It’s often the case that with an Extended Play release they feel at a disadvantage. Not staying long enough to leave real imprints or a repository for singles that have already had their chance to leave one. However, it’s important to note the artistic merit of shorter form releases, often providing condensed and rewarding introductions to an artist and their voice. With so many artists releasing bigger and more unwieldy projects, it’s nice to champion those who kept it short and realised their ambitions without finding any further tracks necessary. Here are my Top 10 Best Extended Plays of 2020.
Hayley Kiyoko, I’m Too Sensitive For This Sh*t
Released 14 January
Despite the overall mediocrity of her music, Californian dream-pop artist Hayley Kiyoko offered a considerable surprise when she released one of the most catchy, groovy and playful sets of synth-pop. It’s without hesitation that I describe these as Hayley’s five strongest songs to date. The influence of her contemporaries is evident at times, but the quirky and personable sound is delivered with such charisma and presence, and not without expressive and creative innovation. As far as millennial pop music goes, the representation and cute personality offered here makes I’m Too Sensitive For This Sh-t stand out from the pack.
Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor I
Released 6 February
Another Hayley who offered a gratifying change in direction in 2020 was Hayley Williams, who took advantage of Paramore’s hiatus to release a solo debut project, on which she broke ground with this EP. From the lead single and opener Simmer, the Radiohead influence was clear, but it’s an inattentive listener who fails to observe that Williams took the style in a catchier, more accessible and warmer direction than Yorke and co, leaving her own distinctive stamp with biting songwriting and expressive and dynamic vocals. Petals for Armor sees Williams flexing sultry muscles that her work with Paramore never allowed, and it’s a vitalising experience that bodes well for where potential future side projects might take her.
Haru Nemuri, Lovetheism
Released 20 March
From its triumphant opening horns and sudden transitions into strident synth chords, it’s immediately clear that Japanese noise rock artist Haru Nemuri has also developed her sound in exciting new directions. The invigorating style with which she made her stamp with albums like Harutosyura and Atom Heart Mother is still very much present on Lovetheism, but this time accented with detours, like the uplifting intro, the glamorous and graceful title track and the perky, eccentric “Riot”, that mark Lovetheism as some of the boldest and most exciting music of her career, as well as demonstrating, as Black Dresses did, that with the right composition, noise rock can be as catchy as the most accessible radio pop.
Dirty Projectors, Windows Open
Released 27 March
The first of the five EPs released by indie folk-pop group Dirty Projectors throughout 2020, Windows Open offers a beautiful window into a serene and delicate inner world. Newer band member Maia Friedman takes centre stage on the project with blissful and textured vocals stealing the show on the punchy and sweet Aimee Mann-styled “Overlord”. The string arrangements by Vagabon’s Oliver Hill add a rustic and layered sweetness that gently underpins David Longstreth’s songwriting. The second EP the group released is little less captivating as well, and the group has found exciting chemistry in their varied and eclectic recent output that maintains captivating energy without sacrificing a sense of authenticity.
Joey Bada$$, The Light Pack
Released 17 July
Joey Bada$$’s return to the spotlight after a three-year absence may be the shortest EP on this list, but that’s of little importance when this list is all about quality over quantity, and the three tracks here are each spellbinding. The production he rides is superb, glamorous and jazzy, with pianos, chopped samples and vibraphone aplenty, and his magnetic verses stacked with memorable and soulful lyrics and flows. Among rappers, Joey has a rare skill as a singer, showcased beautifully on the middle track “No Explanation”, which is capped off by a typically sterling Pusha T feature. It’s a terrifically assured return that builds hype for another full-length project in the future on the level of ALL AMERIKKAN BADA$$.
Lupe Fiasco & Kaelin Ellis, House
Released 24 July
About as ambitious as an EP can get, this project, teaming producer Kaelin Ellis with rapper Lupe Fiasco, for whom he sets a jazzy, smoky stage for a series of gnomic and poetic allegories. Taking inspiration from subjects as simple and random as the dinosaurs, modelling or shoes, Lupe continually reapproaches his subjects from as many different aspects as agreeable, emerging with a project that is equal parts playfully eccentric and hypnotically poignant. Crystal Torres soulful performance on the track “SLEDOM” is just one highlight on this strange, esoteric and humorous project that only adds further weight to Lupe’s legendary outsider status within hip-hop.
BACKxWASH, STIGMATA EP
Released 4 August
Following the success of her Polaris Prize-winning album, God Has Nothing to Do With This, Leave Him Out of It, Zambian-Canadian rapper Ashanti Mutinta reteamed with producer Ada Rook (whose own EP, separated from her twin, a dying android arrives on a mysterious island was also a contender for this list) to continue blending horrorcore rap and metal music with this vitriolic four-track EP. Rook and Mutinta are a perfect match, with Rook’s cavernous and percussive metal riffs providing a perfect home for her bombastic presence.
Mutinta’s other collaborators are equally well placed, with Devi McCallion, Joni Void, Camp Blood, Deathirl and Alekto all matching her dynamic and fearless energy. It’s especially joyous to hear Black Dresses somewhat reunited, with Devi’s eerie trance-like singing a sinister complement to the ferocity around her. From the fantastically assured blending of styles to the impeccably unhinged performances, STIGMATA EP marks another in a long line of creative peaks for BACKxWASH and is first among the best EPs of 2020.
Released 24 August
On the underground, rapper Sadistik released two of the best mini-projects of the year, the sister albums Delirium and Elysium. Each project offers a distinct side to the Seattle rapper, with Elysium the heaven to Delirium’s hell, and it’s the rapper’s more sombre and maudlin aspect that has always appealed more. Over sombre and sobering pianos and rustic percussion, Sadistik’s taut and despondent lyricism continually finds uplift in pure lyrical creativity and the innocent pleasure of assonant chains.
His abstract lyrical stylings are on another level, comparable to Aesop Rock in the way he’s able to dovetail his lines together through these rhymes and he approaches the project with the vision and ambition of a full album and the samples from Anne Sexton’s Poem “Wanting to Die” set such a poignant and reflective stage. Like all the projects spotlighted here, it may be short, but it nonetheless feels like another creative high watermark for the artist.
Tobe Nwigwe, CINCORIGINALS
Released 6 December
True to its name, Tobe Nwigwe’s teaser to his CINCORIGINALS album offered a taster of five tracks, almost the first five on the album, barring an interlude. Each track displays Nwigwe in a shockingly different light, but in every one he finds a spot to shine in. The production is fantastic from first to last, but perhaps the real selling point here are the phenomenal features from the likes of Royce Da 5’9, Black Thought, Big K.R.I.T., D Smoke, Fat and DUCKWRTH and Johnny Venus, whose harmonised vocals with Nwigwe are buttery smooth. Royce’s conspiracy theorist bars may be hard to swallow, but it’s hard to deny that his verse is incredible in more ways than one and Nwigwe’s playful chemistry with Fat on the opening track is utterly winning.
Released 10 December
In the introduction, I described the use of some EPs as a sort of resting place for the singles which have already had their cultural moment. Of all the EPs included on this list, JPEGMAFIA’s EP! most fits that description. Of the nine songs included, eight had already been released as singles, making the release of the EP only a way to group the products of this era of his career together, drawing a line underneath them. However, it’s useful that it does so, as his 2020 non-album singles have been easily among the strongest material of his career, and some of the best and certainly most unique singles of 2020.
So, these were my top ten EP’s of 2020, are you angrily shaking your fist at what I didn’t list? Let us know what would have been in your Top 10 in the comments or on social media. Wishing you all a very happy 2021.