “Promise,” a six-minute song that begins with singer Genesis Evans desperate for someone to talk to and ends on a note of confidence and community: “Fill your gang up with loved ones and you’ll always win/ We can do anything as long as we begin.”
James Goodson: a regular feature in my email inbox and now a regular addition to my playlists. Goodson works as a music publicist, but he also plays in bands and last year he started his own project Dazy, which stemmed from messing around with a drum machine during the doldrums of the pandemic. He’s already built up a formidable collection of fuzzy power-pop gems, the most potent of which is The Crowded Mind, an eight-song EP that breezes by in 15 highly enjoyable minutes.
It took Doss seven years to follow up her ahead-of-its-time debut EP, and the producer became something of a cult sensation while away, her songs passed around like a secret between very hip friends. The cheekily-titled 4 New Hit Songs is aptly named: All of these four songs are fucking bangers, and they’re each distinct and massive. There’s the glossy “Puppy,” the fizzy “Look,” the shoegazey “Strawberry,” the gummy “On Your Mind.” Hopefully we don’t have to wait another seven years for some more hit songs, but if we do Doss has given us plenty to chew on until then.
In the grand scheme of things, Drug Church’s Tawny is not necessarily momentous. Intended as a bridge between 2018’s Cheer and their recently announced full-length that’s due out early next year, it’s more of a dumping ground for tracks that didn’t fit anywhere else than a full-fledged statement. But that it’s so solid anyway is a testament to how consistently excellent this Albany band is. These tracks are charming and propulsive, built around snaking guitar lines and crisp choruses that are a whole lot of fun and express a snotty, infectious rage.
Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou’s 2020 collaborative album May Our Chambers Be Full was so good that it left one wanting more. Luckily, Rundle and Thou were prepared for that: May Our Chambers Be Full is made up of four songs left over from the same sessions that produced the album — one cover of the Cranberries’ “Hollywood” and three originals that are as gloomy and cathartic and beautiful as anything on their full-length. It’s impressive that they had this much good material left in the tank, and it once again leaves you wanting even more.
Hailing from Tacoma, Enumclaw are named after a nearby Washington town and make music that’s steeped in nostalgia and affection for the sounds of the Pacific Northwest. They have sharp ear for pop melodies and Aramis Johnson’s nasally, lackadaisical delivery is contagious. But don’t mistake his disaffection for a lack of ambition. Take a listen to the chorus of Jimbo Demo‘s swirling highlight “Free Drop Billy,” roaring into a singalong repetition of “I don’t wanna be a loser” that suggests this band has more than pure imitation on the mind.
Jana Bahrich started making songs as Francis Of Delirium on her own when she was just 18. Though she was born in Vancouver, Bahrich spent her childhood bouncing between schools in Europe, eventually landing in Luxembourg, where she met the project’s other half, drummer and producer Chris Hewett, who is a couple decades older than her and originally from Seattle. Their music sounds a bit like an mashup of all the years between them, with hints of grunge and college rock and confessional bedroom pop. On Wading, they show off a little bit of all that, especially on the wiry highlight “Let It All Go,” where Bahrich lets her anxiety spill out in a splatter of words and messy feelings.
Two of the most hyped-up acts in hardcore team up, and what’s not to love? Sunami and Gulch (who may or may not be broken up) share some members and run in the same circles, but their split 7″ is all the more admirable for how different they sound from each other. Sunami bring wild fire-and-brimstone metallic fury on their pair of tracks, while Gulch attempt to set the mosh pit on fire with theirs. Both of them are going full throttle with their contributions, making for a fast and frantic showcase for some of San Jose’s best.
Though they started off as futuristic pop connoisseurs, Kero Kero Bonito have been spent the last few years looking to the past. The three songs on Civilisation II — the sequel to a 2019 EP of the same name — are meant to represent the past, present, and future. KKB sound at home in all three timelines. Home is the optimal word there. Made using only vintage hardware, “The Princess And The Clock” and “21/04/20” are warm and cozy, and the 7-minute closer “Well Rested” is a towering amalgamation of ideas with one final takeaway: “You cannot stop civilization.”
A Tear In The Fabric Of Life is built around a concept, and it was released earlier this year all at once with a whole animated short film to go along with it. It follows a specific, painful narrative as its main character spirals into depression after getting into a car crash that leaves his partner dead. Keep that in mind or don’t as you listen to the Kentucky hardcore band rip through six fearsome, pummeling songs. Either way, the sense of dread and pain is readily apparent through the band’s music.
“I’m a sick bitch and I like freak sex/ If you wanna test the limits of my gag reflex/ If you wanna put in work/ You gotta go berserk/ You gotta make it hurt/ If you wanna make it squirt.” There’s more where that came from on Dedicated 2 Disrespect, the Berlin-based producer LSDXOXO’s first release for the esteemed XL Recordings. LSDXOXO makes deliriously giddy and deliciously horny club music built to go absolutely wild to on a sweaty dance floor. Dedicated 2 Disrespect also has a song about being fucked so good by the devil that you want to sell your soul and your body, and one where he lays out his cause d’etre: “Everything I do is a little bit demonic.”
With 2019’s Patience, Mannequin Pussy graduated from scrappy and sincere hardcore firebrands into a band capable of producing glowering rock anthems a la “Drunk II.” Perfect, their first release since then, has them alternating between the two extremes. Opener “Control” is another entry in their punk-pop anthem canon, and there’s also gleaming torch songs like “To Lose You” and ACAB-core quick blasts like “Pig Is Pigs.” Perhaps most striking is the stark closer “Darling,” which sounds like Marisa Dabice bringing forth some country star’s maudlin ghost.
Regional Justice Center ringleader Ian Shelton started Militarie Gun when he found himself with nothing to do early on in the pandemic. All Roads Lead To The Gun II is the fourth EP that he’s released in less than two years, and in that time the project has blossomed into a full band, with ragers that befit an expanded lineup. Highlights from their second EP of the year include “Big Disappointment” and “Disposable Plastic Trash,” both more inspired by muscular, fast-shuffling indie rock than the righteous hardcore that he makes with his main band but still invigorating nonetheless.
Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin first linked up on last year’s full-length FlySiifu’s and they made for a surprisingly dynamic pair. Though they make quite different music on their own, together they hit on a slow-drifting and heady blend of stoner-rap. They continue their collaboration on $mokebreak, another collection laidback and lo-fi beats that also invites a number of guests into the fold — Mavi, YungMorpheus, Zeelooperz, and more — that provide a welcome contrast to the perpetually hazy chill.
Everything that folk legend Shirley Collins has put out in the last few years — since returning from a 38-year hiatus — has felt like a gift that we don’t deserve, and that holds true for her gorgeous Crowlink. It’s a companion piece to last year’s Heart’s Ease that builds on some field recordings captured by collaborator Matthew Shaw, adorning them with atmospheric synths and Collins’ distinctive lower register. Particularly of note is “My Sailor Boy,” Collins’ haunting and eerily still take on a wind-battered sea shanty.
Snarls and Chris Walla is a particularly inspired pairing. The young Columbus emo band decamped to Seattle to record What About Flowers? with the Death Cab For Cutie guitarist turned indie rock producer, and Walla brings out the band’s more melancholic side. Where the band’s debut Burst had a little bit of everything for everyone, the shortened length of this EP allow Snarls to hone in on the satisfyingly fuzzy, deadpan aspect of their sound. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the tracklist is centered around a song called “I’ll Follow You,” which doesn’t go quite all the way into the dark but certainly wallows around in the day’s last remaining rays of light.
The cover art for Snow Ellet’s Suburban Indie Rock Star looks like it’s straight out of a MySpace-era CD bargain bin, and project mastermind Eric Reyes makes music that would absolutely blow out the speakers of a shitty Honda Civic that’s jacked up to an iPod through a tape deck. At just 12 minutes, Reyes’ first release under this name is brief, but it’s filled with enough sardonic quips and chiming pop-punk hooks to make it endlessly repeatable.
Sorry are back with yet another group of songs that blur the already blurry lines between rock and pop and everything in between. Twixtustwain is more electronically-minded than their 2020 full-length, more in line with their pair of Home Demo/ns mixtapes. The songs on it are claustrophobic and messy scrawls, coalescing around singular lines or sonic ideas that are duplicated and dug into until they dissipate into smoky vapor.
Channeling grunge in this day and age is nothing new, but the young Hudson Valley rockers Soul Blind approach the prospect with such gusto that they make it easy to give yourself over to the nostalgia. Third Chain‘s title track is a forceful and melancholic black hole that sucks you right back to the ’90s. The other two songs on their Third Chain provide just enough variety, and the same gauzy melodies, to suggest that Soul Bind’s particular brand of recalling the past might mean they have a bright future.
Soul Glo’s sloppy and fierce Songs To Yeet At The Sun was on this list last year and the Philadelphia rabble-rousers are back here again in 2021 with DisNigga Vol. 1. (There is also a volume 2 that arrived a few months after the first.) The songs on Vol. 1 run the gamut — it starts with bleating industrial rap, followed by a frantic scurry of punk noise, and topped off with an epically constructed screamo track. Soul Glo can do it all, and they do so with passion and energy and an intimidating attitude.
The guest list speaks for itself: Vince Staples, MIKE, Danny Brown and his Bruiser Brigade, Mavi, Zelooperz. Veteran rap producer the Alchemist only works with the best, and his This Thing Of Ours 2 — the sequel to another 2021 EP that boasts appearances from Earl Sweatshirt, Boldy James, Pink Siifu, and more — is an invigorating collection of tracks where each rapper brings their A-game to the Alchemist’s woozy and gorgeous beats.
With The Asymptotical World, Yves Tumor continues down the path of glam royalty that they forged on last year’s Heaven To A Tortured Mind. Led by the indelible “Jackie,” these six songs are dramatic and satisfying blasts of noise filled with mangled guitars and different mutations of rock music through the ages. Yves Tumor has proved themselves a formidable bandleader, a consummate performer, and a musician that can adapt to just about anything.