2020 has been a tough one. Though productivity declined significantly through the months of lockdown, the artists below were hard at work producing some of the best music of the year. Read on to find out the top ten best EP releases of this year.
10. La vita nuova – Christine and the Queens
When Héloise Létissier released her newest volume of music since her 2018 album Chris at the beginning of this year, the dramatic emotions and pulsating beats in the songs made me confident it was going to be a good year. While that enthusiasm was maybe misplaced, Christine and the Queens’ audio-cinematic experience certainly helped sweeten this year. As she runs around sprawling architecture in Paris, and spits anger, and dances with the devil, the drama of it all mirrors the vast-ranging emotions of 2020. The feelings in the five-track record are all to-the-point, succinct: people, she’s been sad, abandoned, delicate, misanthropic, and, at the end, Christine Polachek arrives and they’re both bangry (look it up).
Most Memorable Listen: People, I’ve been sad
9. Rose Hertz - Caleb Kunle
It’s impressive how much suspense is in this album despite the fact that the subject stays within the realm of domesticity. Kunle has conjured a deeply soulful effort with his excellent rhythm sections and super-sexy beats. His vocals are immaculate, and his range is very enviable. When a second voice enters towards the closing of the record, adding an antiphonal element, the male and female voices weaving in and out of each other confirms the album as its own self-contained story. The bass gives a darkly ethereal feeling, giving the album a real importance (though not self-importance in any way), and makes Caleb Kunle reign supreme with one of the best EPs of this year.
Most Memorable Listen: What is love
8. Mariposa - Isabella Lovestory
Here’s a synth-layered reggaeton entry by Honduras-born Isabella Lovestory. The empowering eroticism that starred as main character in the story of female rap this year has been translated by Lovestory into Spanish. She adds to the gritty punch of female confidence that Megan Thee Stallion brought to 2020, and should be recognized as a strong member of the team of women of colour that are paving the way for female empowerment and intersectional feminism in music. If you like what you hear, she has a rake of singles on Spotify, and some more lo-fi stuff on her Soundcloud .Lovestory is very much front-and-centre in this eager pop record.
Most Memorable Listen: Whiskey and Coca Cola
7. (Lamda) – Bookhouse
I cannot remember where I stumbled across this band, but I’m very glad I did. Their shoegaze, self-defined bedroom psych is a super-lofi sprawling account spanning 24 minutes in total. With quiet, breathy vocals and grungy climaxes, they’re like a mix between My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, except their themes are even lengthier than Slowdive’s. The production is solid and refined and, put simply, impressive, even if it hadn’t been wholly created in someone’s room in Wales. This is the kind of music that fills your entire room and your whole torso. If you like their stuff, here’s a link to their Bandcamp: https://bookhouse.bandcamp.com/releases. I hope they’re making more music that we can consume soon.
Most Memorable Listen: Material
6. If That Makes Sense - Matilda Mann
Mann’s delicate husky voice layered to be her own choir on her latest release, If That Makes Sense, makes for perfect walking-home-in-the-rain music. The twinkly waltz The Loch Ness Monster acts as prologue to a masterfully quiet record. Instead to falling into a sad-folk category that is oversaturated with white women singing on the topic of love, she employs a clever rhythm section and ruthless layering of her vocals to highlight the precariousness of love and the reality of how scary it can be. She says it better - “There’s a fine line between hope and sadness” - and she inhabits that space with an accurate vocabulary and haunting melodies.
Most Memorable Listen: The Loch Ness Monster
5. I Can't Cry For You - Phoebe Green
Reinvent, the first single off I Can’t Cry For You, was released in July this year, and was my first introduction into Phoebe Green. Since then, it’s become my most listened to song in the last six months (according to Spotify) and is my second most listened to song of the year. Golden Girl came next and, while it didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, Green’s brutal honesty and philosophical reflections on the society she lives in didn’t fail to christen what was the beginnings of her new EP. The ethereal, jangly guitar-pop crosscurrent remains steadily throughout the whole album, and her first-person lyrics have the earnestness and potency of a sinned woman in a confessional. The final song, A World I Forget has the beautiful demonic aura to back this analogy. I am a huge advocate of Phoebe Green.
Most Memorable Listen: Reinvent
4. Wicked City - Jockstrap
There is so much to unpack in this almost-perfect record that I can’t fit into a seven-line review. The duo who form Jockstrap are both classically-trained musicians and you can tell from the beginning of Robert, the first song on the EP, that they really know what they’re at. They blend rap with classical with house with pop, and – despite the fact you might think this is simply too much content to consume in one twenty minute sitting – they do it so well. Their symphonic arrangements create such a rounded sensibility in the record, and the through-line of Georgia Ellery’s voice makes it feel like a prolonged free-fall rollercoaster moment. Think if Aphex Twin went to a conservatoire and made an album about a sentient city.
Most Memorable Listen: The City
3. Drop 6 - Little Simz
Little Simz is on a roll. Since releasing her first EP in 2014, she’s gone on to enhance the capacity of the English rap scene; three albums, four mixtapes, seven EPs and a Mercury Prize nomination later comes Drop 6. Here lies an unbelievably cool record with two feelings: knowing with your entire being that you are the best thing to ever exist (“Figured out I'm better off just giving love to self / No one love you like I love you, baby, note to self”), and existential dread (“If you see death is the next chapter, can you die twice? / Guess life forced me to calm down, get my mind right / Livin' day by day, sleepless night by night”). There are nuanced, stream-of-consciousness thoughts punched through between that doubled edged swords, but the intensity of the feeling is drilled deeply into the corners of Drop 6. The 2020 zeitgeist inhabits the record and fills it out: the context of this year frames the album and makes it an uber-relevant listen.
Most Memorable Listen: one life, might live
2. UP DE FLATS! – Gemma Dunleavy
Gemma Dunleavy’s debut EP has been my most-spinned record this year. This album is really something ethereal: it’s her sweet vocals singing stories dripping with accuracy, and her pride of place wrapped up in this rough backdrop that she’s honouring, where most people diabolize it. For any non-Irish readers who might be interested, the flats were high-rise council buildings in inner-city Dublin that were underfunded and sometimes didn’t have basic amenities, which led to a drug and crime epidemic. In the final track Return, Dunleavy’s beautifully juxtaposed feelings for her history with the flats emerges, as she recognizes the systematic class oppression that created a need for the flats and its ensuing violence, but cannot deny her love for the place; “It's like my biggest strength could be the death of me”. She masters bedroom pop and twinkly electronic with an undercurrent of club music, she dips her pen in the blood of the community she grew up in, and the result is raw and powerful and honest. In her own words, “For years, the media and authorities slandered us and we had no voice. But now, people are finally listening.”
Most Memorable Listen: Up De Flats
1. The Butterfly Club – Connie Constance
23-year-old Connie Constance has the fresh perspective of a millennial her age, but with the talent of a grand master. Her Madchester-inspired roots come through on tracks like Trouble and Costa del Margate, and in Little Town she pulls off the chorus-filled jangle-pop that dominated the alt-music scene since 2015 and makes it seem like a brand new idea. Constance has the joyful cheeky charisma every true British indie rocker should, but wears it more charmingly because of her self-awareness. Despite the fact it’s quite a heady album and touches on a lot in a little time, it’s also incredibly fun. Pretty confident she’ll be ruling the English indie rock scene within the next two years.
Most Memorable Listen: Trouble
Drop your favourite EPs of 2020 in the comment section, or let me know what you think of this list!
Article cover image by İNCİ EMİNE SAHİN